Crime in 19th-Century Britain

Clive Emsley discovers the Victorian underworld and the attempts to combat it.

Crime is a subject on which many people are willing, indeed eager, to pontificate; yet, invariably their pronouncements are generalisations based on personal fears and prejudices. Crime is a subject surrounded by misapprehensions and by problems of definition. It is difficult to get any clear image of the overall pattern and reality of crime because of the pitfalls inherent in statistical surveys – not the least of which is the 'dark figure' of unreported offences – and also because the vicarious appetites for sex and violence, which are fed by sections of the media, all too often suggest that sex and violence are common denominators of crime per se. The fact that most of the offenders processed by the police and the courts commit neither sexual nor violent offences, and that when they have committed theft the value of the goods taken is generally small, is either ignored or, more probably unknown.

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