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Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781844088751

Price: £9.99

ON SALE: 4th February 2016

Genre: Humanities / History

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This book journeys into the heart of dark passions and the crimes they impel. When passion is in the picture, what is criminal, what sane, what mad or simply bad?

Brighton, 1870: A well-respected spinster infuses chocolate creams with strychnine in order to murder her lover’s wife.

Paris, 1880: A popular performer stalks her betraying lover through the streets of the city for weeks and finally takes aim.

New York, 1906: A millionaire shoots dead a prominent architect in full view of a theatre audience.

Through court and asylum records, letters and newspaper accounts,this book brings to life a period when the psychiatric professions were consolidating their hold on our understanding of what is human. An increasingly popular press allowed the public unprecedented insight into accounts of transgressive sexuality,savage jealousy and forbidden desires.

With great story-telling flair, Lisa Appignanesi teases out the vagaries of passion and the clashes between the law and the clinic as they stumble towards a (sometimes reviled) collaboration. Sexual etiquette and class roles, attitudes to love, madness and gender, notions of respectability and honour, insanity and lunacy, all are at play in that vital forum in which public opinion is shaped – the theatre of the courtroom.


Leaving no stone unturned, Appignanesi details the actions of psychiatrists, courts, and the press amid allegations of "hysteria," stalking, affairs, obsession, "love-madness" (nymphomania), and children born out of wedlock. The factual material-court transcripts, asylum records, lovers' letters, and "hint and smear" news accounts-is vast and historically resonant
Publishers Weekly
Novelist, feminist, cultural critic and historian Lisa Appignanesi is an intellectual star in London where she chairs the Freud Museum, writes about women and psychiatry, and has been awarded the OBE for services to literature. Her cosmopolitan background, scholarly expertise, and narrative verve unite in this analysis of three sensational crimes of passion in England, France, and the United States, and the ways doctors and lawyers battled to explain and judge them in the courts. An exciting, enthralling and enlightening book
Elaine Showalter
Glorious detail is marshalled from the copious reporting of these sensational stories
Appignanesi is a fine storyteller, bringing the characters and times to life . . . This is a clear and fascinating introduction to the grey zone between criminal guilt and madness
Jewish Chronicle
A mosaic of law, psychology, and class strictures . . . Will satisfy readers attuned to the juncture of history, psychology, and feminism
A convincing, enlightening narrative that skilfully blends scholarship with a seductive interest in what makes us human
Trials of Passion is a rich and rewarding work, brimful of insight and wisdom. Lisa Appignanesi does nothing by halves, and what she says about the mind doctors might describe her own book: "their profession is an art - an art of understanding the human"
Literary Review
Trials of Passion mixes sex, scandal and psychiatry in a way as exciting as today's headlines and as rich as yesterday's archives
Edmund White
Trials of Passion is a wholly absorbing, obsessively interesting book. Lisa Appignanesi's stories of women and men who murdered and maimed for love, obsession, and revenge are told in vivid detail. But through these tales she gives the reader more: a portrait of an age and its often-contradictory ideas about madness, social mores, and the female psyche, all of which were on trial with the defendants. Deft, learned, and compassionate, this is a book for anyone who cares about the curious doings of the human mind strained to its limits by affairs of the heart
Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World
A fascinating portrayal of unhinged lovers caught between lawyers and mind doctors in three turn-of-the-century court cases
Lara Feigel, Observer
Enthrallingly narrated, Appignanesi's book compels with its gruesome subject matter and delights with a wealth of bizarre detail
Miranda Seymour, Daily Telegraph
A stupendous achievement, combining brilliant historical sleuthing with masterful storytelling. Appignanesi's book offers at once a canny cross-cultural analysis of the (mis-) uses of the insanity plea and an evocative account of how our forebears a hundred years ago made sense of the lethal havoc that could be wreaked by unassuaged jealousies and amorous obsessions. Trials of Passion transforms our understanding of the origins of 'the sexual century' - the one we've just left behind, but which continues to leave its marks on our present
Dagmar Herzog, author of Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History
Trials refers here both to some celebrated criminal trials and to the trials faced by the western justice system in the late-nineteenth century up to WWI in trying to come to grips with what should be considered 'mad' or 'bad.' Appignananesi brings a wealth of psychiatric insight and historical detail to this question
Appignanesi combines a historian's expertise with a novelist's eye for lurid detail