The Poison Passion of the Chocolate Killer with a Bounty On Her Head – Lisa Appignanesi at Swindon Festival of Literature

12 May

Lisa Appignanesi gives an incredible insight into the way three different countries dealt with crimes of passion in the late 19th century.

In depth research and extraction of the most arresting cases makes her book ‘Trials of Passion’ a fascinating but also surprising read.

In a general sense we learn that the French legal system flexed to deal with emotion whereas the British system steadfastly sought out the visible facts and used cold factual evidence to construct a case.

With the depth of knowledge that Appignanesi herself has she was well equipped to deal with questions from the Arts Centre audience and there was a clear conclusion  that at the end of the 19th century France was the place to exact your lustful revenge.

Appignanesi related the amazing story of a Brighton woman who became so obsessed with a married man that she attempted to poison his wife with a chocolate but to cover her tracks contracted children to place poisoned sweets in branches of the sweet shop Maynards.

Her attempt to murder the wife failed miserably but a little boy innocently bought a bag a sweets from Maynards and died as a consequence, this is where this particular crime of passion became much more complicated.

With the husband saying he had barely spoken to her and the woman herself distraught at the death of the boy the case drew national attention.

In France the case explored featured a weapon far more dangerous than a Cadbury’s Flake dipped in cyanide, Marie Biere stalked her lover through Paris armed with a revolver. Named ‘Hysteria of the Heart’ the story is far more dramatic than the calculated British story.

It also features the mentality of the woman concerned, in Britain, madness was proven and the asylum awaited, in France Biere was first seen as a ‘gentle sensitive woman’ rather than a gun-toting madwoman.

The French system then attempted to examine her mental state. Appignanesi told each story with flair and enthusiasm with each containing enough passion, twists and turns to mirror fiction.

Lisa Appignanesi was at Swindon Arts Centre 9 May 2014.
Words by Michael Scott. Photos by Calyx Pictures.

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