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Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in…
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Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime (edição: 2018)

de Claire Harman (Autor)

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2217123,084 (3.41)21
"From the prize-winning biographer--the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: can a novel kill? In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London's highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell's valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. And the missing clue lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales--Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Courvoisier finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines the thrilling true-crime story with a illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul between the most famous writers of the time. It is a superbly researched, vividly written, fascinating read from first to last"--… (mais)
Membro:ToreKes
Título:Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime
Autores:Claire Harman (Autor)
Informação:Viking (2018), Edition: First Edition, 224 pages
Coleções:Non-fiction, Sua biblioteca
Avaliação:****
Etiquetas:True crime, History

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Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens' London de Claire Harman

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Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.
  fernandie | Sep 15, 2022 |
I picked this up while cruising through my new subscriptions with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Orange County Library Systems, wallowing in their audiobook choices, and trying to find something to listen to while waiting for Kill The Farm Boy to come my way.

I knew nothing about the book, save what I read in the summary. In a nutshell, it's something like a forensic examination of the Courvoisier trial in 1840, for the murder of Lord William Russel. Courvoisier was Russel's valet, and was accused of cutting his Lord's throat while he slept, a crime that was disturbingly close to the one committed in the newest prose sensation tearing through London, William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard. A book the accused cited as a contributing factor when he confessed.

First of all, the narrator, Andy Secombe, was excellent; his accent was so very British, and though I have a Yank's tin ear for regional dialects, his variations of the many, many voices quoted in the book, accurate or not, made it easy to follow along and not get too bogged down or confused. There were a few times I wondered if he was having just a bit of fun with some of the 'characters'; it was subtle and arguable, and it might just be I've watched too many old BBC comedies, but it did not in any way hurt the tone of the narrative.

To call the book fascinating would be stretching the point, I think, but it was an interesting read, and a very topical reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our culture's current debate over 'do violent video games/music lyrics/movies corrupt our youth?' is merely the modern spin of the 1870's version of the same debate: 'do violent, sensationalist crime novels/theatre corrupt society?' I also couldn't help but think of the parallels between the phenomenon that was Jack Sheppard and the mad rush to get it on stage, and the 50 Shades insanity just a few years back. Neither book was lauded for its literary merit, merely it's scandalous and shocking content; both translated equally disastrously, though with the same raging popularity, to the stage/screen.

The author ends the book by pointing out the myriad of questions surrounding Courvoisier's guilt, in spite of the multitude of official confessions the man made. Those multiple confessions are part of the reason questions remain - no two confessions tell the same tale - and the forensic information gleaned from the reports and accounts do not fit with any of Courvoisier's versions of the events. In an age when the UK had public hangings and no appeal process, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no man would have confessed had he not been guilty; there were easier ways to commit suicide. Sometimes even shoddy investigations end up finding the culprit.

The single disappointment I had with the book also came at the end, when Harman is outlining possible motives; she hints at the possibility of a homosexual relationship between the Lord and his valet. I found this in and of itself to be sensationalist for a couple of reasons: Harman readily admits that Lord William Russel was by all accounts a happily married man before his wife died and that he continued to remember her fondly; Courvoisier was known in the past to have had one or two female relationships, though he was unattached at the time of the murder; and Courvoisier had only been under Lord William Russel's employ a very short period before the murder - 6 weeks if I'm remembering correctly. Given the prejudice and the laws of the time, a secret relationship was not impossible, but it was certainly improbable given the known facts. Maybe the author felt like any objective consideration of the case would be incomplete without raising the possibility, but to me it just came across as hearing hoofbeats and screaming Zebras.

To be fair, Harman probably devoted fewer words to the possibility than I just did, or at least not many more, so it's a tiny blip in an otherwise interesting peek into the past.

I started reading this before I really knew what squares I had on my card, and I don't have the Truly Terrifying square for which this would be a perfect fit, but I'll use it for my Free Space square. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 25, 2022 |
I'm typically all-in for historical true crime, but I found this outing somewhat sub-par. The synopsis talks about a crime being inspired by a book in Victorian London, but the two weren't actually linked until the last fifty pages or so. It's neither bad, nor terribly good, unfortunately. Just average. ( )
  schmootc | Mar 12, 2020 |
On the early morning hours of May 6, 1840, Lord William Russell was brutally murdered by having his throat cut to the point that his head was almost decapitated. His coins, rings, money, and some silverware were taken. In the course of the investigation by the police, they will find that his valet Francois Courvoisier, a native Swiss who had come over to make a living in service, would be the main suspect. The missing items would be found where only the valet had access to. And no one came in from the back door and the front door was locked.

But what makes this case so interesting is that people blamed a book that was turned into a hit play for what happened. The book was called Jack Sheppard and it was written by William Ainsworth who was friends with Charles Dickens who both wrote books in the genre of the Newgate Prison style where it celebrates criminals and the life only to have them pay for their crimes in the end. Dickens book that was written in this style was Oliver Twist. The middle and lower classes loved these books and with books being cheaper to produce and lending libraries being available more people were reading more books.

But with the death of Lord Russell and the attempt on Queen Victoria's life by Edward Oxford people were seeing these books and the plays they were based on as dangerous and were demanding that they be stopped. They believed that these things caused people to go astray. And it didn't help that young juveniles claimed that they were wanting to be Jack Sheppard. Even Courviseier would claim to be influenced by the book in one of his many confessions.

This is what Edgar Allen Poe had to say about the Jack Sheppard book: "His marvels have a nakedness which repels. Nothing he relates seems either probable or possible or of the slightest interest. His hero impresses us as the merest chimera, with whom we have no earthly concern, and when he makes his final escape and comes to the gallows, we would feel a very sensible relief, but for the impracticality of hanging up Mr. Ainsworth in his stead."

Also the book contained songs and one of the songs "Nix My Dolly, Pals, Fake Away" goes like this: "In a box of the stone jug [Newgate Prison cell] I was born,/ Of a hempen widow [widow of a hanged man] the kid forelorn,/ Fake away! [Carry on thieving!]/ And my noble father, as I've heard say,/ Was a famous merchant of capers gay [Dancing-Master, i.e. hanging on the scaffold],/ Nix my dolly, pals, fake away, [Never mind, pals, carry on thieving]/ Nix my dolly, pals, fake away." If you go to this address you can hear the tune it was placed to on a music box: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOnLyRB10vg.

This was an interesting book that shows how things haven't really changed as today people blame mass shooting on violent video games and violent movies when they are no more to blame then Jack Sheppard was to blame for the death of Lord Russell or the attempt on Queen Victoria's life. But with the attention, the case gave these Newgate Prison books they soon stopped being published. Will that happen to the movies and video games? I somehow doubt it. We have changed as people and evolved and believe in the first amendment. This book ushered in the Victorian era, a very prudish era in England where they placed fig leaves over the naked body parts. I give this book four out of five stars. ( )
  nicolewbrown | Aug 28, 2019 |
English literature changed drastically in the 19th Century. It went from stories of high class ladies to stories of crime and criminals. And, that change affected, or supposedly affected, the culture as well. Lord William Russell, an elderly gentleman, was murdered in his bed with his head almost severed from his body. The crime shocks London and as it is investigated, the newly hired butler in the household is arrested. At the same time, William Harrison Ainsworth has written a very popular novel, Jack Sheppard, which tells of the life of a cheerful and sly criminal who manages to escape the law at every turn. Songs are sung and plays are written about this character. Everyone is soon fascinated with crime and criminals.

Francois Courvoisier, an immigrant from Switzerland, is the butler who was arrested. He gives several accounts as to why he did the act, but lastly says that it was seeing a play about Jack Sheppard that caused him to do this terrible act.

Ainsworth is the author of Jack Russell, but others literary names such as Dickens and Thackery appear in the story. An interesting look at the life and times and cultural beliefs of 19th Century London. ( )
  maryreinert | Jun 25, 2019 |
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"From the prize-winning biographer--the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: can a novel kill? In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London's highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell's valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. And the missing clue lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales--Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Courvoisier finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines the thrilling true-crime story with a illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul between the most famous writers of the time. It is a superbly researched, vividly written, fascinating read from first to last"--

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