A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century

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9780002571340: A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century

On an April evening in 1779, a woman is shot on the steps of Covent Garden. Her murderer is a young soldier and Church of England minister; her lover, the Earl of Sandwich, one of the most powerful policians of the day. This compelling account of murder, love and intrigue brings Georgian London to life, in a spellbinding historical masterpiece. On an April evening in 1779, Martha Ray, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, was shot on the steps of Covent Garden by James Hackman, a young soldier and minister of the Church of England. She died instantly, leaving behind a grief-stricken lover and five small children. Hackman, after trying to kill himself, was arrested, tried and hanged at Tyburn ten days later. The story was to become one of the scandals of the age. It seemed an open-and-shut case, but why had Hackman killed Ray? He claimed he suffered from 'love's madness' but his motives remained obscure. And as Martha Ray shared the bed of one of the most powerful and unpopular politicians of the day (and one of Georgian London's greatest libertines), the city buzzed with the story, as every hack journalist sharpened his pen. John Brewer has written an account of this violent murder that is as thrilling and compelling as the best crime novel. Atmospheric, beautifully written, and alive with the characters and bustle of 18th-century London, the book examines in minute detail the events of a few crucial moments and gives an unforgettable account of the relationships between the three protagonists and their different places within society. However, the interest in Martha's murder did not end with the Georgians, and A Sentimental Murder ranges over two centuries, populated by journalists, biographers and historians who tried to make sense of the killing. And so it becomes an intriguing exploration of the relations between history and fiction, storytelling and fact, past and present. John Brewer has transformed a tragic tale of murder into an historical masterpiece.

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About the Author:

John Brewer is Eli and Edye Broad Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at the California Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. His previous book, The Pleasures of the Imagination, a widely acclaimed history of the emergence of culture in Britain during the eighteenth century, won the Wolfson Prize in 1998. The Sinews of Power, brought about a radical rethinking of the relationship between finance and the English state in the eighteenth century. He is the author of many other books. He is married to Stella Tillyard lives in Oxford and Los Angeles.

From Publishers Weekly:

Historian Brewer (The Pleasures of the Imagination) uses an 18th-century English murder as the starting point for an intriguing exploration of the very nature of writing history itself. In 1779, Martha Ray, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, who was the inventor of the sandwich and First Lord of the Admiralty, was shot dead outside Covent Garden Theatre by James Hackman, a young clergyman, who then unsuccessfully tried to take his own life. While Hackman's guilt was never in dispute, the debate over his motivation continued far into the next century. Rather than attempt to "solve" this whydunit, Brewer examines the stories told about the killing, both in fiction and ostensible nonfiction. These narratives varied greatly depending on period, reflecting changing mores and attitudes. For example, the Victorians painted the earl as a decadent aristocrat to make the tale a morality play. In a fascinating parallel to today, Brewer notes how the murder dominated headlines, despite more pressing news such as the war with the American colonies, and shows how late 18th-century newspapers mirrored the Internet by "transmitting the disparate opinions of the public at large" rather than being an authoritative source of information. FYI: The Pleasures of the Imagination (1997) won the Wolfson History Prize.
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