Penny Dreadfuls The Bizarre and Sensational Serials That Captivated 19th Century Readers and Still Influence Modern Media


Penny dreadful is a term that may not be widely recognized. In this article, we will investigate the definition of penny dreadful, its source, and what brought it to prominence in the 19th century era. We will also examine its effect on modern media and why it persists today.

What is a Penny Dreadful?

Penny dreadful relates to a type of serialized-fiction with sensationally and bizarre themes published on low-grade paper, selling for one penny. These publications were prevalent in Britain in the 19th century, and their grotesque and sensational themes captivated a massive readership. Penny dreadfuls were affordable to people from different social statuses, including children, and vended at small bookstalls.

The Origin of the Penny Dreadful:

The birth of the penny dreadful initiated in the early 18th century with the dissemination of a series of handbills named “The Newgate Calendar”. It explains the tales of criminals and their retribution, which resulted in the popularity of the penny dreadful format. A publisher named Edward Lloyd began disseminating first popular penny dreadfuls based on the themes of Gothic horror, crime, and adventure.

Penny Dreadful in the 19th Century:

In the 19th century, penny dreadfuls reached the pinnacle of their reputation. Their focus was on themes delving the public’s fondness for danger, horror, and thrills. Publishers used exciting epithets to entice readers and relied on portrayals to convey violent and supernatural scenes. Productions such as The String of Pearls (Sweeney Todd) and Varney the Vampire became outstanding penny dreadfuls, with viewers anticipating each new issue enthusiastically.

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The Influence of Penny Dreadful in Modern Media:

The influence of the penny dreadful in modern media is noteworthy. Its constructs, themes have profoundly affected various forms of artists, from novels to TV shows and films. Varney the Vampire influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde got motivated by the genre. Moreover, the triumphant show Penny Dreadful, which aired from 2014 to 2016, adopted the dark themes of the original penny dreadfuls and presented re-imagined versions of quintessential characters on-screen.


Q. In which century did penny dreadfuls see the most popularity?

A. Penny dreadfuls were widespread in the 19th century era, particularly in the 1830s to 1860s.

Q. Was penny dreadfuls’ popularity among adults or children?

A. Penny dreadfuls’ themes appealed to people of different social classes, including children, due to its affordable pricing.

Q. What made penny dreadfuls so popular?

A. The popularity of penny dreadfuls arose from their distinctly bizarre and sensational themes.

Q. What distinguishes penny dreadfuls from Dime novels?

A. Dime novels were the US counterpart of penny dreadfuls, published on better quality paper, and costing ten cents, which was pricier than the penny dreadfuls.

Q. Apart from “The String of Pearls” and “Varney the Vampire”, are there any other well-known penny dreadfuls?

A. Yes. Other notable penny dreadfuls include “The Mysteries of London”, “The Adventures of Jack Harkaway,” and “The Bristol Fashion”.


To sum up, penny dreadfuls relate to serialized-fiction published at affordable costs, gaining immense popularity in the 19th century. These productions indulged in grotesque, sensational themes resulting in their enduring legacy on modern media, specifically horror and supernatural fiction. Although penny dreadfuls’ era has ended, it remains an engrossing and distinct component of literary history.

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