Penny Dreadful

a cheap, sensational storybook


Penny Dreadful = Groschenroman, Groschenheft, Kitschroman



“PENNY DREADFULS: the Victorian equivalent of video games”

Kate Summerscale - The Guardian (30 April 2016)

Did you

Penny Dreadful (dime novel - U.S.)
noun phrase

- a cheap, sensational comic or storybook

- inexpensive melodramatic or romantic paperback novel

Oxford Languages / World of Dictionary


Penny Dreadfuls were a type of cheap popular literature produced in the 19th century in the United Kingdom. They were also known as Penny Horrible, Penny Awful, or Penny Blood, which were all negative terms. These stories were published in weekly parts consisting of 8 to 16 pages and each costing one penny. The content was often sensational and focused on the adventures of detectives, criminals, or supernatural beings.

Penny Dreadfuls first appeared in the 1830s and included characters like Sweeney Todd, Dick Turpin, Varney the Vampire, and Spring-heeled Jack.


Penny Dreadfuls were an unprecedented in 19th-century British publishing phenomenon. By the 1850s, there were up to a hundred publishers of penny-fiction, and in the 1860s and 1870s, more than a million boys’ periodicals were sold per week.

The Guardian aptly described Penny Dreadfuls as “Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young”, and “the Victorian equivalent of video games”.

With thrilling tales of detectives, criminals, and supernatural beings, these penny-fiction captured the imaginations of young readers across the nation, providing them with hours of entertainment and excitement.


- if you find the word “dreadful” too easy, try some of these:

abhorrent, abominated, abysmal, accursed, bodeful, deplorable, detestable, disconcerting, dolorous, execrable, execrative, ghastly, ghoulish, grievous, gruesome, hapless, heinous, hideous, infelicitous, insufferable, lamentable, lachrymose, loathsome, lugubrious, odious, opprobrious, unpropitious, unsavoury, vexatious, woebegone, woeful, yucky


I can’t send you into the weekend with bad feelings, so please revel in the antonyms :-)

- abhorrent = desirable, pleasant, attractive

- abominated = admired, cherished, loved

- abysmal = excellent, superb, outstanding

- accursed = blessed, fortunate, favoured

- bodeful = auspicious, hopeful, promising

- deplorable = admirable, commendable, praiseworthy

- detestable = enjoyable, likable, lovable

- disconcerting = calming, reassuring, soothing

- dolorous = blissful, elated, joyful

- execrable = excellent, outstanding, superb

- execrative = appreciative, grateful, thankful

- ghastly = attractive, beautiful, lovely

- ghoulish = admirable, pleasant, wholesome

- grievous = insignificant, minor, unimportant

- gruesome = attractive, beautiful, lovely

- hapless = favoured, fortunate, lucky

- heinous = ethical, honorable, virtuous

- hideous = attractive, beautiful, lovely

- infelicitous = advantageous, fortunate, successful

- insufferable = bearable, manageable, tolerable

- lamentable = admirable, commendable, praiseworthy

- lachrymose = ecstatic, elated, joyful

- loathsome = likable, lovable, pleasant

- lugubrious = cheerful, elated, joyful

- odious = likable, lovable, pleasant

- opprobrious = commendable, honorable, respectful

- unpropitious = advantageous, beneficial, favourable

- unsavoury = delicious, palatable, tasty

- vexatious = enjoyable, fun, pleasant

- woebegone = cheerful, happy, joyful

- woeful = content, happy, joyful

- yucky = appetizing, delicious, tasty

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“Just as telegraphy was the ‘Victorian Internet’, so was the PENNY DREADFUL the ‘Victorian Video Game’!”

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