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Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes

3.5 stars

This is not a bad book, but it’s not particularly good either.

The cases included in this text are:
– Marie Lafarge and Euphemie Lacoste;
– Madeleine Smith and Angelina  Lemoine;
– Celestine Doudet and Constance Kent;
– Florence Bravo and Henriette Francy;
– Gabrielle Fenayrou and Adelaide Bartlett;
– Florence Maybrick and Claire Reymond.

Good points:

  • The French cases were largely unknown to me and that aspect was interesting. The comparisons between French and English middle-class society and the position of women were fairly well discussed.
  • There was a mix of cases, although all were ‘respectable’ women from the time. What was expected of middle-class women, and her own expectations – marriage, children and running the household – were discussed at length.  Many had arranged marriages – often to men much older, or totally unsuitable. Divorce was not a viable option, especially as the father would have maintained control of any children, and the money. Thus most of this women were stuck in relationships, not of their choosing (with the exception of Madeleine Smith – who was in a relationship with a man below her station and disapproved of by her family).
  • Although the cases were discussed fairly sympathetically there was a lot of the authors own views on whether the particular murderess was guilty of the crime she committed. Not all were, and those who were found guilty may not have been. At least one was judged on her moral crimes (adultery) as much as the actual murder.
  • The author had done her research and it showed. The social comparisons were good and I think the most interesting aspect was the emerging position of women in both France and England during the 19th century.  There was good focus on the societal aspects of what may have caused these women to take, or consider taking, the ultimate solution to their woes.

Bad points:

  • The book jumped around a lot. All the time. It became hard to follow and sometimes wasn’t clear which case was being discussed. References to other cases made things more confusing.
  • The accounts were long and meandered. They became stories in their own right. Why is this bad? For a book that is meant to be a non-fic there was too much of the ‘newspaper’ style telling. Give me the facts – if I want a fiction on the subject I’ll read historical fic about the cases.
  • There were quite a few formatting issues.

I just couldn’t really get into the long, often dry accounts of the crimes. It’s a shame because the sociological side of the book was interesting for the most part. If the book had been more structured then the rating would have been higher.

 

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