Response to Charles Dickens’s “Hunted Down”

In “Hunted Down,” Charles Dickens says that a student of humanity can immediately, intuitively pinpoint a criminal – “hate at first sight,” if you will.  It is as if a criminal exudes “evil” pheromones that only people with keen insight can detect.  Nevertheless, the miscreant can fit perfectly into society and can fool most people, including his closest friends and family members.  He can be very intelligent, weaving a cunning web of deceit and manipulating institutions to his advantage.  He is perfectly confident in his skills until he is caught red-handed; then, he despairs and destroys himself.

It is ironic that the narrator of this story is named Mr. Sampson because Dickens’s statement that some people are innately evil comports with the sentiments of M. B. Sampson and Lombroso.  These two authors believed that the skull and facial structures, respectively, were clues to the character of a man.  The narrator believes that a man’s face provides clues of his villainy; Julius Slinkworth (an exceptionally evil name) has a dark complexion with parts his hair up the middle of his skull, an unusual practice.  Slinkworth’s sneaky strategy of buying insurance policies for his friends and family and then slowly poisoning them to death mirrors the tactics of Doctors Palmer and Pritchard in Altick’s “Murder and the Victorian Mind.”  Slinkworth resembles Jonathan Wild of the Newgate Calendar because both use high social status to achieve great villainy.

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