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Sensation

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 06 November 2003

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss sensation, a Victorian literary phenomenon. The Archbishop of York fulminated against them in his sermons, they spread panic through the pages of The Times and in a famous review the Oxford Professor of Philosophy, Henry Mansel, called them “unspeakably disgusting” with a “ravenous appetite for carrion”: in the 1860s the novels of Sensation took the Victorian world by storm.

Bigamy. Secrecy. Murder and Madness. Detectives and surprise plot twists - all in a genteel domestic setting. It was a compelling concoction that propelled sales of the genre into millions, and for the first time ever got those above stairs reading the same stories as their servants.

How did Sensation achieve such an incredible popularity so fast? What did the ensuing moral panic reveal about the society in which the novels were set? And in terms of its literary reputation, does this racy genre deserve to languish so far behind Victorian Realism, its rather steadier cousin?

With John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London; Lyn Pykett, Professor of English and Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth; Dinah Birch, Professor of English at the University of Liverpool.

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