cover image Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead

Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead

T. Coraghessan Boyle, Thomas Boyle. Viking Books, $19.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81324-7

The apocryphal story of the black swine is taken by Boyle ( Only the Dead Know Brooklyn ) as a metaphor for the irrational elements that so terrified Victorian orthodoxy. A feature of the mid-Victorian era was the so-called ``sensation'' novel, including some Dickens but mostly Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, among the more popular, and Boyle's study concentrates on them, showing how they were reflective of an underworld or counterculture that the leaders of society did not acknowledge. Boyle argues that these works of fiction were probably the outgrowth of true crime stories in the periodicals of the 1830s, '40s and '50s; he relies on a set of scrapbooks titled Various Trials Cut from Newspapers , assembled by one William Bell Macdonald between 1839 and 1862, as the basis for his examination of these stories. This is a work of scholarship, as for example when the author searches out the etymology of sensation, which will be of interest primarily to academics. (Sept.)