The Italian Boy

A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

Sarah Wise

Metropolitan Books

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A thrilling history of England's great metropolis at a point of great change, told through the story of a young vagrant murdered by "resurrection men"

Before his murder in 1831, the "Italian boy" was one of thousands of orphans on the streets of London, moving among the livestock, hawkers, and con men, begging for pennies. When his body was sold to a London medical college, the suppliers were arrested for murder. Their high-profile trial would unveil London's furtive trade in human corpses carried out by body-snatchers-or "resurrection men"-who killed to satisfy the first rule of the cadaver market: the fresher the body, the higher the price.
Historian Sarah Wise reconstructs not only the boy's murder but the chaos and squalor of London that swallowed the fourteen-year-old vagrant long before his corpse appeared on the slab. In 1831, the city's poor were desperate and the wealthy were petrified, the population swelling so fast that old class borders could not possibly hold. All the while, early humanitarians were pushing legislation to protect the disenfranchised, the courts were establishing norms of punishment and execution, and doctors were pioneering the science of human anatomy.
As vivid and intricate as a novel by Charles Dickens, The Italian Boy restores to history the lives of the very poorest Londoners and offers an unparalleled account of the sights, sounds, and smells of a city at the brink of a major transformation.

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From The Italian Boy:

Urban poverty, so often a disgusting and harrowing sight to the respectable, could also be a source of wonder and intrigue. A beggar with a certain look, or air, or "act," could feed on city dwellers' craving for novelty and display. To London's grimmest streets, to a population with little access to books or periodicals, and no access to parks, zoos, galleries, or museums—Italian boys brought music, intriguing objects, and strange animals, plus, in many cases, their own beauty. The economies of the Italian states had been devastated by the Napoleonic Wars and

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Reviews

Praise for The Italian Boy

Praise for Sarah Wise's The Italian Boy:

"An immaculately researched and artfully constructed narrative shows how a band of body snatchers went from taking dead bodies to making them valuable... to hear Wise tell it, pre-Victorian England [was] a Hobbesian universe of want and pestilence, where paupers were literally shoved from parish to parish. Wise tells their story so well..."
-- The Washington Post

"Thoroughly fascinating."
--The Boston Globe

"Most unforgettable... Wise captures the complications of the era in vivid detail."
-- The New Orleans Times-Picayune


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About the Author

Sarah Wise

A historian of Victorian England, Sarah Wise has written for The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, and several magazines. The Italian Boy is her first book. She lives in London.

Sarah Wise

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Available Formats and Book Details

The Italian Boy
A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London
Sarah Wise

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Henry Holt and Co.
Metropolitan Books
April 2014
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781466867802
ISBN10: 1466867809
400 pages, Includes 65 black-and-white illustrations throughout
$7.99
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Metropolitan Books

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