Murder on the Verandah: Love and Betrayal in British Malaya

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9780002558228: Murder on the Verandah: Love and Betrayal in British Malaya

A Malayan White Mischief.

‘On Sunday, 23 April 1911, Ethel Proudlock attended Mass at St Mary’s Church in Kuala Lumpur. She was well-liked at St Mary’s. She helped with jumble sales and had recently joined the choir. After Mass, the vicar’s wife invited her to lunch. But Mrs Proudlock declined. She had sewing to do. Then, taking her leave, she drove home and killed her lover.’

During the first half of this century, the British ruled Malaya with an unhealthy blend of devout surburban aspiration of the traditional Home Counties variety and extreme cruelty to the native population, something far from the love-hate relationship that characterised the European in India.

There are qualities of Somerset Maugham (The Letter was based on the Proudlock trial) and Conrad (Heart of Darkness, obviously) in Eric Lawlor’s book. Petty, hypocritical and generally terribly unhappy, the British never counted Malaya as home, and spent their time wishing they weren’t there and behaving as if they weren’t.

Into this world of simmering race hatreds and dislocated Britishness came Ethel Proudlock, and to find out about her and to delve back into the past, Eric Lawlor will travel to Malaya to experience the aftermath of that society, to see who is still there from the old days, to discover whether real life is and was stranger than the fiction it bred. When Ethel Proudlock left Penang in 1911, she was alone, her husband having been detained in Kuala Lumpur. He had accused the police of testifying against his wife and faced libel charges. It is not known if they ever saw each other again, nor what became of their child. In 1918, she was confined to a mental institution.

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Review:

There were never any serious doubts about the facts--a bored colonial wife shot and killed her lover, making desultory claims that he had tried to rape her. No-one much cared for Mrs Proudfoot or her husband in the Malaya of 1911--she was partly Asian and her husband was lower-class and aggressive; the only reason why she was not hanged was a general feeling that, if white people were hanged for murder, it might damage colonial prestige. She was sentenced to death and then reprieved, and she and her husband were deported. He was promised a good job if he went quietly and was expeditiously double-crossed--they disappear into history. The case is principally remembered as the source of Somerset Maugham's story The Letter, but Lawlor uses it as a text from which he can read some fairly standard lessons about the snobbery, racism and fatuity of colonial society. The Proudfoots were outsiders and could expect nothing other than bad treatment--Lawlor's contempt for them and the snobs who surrounded them is pretty even-handed. Murder on the Verandah is a useful piece of social history--the story of a crime that was never a mystery. -- Roz Kaveney

From the Back Cover:

THE TRIAL AND TIMES OF ETHEL PROUDLOCK

During the first half of this century, the British ruled Malaya with an unhealthy blend of devout suburban aspiration of the traditional Home Counties variety and extreme cruelty to the native population. Into this world of simmering race hatreds came Ethel Proudlock, and on Sunday 23 April 1911 after attending Mass at St Mary’s Church in Kuala Lumpur, she drove home and killed her lover. To find out about her and to delve back into the past, Eric Lawlor will travel to Malaya to discover whether real life is and was stranger than the fiction it bred.

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Lawlor, Eric
Published by HarperCollins, Harper Collins, London (1999)
ISBN 10: 000255822X ISBN 13: 9780002558228
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Book Description HarperCollins, Harper Collins, London, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. First edition first printing of the third novel by this author. In fine / fine unread condition. Bookseller Inventory # 19801

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