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Wayward Women: Female Offenders in Victorian England Paperback – 8 Feb 2016
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About the Author
Lucy Williams is a writer and historian living in Wales. She has a PhD from the University of Liverpool and specialises in Crime History, Women's History, and the Social History of the nineteenth century. She has spent over five years researching and writing about female deviance in an academic context, and is now part of an exciting project tracing the lives of offenders in England and Australia. Wayward Women is her first popular book on the history of women and crime.
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The book takes you by the hand and deftly guides you through the various ways women could break the law, giving plenty of fascinating examples and using testimony from the criminals themselves, victims, court records and newspapers. Dr Williams' writing style is clear and easy to follow, taking care to explain some of the more old-fashioned language and helpfully converting money values, which helps understand the crimes in a modern context.
Some of the stories have humurous aspects - such as 'Madam Rachel' selling makeup, while claiming to be 85 years old but actually decades younger - proof of her miraculous potions and powders. There's Margaret Day, transported to prison in a wheelbarrow as she was so drunk. Even the sad tale of Mary Ann Read, who cannot help stealing, had amusing parts as her constant crimes seemed to not put off people in the same street hiring her!
Of course, there are more tragic stories. I found the story of the hanging of Catherine Wilson fascinating and sad, but sensitively covered by the author. The tales of 'instrumental rape' on locked hospital wards, people-trafficking from the continent and the child sex trade have uncomfortable parallel to modern life, and show that some of these crimes have not disappeared with the Victorian age.
The author's discussion of prison and its efficacy was also a very interesting thread which made me want to read more about the subject.
I look forward to Lucy Williams' next offering. Read this book even if you think it doesn't tally with your interests - I hadn't read much about either women's history or criminal history specifically but it was absolutely fascinating!
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