penny dreadful

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Black Bess; or, The Knight of the Road: A romanticized tale of Dick Turpin.


From their low price and the lower-class British use of dreadful (sensationalized crime reporting).


penny dreadful (plural penny dreadfuls)

  1. (originally derogatory, now usually historical) A cheap paperback book, particularly those concerning lurid depictions of crime in the Victorian era.
    • 1861 July 29, North American Review:
      They can read the ‘penny dreadful’, but they cannot darn their stockings or mend their shoes.
  2. (originally derogatory, now usually historical) Pulp fiction: stories written in the lurid style of the penny dreadfuls.

Usage notes[edit]

Also used attributively as an adjective.

Derived terms[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Oxford English Dictionary, "penny, n.", 2005.

Further reading[edit]