Trials of Passion

A taste for the lurid, macabre and gruesome is not readily admitted in the Georgian drawing rooms of Lanark. On the outside chance that there is one person harbouring a furtive taste for some of life’s juicier details, let me introduce you to this work of history by Lisa Appignanesi (, Trials of Passion. The author examines the effect of the new science of psychiatry on the judgments passed in criminal courts between 1870 and 1914. For example one woman accused of poisoning, a Christiana Edmunds, was saved from hanging only because psychiatric evidence was introduced to show that her lack of moral feeling was proof of madness (she showed neither grief nor remorse for her child victim). More tellingly, medical history revealed her as one of several unbalanced children of a mad father. With a flair for story-telling, Appignanesi teases out the vagaries of passion and the clashes between the law and the clinic as they work toward some sort of synthesis. Sexual etiquette and class roles, attitudes to love, madness and gender, notions of respectability and honour, insanity and lunacy. These are all at play here in the theatre of the courtroom as displayed in Appignanesi’s many cases.

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448 pages in Virago

First published April 2014

ISBN 978-1844088744


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Lisa Appignanesi


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