From the late eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century, “sensation” was understood to be a transatlantic phenomenon. Nineteenth-century critics often traced the origins of sensationalism as far back as classical Greek drama, but its association with contemporary seduction tales, Gothic fiction, Newgate novels, city-mysteries romances, middle-class sensation fiction, melodramatic stage productions, dime novels, imperial and frontier adventures, and detective stories made it symptomatic of the modern world on both sides of the Atlantic.1 While scholars today usually consider these forms as discrete literary phenomena from distinct national contexts, these genres were often interrelated by nineteenth-
century critics in terms of an emerging notion of “sensationalism” that gained currency in the popular press of the era. In its various manifestations, sensation was thus intimately linked to an era of mass production, mass readership, and mass culture. Sensationalism was judged in vastly conflicting ways as either the sign of cultural decline or the harbinger of a new and more energetic age. Either way, it was certainly something to debate-sometimes seemingly endlessly-and to condemn or celebrate, depending on one’s perspective (and often on whether one happened to be an elite critic, a middle-class writer, or a common reader).