Penny bloods and penny dreadfuls are Victorian Gothic serial fiction. Originally published in instalments (usually weekly), they were sensational, lurid and (often) macabre fiction aimed at people who didn’t want to shell out a shilling for more ‘high-brow’ serial fiction (like instalments of Charles Dickens’ novels). Printed on cheap pulp paper (hence ‘pulp fiction’) and running for as long as people kept buying them, the penny bloods and penny dreadfuls were popular, escapist entertainment and the forerunners of cheap paperbacks and comic papers.
We use the terms ‘penny bloods’ and ‘penny dreadfuls’ pretty much interchangeably on this site. However, scholars of Victorian popular literature tend to make a distinction between the two. ‘Penny blood’ is used for the earlier serialized novels, which appeared in pamphlet form in the 1830s, 40s and 50s; ‘penny dreadfuls’ are later serial fiction, primarily aimed at adolescents and published as both standalone numbers and in illustrated papers. Strictly speaking, the majority of titles in the Digital Periodicals series are penny bloods.
Only you can answer that! But we have done what we can to ensure that these titles are as easy to enjoy as possible. One of the things modern readers occasionally find off-putting is the length of some of these stories. Popular titles ran for years, and so collected editions can be quite long (for example, the complete Varney the Vampyre is one and a half times as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy). The episodic storytelling and occasional repetition also don’t lend themselves to compiled editions in modern novel format.
Our new editions are reserialized to allow modern readers to enjoy the episodic format as it was originally intended. The new eBook texts have been formatted with enjoyment and entertainment in mind – and have been created by human beings, rather than scanning software. Everything you need to lose yourself in the dark twisted worlds of these popular serials.
Each issue will cost £1.
The original weekly publications comprised one or two chapters for the price of a penny. Our editions cost £1 for around ten chapters – or about 10p per chapter. You could buy a lot more with a Victorian penny than you can with 10p today… so technically (allowing for inflation) our editions are cheaper than the originals!
New issues will be published fortnightly, but past issues will remain available for sale. You can pick up a new series whenever you like.
The original illustrations are part of the charm of the Victorian texts but, sadly, we were not able to reproduce the images in the Digital Periodicals editions. We have focused on making the stories as accessible as possible, and some sacrifices had to be made.
You can subscribe to receive email alerts about new issues by clicking on the link on the right-hand side of this page.
Our editions are a bit like your favourite TV show – part of the fun is the anticipation of a new episode. Of course, once a title finishes its initial publication run, there’s nothing to stop you downloading the whole thing (as a ‘boxset’, if you will) or enjoying some repeats.
These titles are now in the public domain, so some other editions and reproductions may be available. However, our editions have been carefully transcribed and formatted (by a human being) to be accessible and readable on all modern devices. Many free ‘editions’ are simply character recognition scans of the original Victorian publications and can be very difficult to read.
At the moment, we have no plans to publish print editions of the texts. Like the original Victorian publishers, we are using the cheapest and easiest methods of publishing. Nevertheless, like the original Victorian publishers, we will always be willing to respond to demand.
The texts themselves are in the public domain. However, we own the copyright on the new transcriptions and editions. While pirating our editions would, in a way, be ironically in-keeping with the world of Victorian penny dreadful publishing, we’d be really upset if you did.
The titles that we are publishing predate Jack the Ripper by around forty years. However, we will be publishing Spring Heel’d Jack; or the Terror of London (from the 1860s) and The String of Pearls; or the Barber of Fleet Street (Sweeney Todd), both of which, arguably, had an impact on how the story of Jack the Ripper was presented in the popular press.
We’re flattered that you think we can work that quickly! Producing new transcriptions and editions of these Victorian serial novels has taken a lot of time and research, though we won’t pretend we weren’t delighted to hear about the show. Great minds think alike, eh?
If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please contact us via the form on the website.