Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers : Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century London
Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers : Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century London, Woodbrige, The Royal Historical Society/The Boydell Press, 1999, XII + 193 p. ISBN 0 86193 242 0
1In the contemporary popular imagination the juvenile offender can be placed anywhere on a spectrum ranging from a loveable cockney rascal, such as'the Artful Dodger'of Lionel Bart's 1960s musical Oliver ! (as opposed to Charles Dickens'original), to the two ten-year-old'monsters'who murdered two-year-old Jamie Bulger in Liverpool in February 1993. More often than not attitudes veer towards the latter end of the spectrum, especially as the popular press feeds its readers on a diet of teenage car-thieves, muggers, drug addicts, and single mothers, and as politicians seek to blame their political opponents for these indicators of problems within society. A variety of individuals and social forces are identified as the causes of the juvenile delinquency – feckless parents, teachers who fail to teach right from wrong, violent films and videos, an overall decline in morality and respect. However, when the violence of such offenders is particularly apparent, or horrific, as in the Bulger case, then it is the children/juveniles who are themselves guilty of being ’evil’. The current situation finds deep resonances in Heather Shore's Artful Dodgers with its focus on early nineteenth-century London.
2In recent years there has been considerable historical interest in the origins of juvenile delinquency in England. Shore builds significantly on this work. She stresses that the youthful offender was not someone new in the early nineteenth century ; what was new was the development of a novel and specific definition of such an offender, particularly in legal discourse. She judiciously balances the explanations offered by early nineteenth-century commentators with her own, careful reading of a variety of sources – court records, police reports, even a clutch of interviews with juvenile offenders held on the Euryalus prison hulk between 1825 and 1843. She explores the existence of these offenders at home, at work, and on the streets, the varieties of their offences – generally petty theft, rarely violent – and their process into and through the criminal justice system. Some of her conclusions turn out as might be expected. Youthful offenders were mainly male, and their families were usually poor. But while there are examples to support the early nineteenth-century notions of the juvenile pickpocket linked with a criminal subculture and adult receivers such as Dickens's Bill Sikes and Fagin, this does not appear to have been the situation of most offenders, not is there much evidence to support the idea of a steady progression from petty to serious crime. Rather than the stereotypical drunks, scroungers, prostitutes and petty thieves, some parents were clearly respectable in their poverty and in despair at the behaviour of their unruly sons ; and most of the young men appear, probably, to have given up occasional offending with growing maturity and the acquisition of forms of responsibility. Mindful of the problems of court statistics, Shore concludes with an exhaustive statistical appendix, based on the Criminal Registers of Middlesex, which categorises the patterns of juvenile crime and punishment.
3In sum, this is a well-researched and well-argued monograph contributing significantly to our understanding of juvenile delinquency. Perhaps it is the voices of the offenders which Shore has found in such records as the interviews conducted on the Euryalus which provide some of the most compelling material deployed here. These interviews underline the fact that each offender was a distinct individual – sometimes pathetic and unfortunate, and sometimes brutal and cruel, but rarely one that fell neatly and simply into popular characterisations.
Pour citer cet article
Clive Emsley, « Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers : Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century London », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 4, n°1 | 2000, 141-142.
Clive Emsley, « Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers : Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century London », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 4, n°1 | 2000, mis en ligne le 02 avril 2009, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : http://chs.revues.org/879Haut de page
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