Oh, dear, the plight of women throughout history has been really dreadful. The Case of Madeleine Smith is a graphic novel (graphic history, I guess) about real-life Victorian lady Madeleine Smith, who may or may not have murdered her lover Emile L’Anglier (though she probably did murder him, the book strongly implies). It’s a straightforward, fairly impersonal depiction of the story – could just as well be the Classic Comics version! The book deliberately (I assume) sets the reader at one remove from the players in the story, so it’s more of a history than a story. I would have liked to hear more about the trial itself. I love scandalous trials!
It’s a pretty woeful story. Madeleine Smith, a Glaswegian lady, gets involved with a French guy called Emile L’Anglier. Against her father’s express wishes, she continues to correspond with him and even has sex with him. (He lost a lot of sympathy from me by fretting over the fact that she didn’t bleed when she quote unquote lost her virginity – shut up, asshat!) After a while, her family proposes a more eligible (richer, higher society, nonforeign) suitor for her, and she becomes engaged to him. Emile L’Anglier is understandably upset about this, given the passionate nature of her letters. He refuses her request to return the letters and threatens to expose their affair to her father. Shortly after that he dies of arsenic poisoning.
I feel sorry for both of them. I feel so sorry for Madeleine Smith, because it’s just not fair that her lover had this much power over her. She wasn’t the soul of honor throughout their affair, or anything, but it’s legit for a girl to break up with someone. Instead of accepting it, he threatened to do something that she couldn’t stop him from doing, something that would force her to stay with him. Ick, ick, ick. Taking advantage of all the things that penned women in Back In The Day. And then she goes and (probably) murders him, and everyone calls him a vile seducer and she gets off. Not really fair, this class business.
An interesting history in comic book form, with nice simple black-and-white line drawings. Harvard has a glorious digital archive called Studies in Scarlet, all about these sorts of trials in the Victorian period, and they have several resources on Madeleine Smith and her trial, including a bunch of her letters to the unfortunate Mr. L’Anglier, downloadable in handy PDF format. Sometimes technology is a pain in the ass (see Blackberry) but sometimes it is simply fantastic. Thanks, Harvard!
What I am thinking about after reading this: Dorothy Sayers and Harriet Vane. Dorothy Sayers wrote three wonderful books and one slightly-less-wonderful book about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, who solved mysteries together while Peter nursed an (officially) unrequited passion for Harriet. In the first one, Strong Poison, Harriet is on trial for the murder of her lover Philip Boyle. She is a mystery writer and had purchased arsenic as part of her research for a book she was doing, and Philip Boyle died of arsenic poisoning, so that doesn’t look good for her. Even worse for her, she and Philip had been lovers for some time, and had not gotten married because Philip said he didn’t believe in marriage; and then, after stringing her along in this fashion, he finally proposed to her, which irritated Harriet so much she dumped him. (And then he died.)
Here is why Dorothy Sayers is my total hero, apart from her brilliance and wit, her skill as a writer, her radio plays where Jesus’s disciples had Cockney accents, and her many other lovely qualities: It’s all true. Not the arsenic part, but the marriage part. Dorothy Sayers was indeed involved with a writer who claimed not to believe in marriage, and then after a whole year, he told her that no, actually, he had just been pretending to be against marriage in order to test her devotion to him. So she killed him. And then had everyone say loads of nasty things about him after he was dead (in her book, I mean – not in real life obviously). I love her.
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