Friday, 14 May 2010

Forgotten Book - Sweet Adelaide


In discussing Linda Stratmann’s book Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion, I mentioned that she devotes a chapter to the case of Adelaide Bartlett. This is one of the most fascinating of the classic British murder cases, I think, right up there with Maybrick, Crippen, Wallace, Ruxton and the Croydon Poisonings.

The trial of Adelaide Bartlett took place in 1886, and as Statmann explains, it ‘both scandalized and titillated Victorian society’. Adelaide was accused of using chloroform to murder her husband Edwin, and it emerged that she had been the subject of more than one sexual intrigue. However, in the end she was acquitted, although the consensus view is that she was responsible for Edwin’s death.

The case formed the basis of one of the three novels that Julian Symons wrote about Victorian murder mysteries, Sweet Adelaide. It’s a pretty good novel, with a clever solution (although not one with which Stratmann agrees) and it deserves to be better known, not least because of its entertaining characterisation of the people in and around the Bartlett household and compelling evocation of Victorian social attitudes.

After her perhaps lucky acquittal, Adelaide disappeared from public view. Stratmann describes a couple of accounts of Adelaide’s later activities, but explains that neither stands up to scrutiny. Adelaide’s later story is unknown. Now there, surely, is an opportunity for another interesting novel to be written!

7 comments:

David Cranmer said...

Very interesting. I just got caught up via Wikipedia in the Pimlico Mystery. Intriguing to say the least.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - That *is* an intriguing idea for a novel. "Untrue crime," anyone? : )

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Hmm. I wonder if Adelaide would have been acquitted in modern time. I wonder if the jury was just reluctant to send her to jail (or to her death). Interesting case.

Martin Edwards said...

David, the Pimlico case is fascinating - there's at least one good book on it, which I recall from about 20 years ago.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot - believe it or not, I once started to write a story called 'Untrue crime'!

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, that's a really good question. For what it's worth, I think she might well have been acquitted even today, although of course that does not mean she did not actually commit the crime!

Evan Lewis said...

Fascinating stuff, Martin.