Sunday 31 October 2021

The Craziest Deaths in Victorian Novels

Happy Halloween, everyone! Today’s festivities have put me in a macabre and morbid mood so for today’s blog post, I’m running through some of the best (or worst?) ways to die in a Victorian novel. If you like your fictional deaths as strange, memorable and zany as possible, you’re in for a treat. 

My Halloween costume this year

Spontaneous Combustion

Who could forget the strange demise of Mr. Krook in Charles Dickens’s masterpiece Bleak House (1852-1853)? His death is the most famous literary example of human spontaneous combustion i.e. when a person goes up in flames for no reason at all. 

Railway Accident

Victorians were terrified of newfangled train travel and, if we’re to believe the novels, for good reason! There are options here: die instantly in a crash or suffocate to death in a tunnel. Or, if you’re Isabel Vane in Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), become disfigured in a derailing before returning to your family in disguise to act as governess to the children you abandoned to run off with your dashing and dastardly love.

Baby Farm

Your odds of surviving infancy weren’t great in the nineteenth century. But they were even worse if you were divided from your mother and put in a “baby farm” i.e. cheap daycare where you were, at best, neglected and, at worst, given poisoned formula. Check out George Moore’s 1894 novel, Esther Waters, for more on this practice.

Switching Places with a Doppelgänger 

Finding someone who looks just like you = all fun and games, until they find themselves destined for the guillotine, and you take their place in a heroic act for the woman you love…according to Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859), anyway.

Sibling Violence

Who hasn’t bickered with a sibling? But let’s just hope your brother isn’t Little Father Time from Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895), who commits a grisly murder/suicide. 


If you’re a madwoman who lives in an attic (like Bertha in Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 Jane Eyre) or a crazy old maid who wears her wedding dress every day (like Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s 1860-1861 Great Expectations), step away from the candle! 


Yes, you’ll still die. But you’ll look beautiful doing it, just like many Victorian heroines. “Consumption, I am aware, is a flattering malady,” Charlotte Bronte wrote in 1849. I’ll take her word for it.

What other literary deaths have I missed? Do you have a favorite strange nineteenth-century character ending? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

My nineteenth-century-set novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which includes one example from this list, is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and e-book right now. For regular updates on my blog and writing, sign up to my monthly digital newsletter below.

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  1. There was only one death I didn't recognize, so off to Google it, thanks for a very interesting post !

  2. I'm not sure if this fits your list, since you're focusing on British lit, but poor, mad Captain Ahab in the that great American Victorian novel "Moby Dick" suffered one whale of a gruesome death!