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Friday, July 29, 2016

Death at the Priory. Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England.James Ruddick. Atlantic Books (2001)

A very engaging and enjoyable study of a famous,unsolved, murder in April 1876. Charles Bravo died at his home, The Priory in in Belham, south of London, he had been poisoned and suffered days of agony before he died. The murder could only have been committed by someone in the house at the time, no one was identified, charged or convicted. The death of Charles Bravo has retained the enduring appeal of unsolved mysteries and James Ruddick examines the details of the case and offers a solution.
Florence Campbell married Alexander Ricardo in 1864 , Alexander died in 187 leaving Florence a wealthy widow. Florence married Charles Bravo, a barrister, in  December 1875, he was dead five months later.
James Ruddick carefully fills in the details of the context for Florence Campbell's life as a woman in Victorian England, as a daughter and a wife she was essentially always someone else's property which a very limited say in the control and management of her own life. When her marriage to Alexander Ricardo broke down in 1870 and she returned to her father's house, he insisted that she return to her husband. Control of her money was a key problem in her short marriage to Charles Bravo.In the interval between the death of Alexander Ricardo and her marriage to Charles Bravo Florence had an affair with a very prominent doctor, James Gully, that was discovered and created very considerable social problems for Florence.
James Ruddick then looks at the details of the death of Charles Bravo, he took some days to day and was attended by some of the most famous doctors of the day as well as the inquest which followed his death, which was followed with enormous interest by the public as the scandalous details of Florence's affair with Dr Gully were revealed. No one was found to be responsible for Charles Bravo's murder.
The second half of the book is the investigation that James Ruddick undertook into the case and the conclusion that he came to. The details are very well laid out and the new information that he has uncovered very interesting. The conclusion that he reaches is very plausible and well considered. The only problem with it is the certainty that James Ruddick delivers it with. The events in the murder of Charles Bravo are too far gone to allow for anything more than a decision based on the balance of probability, on that basis his conclusion is very strongly possible and is very persuasive. James Ruddick pushes a little too hard for his proposal, in am imperfect world there should always be room for doubt.
This is a fascinating and very sympathetic account of the life of a very unfortunate woman who found that her limited life choices had very severe consequences, for herself and for others who were trapped by the events at the Priory. The historical and social details of the context are clearly explained and the investigation itself is thorough and intriguing.

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