The Thieves' Opera: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London by Lucy Moore, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Thieves' Opera: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London

The Thieves' Opera: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London

by Lucy Moore
     
 

The criminal underworld of Georgian London, the notorious “Thief-Taker” Jonathan Wild, and infamous housebreaker Jack Sheppard are the subjects in this deftly told history.

Overview

The criminal underworld of Georgian London, the notorious “Thief-Taker” Jonathan Wild, and infamous housebreaker Jack Sheppard are the subjects in this deftly told history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A remarkably vivid and convincing portrait of London in the age of Hogarth . . . With considerable gusto, Moore devotes herself to a depiction of this criminal world in all its squalid glory. Excellent."-The Washington Post
“A fascinating history that wades deep into the criminal mire of Georgian London."-Scotland on Sunday
Megan Harlan
Colorful digressions abound: Whether rendering the eccentric nobility (place settings at formal dinners included chamber pots) or nose-slashing street gangs, Moore makes an irresistible guide to Enlightment Europe's most luxurious, sordid, and violent city.
Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For sheer decadence, no city, ancient or modern, rivaled 18th-century London. In its jumbled streets roamed predatory prostitutes, cunning thieves and street gangs who, for a lark, would chop off the noses of passersby. Moore debuts impressively with a vivid portrait of that city's most infamous villains: "the famous house-breaker and gaol-breaker" Jack Sheppard, and his arch-nemesis, Jonathan Wild, a self-appointed "quasi-servant of the law." Sheppard achieved pop-idol status both for the "sense of humor" he displayed in perpetrating his thefts and for his Houdini-like ability to escape whatever shackles the government slipped over his tiny wrists. Wild, meanwhile, was a moody, complex man, whose unofficial status as "thief-taker general" ingratiated him with the public as an uncannily successful retriever of stolen property. "A past master of self-promotion," Wild hyped himself in the press, distracting the public and the government from his other role--as boss of London's underworld. Criminals who tried to elude his control ended up on the gallows; when Sheppard chafed at his authority, his fate, and ultimately Wild's, was sealed. Moore writes crisply and concretely in a highly accessible manner, but her many digressions prevent Wild and Sheppard from fully capturing readers' imaginations. In recounting Wild's public hanging in his nightshirt, for example, she expounds at length on the traditional costumes of the condemned. Even so, this is a strong bet for fans of Caleb Carr's fiction and of historical crime stories in general. Illustrated throughout with b&w period engravings by William Hogarth. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Early-18th-century London was not the place to be for those who might have liked to avoid high-crime areas. One Frenchman observed that 'the excessive clemency of English laws gave room for abundance of ill actions that would not else be committed.... There is much less danger at being wicked at London than at Paris.' In this milieu, English historian Moore's debut book follows the convergent paths of Jonathan Wild, a thief-taker (a sort of bounty hunter who played both sides of the law, charging crime victims for recovering goods that thieves working for him had stolen), and Jack Sheppard, a thief who refused to be a part of Wild's stable and, once imprisoned, made more than one daring jailbreak. Although their feud is at the center of Moore's work, the reader never really comes to know these historical protagonists that well. Nevertheless, this remains an engaging and original social history. -- Jim G. Burns, Ottumwa, Iowa
Megan Harlan
Colorful digressions abound: Whether rendering the eccentric nobility (place settings at formal dinners included chamber pots) or nose-slashing street gangs, Moore makes an irresistible guide to Enlightment Europe's most luxurious, sordid, and violent city. -- Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
This nifty popular history spotlights the interrelated careers of the Georgian era's two most notorious good-for-nothings: Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard. We've all heard about the London of Swift and Defoe in all its fashionable tawdriness: the endemic gin drinking, the crime, and the depravity. But many readers will be surprised to learn that, lacking an organized police force, wronged citizens of this time were themselves responsible for bringing criminals to trial. Master of this thieves' universe was Wild, a 'past-master in the art of self-promotion,' arrogant, egotistical, the subject of a biography written by Defoe. Moore retells the saga of Wild's apprenticeship in crime and how he came to make his living as an intermediary between the criminal underworld and its victims, taking a fee for returning stolen goods and, on occasion, for turning in to the authorities—again, at a nice profit—those crooks who had earned his ill-will. Says Moore of Wild and his pas de deux with such individuals as Sheppard, a housebreaker: 'Wild knew as much about their actions as they did, and they learned not to disobey or deceive him.' The rebellious Sheppard's ascendant career would be closely tied with Wild's eventual downfall, and Moore's story really takes off in its second half with the telling of Sheppard's several audacious prison breaks. Illustrations from Hogarth's contemporaneous engravings give a fitting visualization to Moore's detailed narrative. She also provides a breezy overview of law and penal codes in a society that made up for its lack of policing by decreeing but one penalty, death by hanging, for a range of crimes from petty robbery to murder. Moore'sdebut employs these endearing rogues' biographies as occasion for an extended overview of London's wild and woolly street culture. The result is edifying, richly colorful, and, at times, enthralling.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780151003648
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
08/13/1998
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Roy Porter
Lucy Moore leads the reader through the thieves' dens of Georgian London, portraying the underworld with panache and bringing its hero-villains once more back to life.

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