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Murder, Magic, Madness: The Victorian Trials of Dove and the Wizard [Paperback]

Davies Owen

Price: 24.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Nov 2005 0582894131 978-0582894136 1

In 1856 William Dove, a young tenant farmer, was tried and executed for the poisoning of his wife Harriet. The trial might have been a straightforward case of homicide, but because Dove became involved with Henry Harrison, a Leeds wizard, and demonstrated through his actions and words a strong belief in magic and the powers of the devil, considerable effort was made to establish whether these beliefs were symptomatic of insanity. It seems that Dove murdered his wife to hasten a prediction made by Harrison that he would remarry a more attractive and wealthy woman. Dove employed Harrison to perform various acts of magic, and also made his own written pact with the devil to improve his personal circumstances.

The book will study Dove’s beliefs and Harrison’s activities within the rural and urban communities in which they lived, and examine how modern cultures attempted to explain this largely hidden mental world, which was so sensationally exposed. The Victorian period is often portrayed as an age of great social and educational progress. This book shows how beliefs dismissed by some Victorians as ‘medieval superstitions’ continued to influence the thoughts and actions of many people, viz most famously Conan `table tapper' Doyle.

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 "  … told with a skill that genuinely seizes and holds the attention… It represents a remarkable achievement of energy and imagination for a relatively short span of research. In sum, it combines some of the best skills of the storyteller and the analytical historian."

Professor Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol, UK


'Davies has uncovered and assiduously researched a wonderful story...'

'...a book that acts both as a valuable piece of social history and as a biographical insight into two forgotten but utterly intriguing mid-Victorian lives.'

David McAllister, The Times Literary Supplement, No 5367, February 10, 2006

From the Back Cover

[This] is a straightforward piece of well-researched and exciting microhistory. The story is a tragic one, and told with a skill that genuinely seizes and holds the attention, and makes the sections of historical analysis easily digestible by any readership. There is a cast of colourful and unpleasant characters, who are very well drawn and in whom interest is sustained from start to finish…In sum, it combines some of the best skills of the storyteller and the analytical historian.

Professor Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol


[Owen] Davies has a formidable track-record as a historian of popular magic and cunning folk in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England, and he uses his expertise in this area to weave into the story of Dove’s downfall the world of fortune tellers, popular physicians, and popular occult practitioners… The mental and cultural world of a northern Methodist family is reconstructed deftly and interestingly [and] the Leeds of the period is admirably evoked.

Professor James Sharpe, University of York


In 1856 William Dove, the son of a respected Methodist merchant, was tried for poisoning his wife. Believing the prediction of Henry Harrison, the ‘Leeds Wizard’, that he would remarry a more attractive and richer woman, he made a pact with the devil and murdered his wife. Was he mad? Or was he one of the foulest murderers in the annals of crime? The trials of Dove and the wizard sensationally exposed a world of popular magic that had remained largely hidden from middle-class Victorian eyes.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book in Many Ways 7 Dec 2011
By DRCarlson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book will be great for people interested in many topics, from English jurisprudence, the insanity defense, cunning-folk, early methodism, to the nascent fear inducing media, it has a lot to recommend it. One of Mr. Davies better books.
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