From Sawney Beane to Sweeney Todd: Murder machines in the mid-nineteenth century metropolis

Crone, Rosalind (2010). From Sawney Beane to Sweeney Todd: Murder machines in the mid-nineteenth century metropolis. Cultural and Social History, 7(1) pp. 59–85.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2752/147800410X477340

Abstract

This article traces the changes and continuities in fictional stories of serial murder in London from the late-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, it shows how changes in the primary audience for metropolitan popular culture necessitated dramatic shifts in the tale of serial killing and narratives of violence. Thus, by the nineteenth century, as the lower classes had become the main supporters of both traditional and new genres of entertainment in popular culture, their experience of and fears and anxieties about urban change became intertwined with myths about serial killing and reflected in a new character of the public nightmare, Sweeney Todd, the barber of Fleet Street, who set out to effectively depopulate the capital with his ghastly murder machine.

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