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Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century Paperback – 3 Jan 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (3 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006552005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006552000
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Richly conceived and stylishly accomplished…potent and rewarding.’ Independent on Sunday

Daily Telegraph

'an eclectic history that delves into scandal, politics, the aristocracy, literary London and the changing nature of news reporting.'

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Basically, the story is over in the first couple of chapters. A former army officer, now a clergyman, killed the lover of a peer of the realm and Government minister, and was hanged for it. End. After that, the book examines how the story was reported over the years. Frankly, that just becomes boring after a while and I didn't finish the book. I enjoy historical true crime, but this doesn't grip at all.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 Nov. 2005
Format: Paperback
A wonderful book. John Brewer explores the gripping shooting of singer Martha Ray by a young clergyman, James Hackman and then gives us the fascinating story of how the murder reverberated through the years. Sad, tragic, dramatic, heartening and intriguing, 'A Sentimental Murder' is an elegant and enthralling read. You'll love it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A History of Histories 26 July 2004
By R. Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This much is sure: James Hackman, a young clergyman, on 7 April 1779, outside of Covent Garden Theater in London, shot and killed Martha Ray, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, and then shot himself but failed to end his own life. What had gone on between the three figures before the murder was not clearly known, but this didn't stop speculations in the press at the time, and hacks, journalists, novelists, and historians have been having a go at the incident ever since. As John Brewer writes in _A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century_ (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), the unknown represented an empty space, and "Into the empty space rushed all sorts of speculation." Writers could wonder if the lovers were meeting secretly, were they having an affair, did they want to get married, was Ray willing or Hackman forceful, were they working together against Sandwich? Brewer's detailed and intriguing book does not answer the questions, but examines the answers that different writers and different societies have come up with to suit their own tastes and times. The murder of Martha Ray was legally an open and shut case, but its unknowns have kept it open to interpretation and to eager interpreters.

The British press at the time made much of the murder, because of Sandwich's involvement. Remarkably, all three figures were written about with sympathy. Sandwich was depicted as a loving all-but-husband who had made a protected household for his mistress and the children she bore him. Ray may have been a mistress, but there was admiration for a woman who could have risen from low origins and become not a prostitute or even a courtesan, but a respectable companion and mother who was able to fill the household functions of a lady. Even the murderer emerged as a romantic hero. It was the age when sentiment and sensibility were highly prized. Hackman had a bad case of "love's madness," an out-of-control passion with which readers could sympathize rather than condemn outright.

The first attempt to turn the case into a novel was not classed as a novel at all. _Love and Madness_ was published in 1780, and purported to be the actual letters between Ray and Hackman. It was written by Herbert Croft, a hack writer and would-be lexicographer who dedicated it to Samuel Johnson. Johnson told Boswell he did not like the book, as an example of a disagreeable mixture of fact and fiction, so he was not fooled by its claim to authenticity. Croft clumsily showed his hand by having Hackman lengthily discuss other literary forgeries that were current controversies, but he did amplify the view of Hackman as progressively maddened by his doomed love. Subsequent generations took up the tale, and "Victorian commentators worried over the story like a dog over a bone." In "Lyrical Ballads", William Wordsworth incorporated Martha Ray's name into the poem "The Thorn," its utterance symbolizing ambiguity. Physician Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) diagnosed "love's madness." The Victorians insisted that their Georgian ancestors were moral barbarians, and frowned on all three parties involved. Victorians had graduated from such depravity, and congratulated themselves upon how far all ranks of England had come since the corrupt days of George III. In the 1920's, the libertine Georgians were celebrated by the "fast set and bright young things" who admired the more open sexuality of the eighteenth century. In the 1930s, the story was retold by a novelist who gave it a racist connotation; the real villain was a guest at Sandwich's manor, Omai from Tahiti, a real figure who had played only minor roles in previous versions. The real story of the murder is not the real story of the murder, in Brewer's persuasive book, but the real stories that different generations have made of it. This is a book to examine the ripples the incident caused, and is a fascinating history for observing how writing history is itself part of history.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful 24 Jan. 2009
By Eee - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have to admit, that I am not a scholar of history, but find this period to be absolutely fascinating. My view of Georgian England has been biased by exposure to accounts of courtly politeness and bodice ripping romance. While perhaps this is not the intent of this work, I feel that I have gained further insights into this period. This is a wonderfully written, fascinating look at history, and the effects of telling and retelling it.

Anyone interested in this period of history would benefit from reading this book, the prose is excellent, execution is clear, and the story is engrossing.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
just the facts 20 Sept. 2010
By D. Liebig - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Didn't enjoy this style of writing or presenting facts. Very dry book. Bought it for my mother who likes reading true murder mysteries and she couldn't get through it either!
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century 13 Dec. 2009
By Kirt A. Guthrie - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book to use as back-up material for a college class research paper. Was in excellent condition when I got it and proved to be very useful.
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