Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine and by A. Mangham

By A. Mangham

This booklet explores rules of violent femininity throughout commonplace and disciplinary obstacles throughout the 19th century. It goals to spotlight how scientific, felony and literary narratives shared notions of the risky nature of ladies. Mangham lines intersections among infamous criminal trials, theories of girl madness, and sensation novels.

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I rose, as, indeed, we all did. The prisoner said, ‘Oh, Sir, I am a murderer. I have murdered the dear baby. I have cut the dear baby’s throat’. I instantly ran from the room and proceeded to the nursery, I found my child in his cot with his head very nearly cut off. 68 At the trial, it emerged that Martha had been experiencing menstrual irregularities and her defence lawyer was eager to exploit the fact to secure an acquittal. He called on the Ffinch family physician, John Mould Burton, to give evidence as follows: I am a surgeon, and attend the family of Mr.

Besides the obviously shocking details of the crime, Brough’s act fuelled gossip because the defendant had been a wet nurse to the Prince of Wales. 141 If, therefore, mental impulses were transferable through breast milk, the Prince of Wales would have suckled on milk instilled with a maniacal or homicidal taint. Brough’s trial vocalised the medical ideas on how ‘mothers’ were capable of inflicting more insidious forms of harm than direct violence. Through her biological links to the nation’s children, the unsuitable wet nurse could, it was urged, have a dire effect on future generations.

20 Violent Women and Sensation Fiction Sarah was under treatment for hysteria at the time of the murder. 63 Mitchell’s sister Elizabeth also testified that ‘there was something strange and peculiar in her manner’64 and, in a letter to Elizabeth, Mitchell’s lover explained his reasons for abandoning Sarah. 67 The case of alleged accumulative and unreasonable violence corroborated, and was endorsed by, scores of similar such narratives in the period’s medical literature. Through vehicles like the Annual Register and The Times, such material was now reaching the general public in graphic and lurid detail.

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