James Greenwood (1832-1929) A Janus of Journalism

Found at the front of a book catalogue ('Chat Dept.') of  J.J. Rigden from the Haining collection this well researched piece on Victorian journalist James Greenwood.

James Greenwood (1832-1929) A Janus of Journalism

This author is now a little better known than he was a few years ago. He contributed to the world of boy's books, some exciting, though bloodthirsty works of fiction that can still be avidly read today.

Relying on his experience as a sensational journalist, he leaned heavily on the plot. His charters were not much more than 'cardboard cut-outs', and to a certain extent, he seemed to be obsessed with lycanthropy. 'The Bear King' 1868, 'Purgatory of Peter the Cruel' 1868, 'Adventures of Seven Footed Foresters' 1865… all have shape-changing as a major theme. His descriptions of blood-letting in various forms were highly coloured, leaving very little to the imagination.

Yet, this was the man, who in 1874, published a vitriolic attack on the penny-dreadfuls, their publishers, authors and distributors, (Wilds of London, Chatto 1974). He described the papers as 'penny packets of poison', corrupting the minds of the young and laying the prevalence of all types of crime at their door… (Much the same today with horror films and comics, does nothing change?) As to the distributors, he was at pains to point out that they were greedy and unscrupulous. The trade discount on such publications as 'The Family Herald' began 25%, whereas the 1d Dreadfuls could be purchased at 5d a dozen and unsold copies could be returned and replaced with the next issue.

Greenwood tries to give the impression that he is a crusader for the down-trodden and the poor, publishing a series of books and articles sensationally describing the 'low life' of London at the time. How strange that he should take G. W. M. Reynolds to task (although he does not name him), for the bloods and dreadfuls published under his name. Reynolds, of course, was also a journalist, engaged in bringing to the fore, the hopelessness of the London poor in his 'Mysteries of London'. This was published in parts between 1845 and 1850. Reynolds also wrote many other books and articles on this subject. All very highly coloured, absorbing reading… But that is another story.

James Greenwood was the brother of Fredrick who edited the Pall Mall Gazette, wherein some of the earlier works of Andrew Lang, James Barrie, Rudyard Kipling etc. appeared. As far as we can ascertain, he did not publish any of his brother James' work, but no doubt he had some 'pull' with other publishers who purchased James' rather lurid writing.

Despite his taking on the mask of Janus and facing both ways, we commend the books of J. G. If your taste is a story with good pace, plus a picture of the social history of London in the 1870s i.e. 'The Seven Curses of London', 1869.

3 thoughts on “James Greenwood (1832-1929) A Janus of Journalism

  1. M Gooding

    Baptisms of two children belonging to James Greenwood. Frederick James & Mary Eliza Emma, St Mary Lambeth 24.08.1856.


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