What are you looking for?

Michael Newton 1

Michael Newton

NIAS Individual Fellow

Project title

RADICAL INNOCENCE: Émigrés and Assassins in Literary London, 1866-1918

Research question

This project investigates the British connections to a series of European and Imperial assassinations, examining migration, conspiracy, and the status of the political exile. Using interwoven case histories, it aims to explore how in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British bohemian radicals engaged with international Anarchism, Russian Nihilism, and Indian nationalism.

Project description

Radical Innocence weaves together four interconnected stories, each dealing with friendship, a love affair, political violence, and assassination. It follows the histories of four interlinked families, drawn together by networks of kinship and friendship – the Madox Browns, the Hueffers, the Rossettis, and two generations of the Garnett family – showing how individuals in these families each became romantically embroiled with émigré conspirators and assassins, and tracing their involvement – political, social, and erotic – with Anarchist and Nihilist revolution.  It does so by unravelling their relations to Mathilde Blind, to Peter Kropotkin, the Prince of Anarchists, to Martial Bourdin, the French Anarchist who attempted to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, and to Stepniak, the Nihilist assassin of General Mezentsev. The book’s last section details Britain’s entanglement beyond continental Europe to the Empire beyond and a later generation’s link to violent Indian nationalism, through David Garnett’s connection to two heroes of the struggle for independence, Madhan Lal Dhingra and Vinayak Savarkar.  In this way the project returns us to a London that is a cosmopolitan metropolis, a refuge for political exiles, and a domestic capital where international currents cross.

Selected publications

Blithe Spirits and Demon Lovers: A History of British Hauntings, Visitations and other Encounters with the Supernatural World, 1789-2022 (Oxford University Press, 2024)

It’s A Wonderful Life (for Bloomsbury / BFI’s Film Classics series) (September 2023)

Show People: A History of the Film Star (London: Reaktion Books, 2019)

Age of Assassins: A History of Conspiracy and Political Violence, 1865-1981 (London: Faber and Faber, 2012)

Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children (London: Faber and Faber, 2002); American edition, St Martin’s Press (2003).


More about myself

MICHAEL NEWTON is the author of Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children (Faber and Faber, 2002) and Age of Assassins: A History of Conspiracy and Political Violence, 1865-1981 (Faber and Faber, 2012). He is presently completing a book for Oxford University Press, Blithe Spirits and Demon Lovers, tracing the modern history of our supposed relations to supernatural and magical beings. On the subject of cinema, he has written Show People: A History of the Film Star (Reaktion, 2019) and books on Kind Hearts and Coronets (2003), Rosemary’s Baby (2020) and It’s A Wonderful Life (2023) for the BFI Film Classics series. He has edited Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, an anthology of Victorian Fairy Tales, and an anthology of The Origins of Science Fiction for Oxford World’s Classics, and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories for Penguin Classics. He has written review articles and essays for Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, and The Guardian and interview articles for Arts International. He was an undergraduate and postgraduate at University College London, and now teaches literature and film at Leiden University.