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Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness Hardcover – 3 Apr 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (3 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184408874X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844088744
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 643,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Glorious detail is marshalled from the copious reporting of these sensational stories (Independent)

Enthrallingly narrated, Appignanesi's book compels with its gruesome subject matter and delights with a wealth of bizarre detail (Miranda Seymour Daily Telegraph)

A convincing, enlightening narrative that skilfully blends scholarship with a seductive interest in what makes us human (Observer)

Appignanesi is a fine storyteller, bringing the characters and times to life . . . This is a clear and fascinating introduction to the grey zone between criminal guilt and madness (Jewish Chronicle)

Trials of Passion is a rich and rewarding work, brimful of insight and wisdom. Lisa Appignanesi does nothing by halves, and what she says about the mind doctors might describe her own book: "their profession is an art - an art of understanding the human" (Literary Review)

Appignanesi combines a historian's expertise with a novelist's eye for lurid detail (Tatler)

A fascinating portrayal of unhinged lovers caught between lawyers and mind doctors in three turn-of-the-century court cases (Lara Feigel Observer)

Novelist, feminist, cultural critic and historian Lisa Appignanesi is an intellectual star in London where she chairs the Freud Museum, writes about women and psychiatry, and has been awarded the OBE for services to literature. Her cosmopolitan background, scholarly expertise, and narrative verve unite in this analysis of three sensational crimes of passion in England, France, and the United States, and the ways doctors and lawyers battled to explain and judge them in the courts. An exciting, enthralling and enlightening book (Elaine Showalter)

A stupendous achievement, combining brilliant historical sleuthing with masterful storytelling. Appignanesi's book offers at once a canny cross-cultural analysis of the (mis-) uses of the insanity plea and an evocative account of how our forebears a hundred years ago made sense of the lethal havoc that could be wreaked by unassuaged jealousies and amorous obsessions. Trials of Passion transforms our understanding of the origins of 'the sexual century' - the one we've just left behind, but which continues to leave its marks on our present (Dagmar Herzog, author of Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History)

A mosaic of law, psychology, and class strictures . . . Will satisfy readers attuned to the juncture of history, psychology, and feminism (Kirkus)

Trials of Passion mixes sex, scandal and psychiatry in a way as exciting as today's headlines and as rich as yesterday's archives (Edmund White)

Trials of Passion is a wholly absorbing, obsessively interesting book. Lisa Appignanesi's stories of women and men who murdered and maimed for love, obsession, and revenge are told in vivid detail. But through these tales she gives the reader more: a portrait of an age and its often-contradictory ideas about madness, social mores, and the female psyche, all of which were on trial with the defendants. Deft, learned, and compassionate, this is a book for anyone who cares about the curious doings of the human mind strained to its limits by affairs of the heart (Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World)

Leaving no stone unturned, Appignanesi details the actions of psychiatrists, courts, and the press amid allegations of "hysteria," stalking, affairs, obsession, "love-madness" (nymphomania), and children born out of wedlock. The factual material-court transcripts, asylum records, lovers' letters, and "hint and smear" news accounts-is vast and historically resonant (Publishers Weekly)

Trials refers here both to some celebrated criminal trials and to the trials faced by the western justice system in the late-nineteenth century up to WWI in trying to come to grips with what should be considered 'mad' or 'bad.' Appignananesi brings a wealth of psychiatric insight and historical detail to this question (Booklist)

Book Description

Using sensational public trials, in America, Britain and France, this book takes madness and passion into the courts and puts them on trial.

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4.2 out of 5 stars
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By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Sept. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating study of a selection of murder and attempted murder cases from England, France and the US during the latter years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. The cases covered are mainly what French law refers to as crimes of passion where people are apparently overcome with passion or jealousy and kill or attempt to kill their rivals or their lovers. The book also shows how differently the subject of madness, temporary or permanent was treated by the courts in these three countries.

The book covers crimes perpetrated by both men and women but it also assesses how differently women were treated by the courts in all three countries and how they are often still treated now. If the women on trial were regarded as conforming to the cultural stereotype of the time and were seen as helpless and feminine but overcome by the power of their emotions they were more likely to be deemed to be temporarily insane and confined for treatment rather than being sent to prison or sentenced to death.

However if women were seen to be too intelligent and self controlled then they were more likely to be found guilty and disapproved of by society. Men, if they were seen to be acting in response to infidelity on the part of their lovers or wives were more likely to be hailed almost heroes by killing their rivals. They were seen as representing the most admired qualities of masculinity and protecting the fortress of their families.

Of course, in spite of all these nuances, money talks and the case described here in which a millionaire kills a former lover of his wife's results in a verdict of temporary insanity and incarceration for a relatively short time in a mental hospital and subsequent release.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I find it quite hard to put a star rating on this book, because it has both virtues and drawbacks. The virtues are in the selection of law cases that the book concentrates on, from the period 1890-1910 - especially the last one, the American case of Harry K Thaw, which has many different features (and a main character who, by this account, sounds as barmy as they come). There is also, along the way, the interesting case of Mme Cailloux, who murdered the newspaper editor who, she thought, was ruining her prominent (and nasty) husband's political career. If you want to know about the French concept of 'crime passionnel' then this is to be recommended. And parts of the accounts of the cases are very well done.

But there is a downside. The author gets very hung up in contemporary accounts of clinical definitions of insanity, and in a sense you feel she has done too much research, not always to the reader's advantage. There is quite a lot of repetition and some technical stuff which really isn't very interesting.

So this is a curious mixture of interesting and boring. Take your pick.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Brighton in the late Victorian era a spinster is accused of a poisoning spree provoked by a delusion that her doctor is in love with her. In Paris 10 years later a singer shoots her erstwhile rich lover after the death of their child. In the 1900s a multi-millionaire kills his wife's discarded lover. In each case the reasoning behind the crime is linked to madness. This book explores the changing attitudes to insanity as a reason for crime and also plots the understanding of mental instability within the criminal justice system using three infamous trials as main exemplars.

What this book is not is a 'true crime' book, it's far more detailed and complex than that. Appignanesi has tried to look at the changes to the nature and understanding of madness in relation to crimes of passion from a legal and also a psychological perspective. The level of detail and research is superb but it also makes this quite an intellectual book rather than a history or entertainment. I found it a fascinating but not simple read.
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