chapter  Chapter 6
15 Pages

Anatomy of a “Nine Days’ Wonder”: Sensational Journalism in the Decade of the Sensation Novel

WithDallas Liddle

The three major genres of writing labelled “sensational” in Great Britain in the 1860s—the sensation novel, the sensation drama, and sensational newspaper journalism—are now usually considered parallel and complementary projects, even as variations on the same cultural theme. This chapter uses a particularly striking example of “sensational” journalism from early 1868 to show that even the most flamboyant crime reports of the Age of Sensation may have been as opposed to the projects of the 1860s sensation novel as many journalists claimed. Newspaper coverage of the six-week disappearance of the Reverend Benjamin Speke in January and February 1868 makes a good test text for comparison of newspaper and novel sensations, since the near-absence of real factual information in the case forced journalists to improvize their narratives and commentary onto the case, essentially creating its plot and characters to fit their own specifications.