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A Very British Murder: The Story of a National Obsession

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Dr. Lucy Worsley,Chief Curator, Historic Royal Palaces

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lecture A Very British Murder:
The Story of a National Obsession

The Newberry Library, Ruggles Hall
60 West Walton St | 6:00 PM Book Signing

Dr. Lucy Worsley, has a degree in history from Oxford and a doctorate in architectural history. Currently, she leads a team of 14 curators who are responsible for five Historic Royal Palaces including the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palaces, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace. She was formerly an Inspector of Historic Buildings for English Heritage and has published guidebooks and articles on a range of English country houses.

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In 2005 she was elected a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. She is the author of books on Hampton Court Palace and 17th-century country house life. Other books include Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion and Great Houses, and Courtiers: The Secret History of Kensington Palace, 2010.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is a frequent lecturer in England and abroad. She regularly appears on the BBC presenting programs about historical figures, royal palaces, and courtly life from the 16th through the 18th century.

Her most recent BBC series and book, on which her lecture is based, A Very British Murder, examines the "morbid national obsession" with murder and was published in 2013.

Murder is the foulest crime of all, yet people are fascinated by it. In English novels, films and theatre, people have come to enjoy a good fictional murder, and the messier the better. In her lecture, Dr. Lucy Worsley, noted historian and Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces will explain how the curious relationship people have with killing has a long, dark history and reached a fever pitch in 19th-century England.

As Britain became more literate, the public acquired an appetite for sensationalism and grisly crimes reported in newspapers. These crimes hugely influenced writers such as Charles Dickens, who turned murder and its detection into a suitable subject for literature. These crimes also spawned a fascination with crime-solving, and detective writers from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie distanced murder from its sordid reality and turned it into an elegant crime with respectable suspects and hero-like sleuths.

Dr. Worsley will describe some of the notorious crimes of the Regency and early Victorian era that heightened the appetite for murder including crimes such as the 1827 Red Barn murder and the so-called "Bermondsey horror" of 1849—a case of a ménage à trois gone fatally wrong that became the sensation of the age and in part inspired Dickens' Bleak House.

Dr. Worsley will explore the huge social and cultural impact from these crimes—not just the widespread panic and fear they instilled in the public, but also the popular entertainment it inspired including blood-curdling theatrical melodramas, travelling marionette shows, and gory popular ballads that were lapped up with feverish enthusiasm by the masses.

Dr. Worsley will also look at the reasons why Victorians were fascinated with crime and how murder gave birth to the new science of forensics as well as changed modern concepts of justice and a women's place in society.


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