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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An English Tragedy, 29 May 2013
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If you liked "The Suspicions Of Mr Wicher" you will simply adore this true tale of a very english tragedy. Pauline Conolly has obviously researched the archives extensively to come up with a book which I read at a sitting. It was like first reading "Gone With The Wind"! I loved the passion with which she writes and also evokes. Thoroughly to be recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spotlight on Victorian mores, 24 April 2013
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A splendidly thorough exploration of the story the dysfunctional Marsden family, whose daughters were subjected to one of the worst types of rigorous Victorian upbringing, accused of self-abuse by a French governess and then packed off to live with the governess in Paris. Neglected by their widowed father, who has since married a new wife, the girls' mental and physical wellbeing deteriorate in the care of the harshly disciplinarian governess, with disastrous results. The ensuing trials and the examination of the later lives of the survivors give a great insight into the culture and attitudes of the times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Petrarch, 24 Jun 2013
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This fascinating book tells an alarming, true story of the Victorian treatment of children, and of the darkness which could lie behind so-called 'respectability'. It is finely told, excellently documented, and original. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and tragic, 2 April 2013
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Pauline Connolly's book examines the tragic story of Dr James Marsden's daughters. Marsden's belief in the benefits of the water-cure and strict diet led to the death of two of his five daughters. The fault was not his alone. The cruelty of the girls' French governess certainly contributed to their demise.
It's a horrific story that left me angry that Marsden accepted no responsibility for his actions and the governess, although tried for manslaughter, went on to get other jobs looking after vulnerable children.
Connolly's research is detailed and well documented. She continues the story so that the reader knows what became of the other three daughters.
A fascinating and tragic piece of social history. I enjoyed it very much.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Terrible Sadness of Truth, 29 Mar 2013
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Gayle Beveridge (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
Normally a reader of fiction I was pleasantly surprised by this narrative non-fiction story. Pauline Conolly has related the well-researched tale of the tragic life of the Marsden sisters, victims of an arrogant and ambitious father, a physically abusive governess and of Victorian attitudes and cultural mores.

The author has an engaging style of writing; she does not just present us with facts, she brings the Marsden sisters and their community to life. Rich descriptions of Victorian times transport the reader to a different world; explanations bridging the gap between the long ago and today are woven seamlessly into the tale.

The Water Doctor's Daughters is not fiction and is all the sadder for it. The reader cannot help but feel for these young girls, be angered by their carers, and bristle at lies told. The legal proceedings draw the reader in, as though they have a stake in the case.

The author often supposes what the girls might have felt, what they might have thought. In the depth of the author's characterizations, the girls are reincarnated.

I recommend the Water Doctor's Daughters to readers of narrative non-fiction and fiction alike. This is a fast-paced ride through England and Paris, through horror and heartbreak, through justice and injustice. I purchased this high quality hard cover book from Revital Books after seeing plugs for it on facebook, prior to it being released on Amazon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone intrigued by Victorian life., 31 Aug 2013
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Pauline Conolly's story of Dr James Marsden - the Water Doctor of the title - is a well-written and fascinating tale that kept me turning pages to the very end. Through excellent research the author has uncovered a tale that pulls at the heart-strings, and leaves the reader horrified by the hypocrisy and tragedy at its heart.

Malvern and its emerging fame as a health spa was largely due to the vision of two men, Drs Gully and Marsden. As a consequence, Malvern attracted the great and good for several decades. Their belief in the mantra, `A healthy mind in a healthy body' was not misplaced - although their separate stories could be said to illustrate another truism: power corrupts. In Dr Marsden's case, self-regard blinded him to the sufferings of those who should have been his prime concern.

Many factors contributed to the desperately sad lives and deaths of the Marsden children, and the appointment of French governess, Celestine Doudet, was clearly a huge mistake. But was she to blame? Pauline Connolly asks this question as she traces the downward path. I won't spoil this mystery by giving my answer to the question, but urge readers to decide for themselves. References have been made elsewhere to `The Suspicions of Mr Whicher,' and I would endorse the fact that this tale is similarly compelling.

The only thing I found myself wishing for in this excellent biography was a Marsden family tree to clarify the ages of the children. But that is a minor issue - the story carries the reader along. Only as I finished this book did I understand the bitter irony of the quote at the beginning.

'The Water Doctor's Daughters' were abandoned in life - but with this book Pauline Conolly has raised a fitting memorial. She has my admiration.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Victorian experience of childhood, 6 Mar 2013
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The Marsden case was a cause celebre in the late 1850's. It involved such luminaries as Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, to name just a few.The subject of this book is one that still causes heartache today. This is an excellent book about that most sugared event of Victorian history, the childhood of five little girls.
Dr James Loftus Marsden was a very fine fellow, if only in his own opinion. He practised homoeopathy and hydrotherapy in Malvern in the 1840's and 1850s. Hydrotherapy is a now discredited form of treatment for such diverse illness as sleep problems, migraine and other intractable disorders. Dr Marsden was married with six children. His wife died young and worn out by childbirth which eventually killed her at her last delivery.Dr Marsden was left a widower with five daughters who needed an education.Their governess left and was replaced by a French woman, Mademoiselle Celestine Doudet. She had previously been a dresser to no less a person than Queen Victoria herself. Mlle Doudet very soon made a shocking discovery, or so she told Dr Marsden. The eldest girls, Lucy, Emily, Marian and Rosa were indulging in a very un-Victorian habit, namely, masturbation! Dr Marsden was appalled. The Victorians regarded such a thing as the highway to moral decay and insanity. Lucy and James were already disappointing their dictatorial father by failing to live up to his ideas for their education - Lucy had some type of learning disorder - and now this!
Dr Marsden acted at once. The girls were dispatched to Paris with their governess and younger sister Alice.They lived in the governess's old home whose sister also lived there. At first all seemed well and there are descriptions of the young English girls paying in the courtyard together. Dr Marsden was about to remarry and was very worried by endless letters from Mlle Doudet detailing his daughters habits and shortcomings. He and his new wife visited the girls in Paris and the second Mrs Marsden was dismayed to find her new step daughters quiet, subdued and almost under a spell. They returned to England and at this point Zepherine, the younger Doudet sister, left the house, alleging that her sister was cruel to the Marsden sisters, physically and mentally and was also starving them.
The girls were left alone, increasingly weak and ill with whooping cough. In July 1853, Dr Marsden received a terrible letter from his sister in law Fanny Rashdall, who was visiting the girls. Marian had had an accident and died as a result of it. Dr Marsden went to France with his brother in law, Reverend John Rashdall, to find Marian dead and the remaining girls very unwell and extremely thin. The girls were sent to their aunt's Paris apartment but continued to visit their governess. Like puppies,which seek to appease their abusers, they still sought to win their torturer's approval. It was decided that the children should return to England. Lucy was very ill indeed and the journey killed her shortly after she arrived back in Malvern. She was buried beside her mother, whose namesake she was.
In Paris, people were gossiping about the way Mlle Doudet had mistreated her charges and that perhaps Marian's death was not the accident it appeared.At the same time, the sad siblings who remained began to talk about the treatment they had received at the hands of their erstwhile governess. Dr Marsden had heard of the rumours that were circulating and went back to Paris, talked to some neighbours and then laid a formal complaint at the Palais de Justice in Paris, charging Mlle Doudet with Marian's death and cruelty to all of his daughters. She was quick to respond and alleged that the girl's own habits were responsible for her death. It is important to understand that nobody else who knew the Marsden girls ever described them as anything other that sweet and charming young girls. No one, save their credulous father, ever believed Mlle Doudet and in their defence it must be said that one of the girls said that if she was doing what her governess said, she had to be doing it in her sleep as she did not know what the governess meant.
Mlle Doudet was charged with manslaughter. In return she flung mud and obloquy at her former pupils. Eventually she was acquitted of the charges. It could not be proved that her attack on Marian had caused her death some days later. The long gap between the child's death and autopsy - nearly 18 months - destroyed forensic evidence. The traditional antagonism between France and England played their part in her aquittal too.The English press and the Marsdens and their supporters were enraged.
So they lived happily ever after - or did they? Pauline Connolly has written a wonderful book about these unfortunate girls. Their story is still relevant today. The only people who emerge from this tragic tale with any credit are the second Mrs Marsden, who seemed to care about her step children and their Rashdall aunt and uncle. Dr James Loftus Marsden was a cold, hard, unforgiving man with a conviction of his own superiority and near divinity. His later behaviour shows him to be self obsessed and cruel, as you will find if you read this book. As for Mlle Celestine Doudet, was she mad, bad, a child hater, or jealous of the second Mrs Marsden? All these reasons have been advanced by others for her behaviour. Did she just lose her temper one last fatal time? I do not know.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 30 July 2014
Excellent enjoyed every moment of read it.
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The Water Doctor's Daughters by Pauline Conolly
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