Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic by Kate Colquhoun - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

Marriage Plot

Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic


Little, Brown 419pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

James Whorton’s entertaining history The Arsenic Century (2010) exposed the Victorian home as a death trap. From Buckingham Palace to the modest terrace, arsenic floated from the surface of the fashionable green wallpapers and leached from the dyes of fabrics used for everything from upholstery to ball gowns. Children sucked it off the paint on their toys and it was an ingredient in medicines and cosmetics. Pure, white and deadly, in powder form it was easily obtained for a few pence to kill vermin and was frequently mistaken for sugar. Arsenic also came to be seen as a particularly female murder weapon: there were several famous trials of women accused of poisoning their husbands or lovers with it in small incremental doses. None was more notorious than that of Florence Maybrick.

The Maybricks appeared to be a devoted middle-class couple with two small children, living in a substantial house in a fashionable suburb of Liverpool. However, like Dickens’s Veneerings, they were keeping up appearances with increasing difficulty. Each had been deceived as to the other’s wealth and by 1889 the marriage

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