Victorian Popular Fictions 4.2 3 Nesvet

What’s in a Name?

Mr. and Mrs. Lovett and the Politics of Penny Fiction

Rebecca Nesvet


Download PDF here


Scholars of the most famous penny fiction title, James Malcolm Rymer’s The String of Pearls: A Romance (1846–7) have speculated about the significance of the name of its villain, Sweeney Todd, but nothing has yet been said about the name of Todd’s accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Victorian readers would have known it as the name of the London Chartist leader William Lovett (1800–78). Primary author of the People’s Charter, Lovett opposed the policies of the National Charter Association and its charismatic leader, Feargus O’Connor. Rymer’s Mrs. Lovett is not a perfect allegory for Lovett the Chartist, but Rymer’s constant invocation of the name Lovett contributes to a sophisticated critique of organised Chartism. Like Feargus O’Connor and William Lovett, The String of Pearls’s Todd and Lovett engage in a mutually destructive dance that turns into an object lesson on solidarity and on the interdependence between nonviolent activism and violent rebellion. The String of Pearls’s characterisation of Mrs. Lovett works to affirm the need for reform and to critique what many contemporaries saw as Chartism’s biggest weakness: its lack of national-level solidarity. Rymer’s characterisation of his “Lovett” suggests that he trusted penny fiction’s working-class family target audience to read critically.


Penny Fiction; Sweeney Todd, Chartism; William Lovett; James Malcolm Rymer; Feargus O’Connor; Edward Lloyd


Date of Acceptance: 31 December 2022

Date of Publication: 31 January 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Nesvet, Rebecca. 2022. “What’s in a Name? Mr. and Mrs. Lovett and the Politics of Penny Fiction.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 4.2: 32-46.  ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

Return to Contents Page of issue 4.2

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.