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The Wonders

Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age

Extent: 384 pages

Size: 234x153mm

Publication Date:

Price: £20.00

ISBN: 9781782439936

Categories: Science - History - Philosophy

About the Book

'A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic.' Stephen Fry

The Wonders is a radical new history of the Victorian age: meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era.

On 23 March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria. On both sides of the Atlantic, this meeting marked a tipping point in the nineteenth century – the age of the freak was born.

Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle – of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen – and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals. But the real stories (human dramas that so often eclipsed the fantasy presented on the stage), of the performing men, women and children, have been forgotten or marginalized in the histories of the very people who exploited them.

In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of recently discovered material to bring to life the sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, always extraordinary stories of people who used their (dis)abilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities. And through their lives we discover afresh some of the great transformations of the age: the birth of showbusiness, of celebrity, of advertising, of ‘alternative facts’; while also exploring the tensions between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with ‘otherness’.

Publication Date: 02/05/2019

Price: £6.99

ISBN: 9781789290363

ASIN: B07P8MRHRF

Categories: Science - History - Philosophy

About the Book

'A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic.' Stephen Fry

The Wonders is a radical new history of the Victorian age: meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era.

On 23 March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria. On both sides of the Atlantic, this meeting marked a tipping point in the nineteenth century – the age of the freak was born.

Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle – of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen – and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals. But the real stories (human dramas that so often eclipsed the fantasy presented on the stage), of the performing men, women and children, have been forgotten or marginalized in the histories of the very people who exploited them.

In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of recently discovered material to bring to life the sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, always extraordinary stories of people who used their (dis)abilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities. And through their lives we discover afresh some of the great transformations of the age: the birth of showbusiness, of celebrity, of advertising, of ‘alternative facts’; while also exploring the tensions between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with ‘otherness’.

About the Author

Dr John Woolf is a researcher, writer and historian specializing in nineteenth-century cultural history. Having read history at the University of Cambridge, he went on to obtain a PhD on Victorian freak shows and currently works across TV, radio and film. He has most recently co-written the bestselling Audible book Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets and has developed and featured in a number of BBC series and documentaries on freak performers and the Victorian period.

In 2017, The Wonders was awarded the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize for the best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography.

Reviews

  • 'A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic.', Stephen Fry
  • 'A personality-driven history of the 'freak' show... alive and informative.', The Spectator
  • 'Fascinating and though-provoking. A marvellously researched account of the freak industry - an extraordinary side of Victorian life which has been ignored for too long.', Jane Ridley, author of Bertie
  • 'A wonderfully rich, compassionate and pungent potpourri of the extraordinary, the unusual and the rare. Turns our notions of Victorian prudery, propriety and voyeurism upside down. Brilliantly researched and written with great verve.', Neil McKenna, author of Fanny and Stella, and The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde
  • 'John Woolf's book will dazzle you with details of extraordinary lives, long underestimated by history.', Matthew Sweet, broadcaster and author of Inventing the Victorians
  • 'Highly readable. The life stories of those paid to be gazed at and ridiculed have been deftly teased from the archives, providing a sympathetic account of these amazing individuals.', Sarah Wise, author of Inconvenient People, and The Blackest Streets
  • 'As an actor and writer who has also performed in contemporary freak shows for many years, I find this book a refreshingly integrated and balanced account of these amazing lives.', Mat Fraser, writer, disability artist and actor in 'American Horror Story, Freak Show'
  • 'A remarkable book. Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, John Woolf tells a brilliant and vibrant history.', Katharine Norbury, author of 'The Fish Ladder'
  • 'There is so much to see at the Freak Show which Woolf provides his readers; and he makes it clear that it does the memory of these amazing artists a disservice to avert your eyes.', Therese Oneill, author of 'Unmentionable'
  • 'Explores with subtlety and consideration the many facets of humanity’s strangeness. A really excellent book and an important study of the physically marginalized and neglected.', Clive Bloom, author of 'Victoria's Madmen'
  • 'Exceptional. The Wonders shines a bright light on the real human experiences behind Victorian freak spectacles. With carefully researched historical detail and a knack for storytelling, Woolf’s style is impressive.', Lillian Craton, author of 'The Victorian Freak Show'
  • 'An intriguing and fascinating look into the world of 'freaks'. Beautifully researched and well written.', Richard Butchins, award-winning artist and disabled filmmaker