Victorian Murderesses written by Mary S Hartman


4 out of 5 stars
ARC provided free by Netgalley in return for an honest review

The relevance of Hartman’s work has grown since originally being published in 1976. An almost unquenchable appetite for the Victorian era has evolved and been sustained by the volume of work published [good, bad and utterly terrible] in the last decade and earlier.

Refreshingly, Hartman focuses on the feminine side of murder, delving into crimes that are shocking, violent but could be pulled from contemporary headlines. Particularly striking for me was the chapter on Constance Kent. Constance Kent I was familiar with from Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008) but it was interesting to read Hartman’s chapter, which addressed the murder in a far more interesting way than Summerscale.

Readers who pick this book up need to know, however, that this is not a gentle introduction into Victorian murders and murder is almost a secondary history. This is not a soft read to be consumed over tea and chocolate biscuits as contextually, this book is a sociological history of women and how their roles within society, family, and history itself, has developed and evolved. The academic nature of the text is challenging but engaging and I feel this brings more to the subject and provides better insights, leading to greater understanding and hence, knowledge.

I agree with other reviewers that in part the book had large parts of conjecture but I find this complaint an easy problem to forgive as in many instances, a lot of the information required to complete a work of this nature, would not have been easily available at the time it was written. Contemporary audiences must remember that while we open up an internet browser, type our search into Google and hit enter, Hartman had to do real work. While we login to the many and various online academic databases, Hartman would have spent hours in the stacks, perhaps making long distance and international phone calls requesting photocopies or faxes of the information she required. In 1976, the Old Bailey Online was a dream no one had yet had.

I enjoyed Hartman’s book and I am grateful to Netgalley for approving me for a copy.

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