11. Russia in the Penny Dreadful

Sylvanus Cobb (1823–1887)
The Gunmaker of Moscow, or, Vladimir the Black Monk
London: Aldine Publishing Company, [1891?]

Published by the Aldine Publishing Company for their ‘O’er Land and Sea’ series, The Gunmaker of Moscow, or, Vladimir the Black Monk is an example of a penny dreadful set in Russia. Set in seventeenth-century Moscow the narrative follows a gunmaker, Ruric Nevel, and his helpful but mysterious associate, the black monk Vladimir. As Ruric sets off on his path from lowly gunmaker to glorious noble, he battles, with Vladimir’s help, the nefarious Duke of Tula to be with the woman he loves. The volume makes no references to the story’s author, but it is known to be the work of the American writer Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.

As with the next exhibit, also an Aldine publication, The Gunmaker of Moscow is more focused on showing Russia as the strange and violent setting lapped up by Western audiences than on narrative authenticity. The Duke of Tula’s Christian name, for example, is Olga – a Russian female name. It is interesting to consider how the reading of Crime and Punishment might have influenced British readers’ ideas of Russia; far from a penny dreadful, the novel nevertheless provided some of the violence and hysteria present in such books.

Saarah Ghazi, Mel Bach

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