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Death at the priory : love, sex, and murder in Victorian England (original 2001; edition 2001)

by James Ruddick

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3522031,026 (3.64)19
Member:jillmwo
Title:Death at the priory : love, sex, and murder in Victorian England
Authors:James Ruddick
Info:New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, c2001. xii, 209 p. : ill. ; 22 cm. 1st American ed
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:non-fiction, history,

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Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick (2001)

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Excellently written, easy read. Hard to put this one down. Ruddick's insight and research bring this true story and it's characters to life. ( )
  aroradreem | May 4, 2016 |
Death at the Priory by James Ruddick - good

What an interesting true story. Reminiscent of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher in that it reviews a Victorian Murder that no one was convicted for and tries to work out 'whodonit'.

Unlike Mr Whicher (which I found interesting but dry), this is a lively run through of the facts about the murder, the people involved and the possible culprits. The author comes to a conclusion based on his research and modern understanding which I found plausible.

Florence Campbell marries Alexander Ricardo and soon regrets it. Somehow she manages to extracate herself from the marriage and falls into the arms of Dr Gully her physician and a man somewhat older than her. Later she drops him to marry Charles Bravo and it is Charles who is our murder victim. He is poisoned and suffers an agonising and lingering death. So who killed him? Florence who suffers at his hands, her lady companion that Charles was threatening with dismissal, Dr Gully through jealousy, or the coachman that Charles dismissed? The author researched meticulously and reaches his own conclusion, but not before he has drawn back the lace curtains on the Victorian upper-classes and their marriages.

I thought it was fascinating.

( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
This is a non-fiction book in two parts: in the first half, the author tells what’s known about a murder that took place in 1875 England. In the second, he goes through the evidence and interviews descendants of the people involved and presents his theory of what happened.

Florence Campbell was the daughter of a well to do upper middle class family who had the worst luck in relationships. She married Alexander Ricardo, who was in the service, and demanded that he resign because she feared for his life in the military. He declined into total alcoholism and became abusive. When she left him and went home, her father refused to take her in, wanting her to ‘do the right thing’ and stand by her husband. For her to leave would reflect poorly on her family, of course, and he couldn’t have that. When she refused to go back to Ricardo, he agreed to send her to a sanitarium for a stay ‘for health reasons’. There she met Dr. Gully, the much older, married, owner of the sanitarium and they started an affair. During this time, Ricardo had the good grace to die, leaving Florence a rich widow. It did not do her much good, however, because word of her affair got out, ruining her in society. She was happy to marry Charles Bravo, as this made her acceptable to society again. He was happy to marry her, as she was very rich and let him spend her money freely. Bravo would have had it made had he not been a mean and greedy man, dismissing Florence’s servants and getting rid of everything that he personally had no interest in, such as the garden and the horses. He became emotionally, sexually, and physically abusive to Florence. Then one evening he became violently ill. Doctors were called and they realized he had swallowed poison. After three horrible days, he died. Was is suicide, as Florence’s paid companion claimed? Or had someone poisoned him? If so, who? There was no lack of people that he had angered. Despite an inquest, no one was ever charged with Bravo’s death.

Ruddick’s examination of the evidence convinced me pretty well that he has fingered the right suspect. He was able to find out things from the descendants that never came out at the inquest. There were also presumptions about what people of different classes and sexes would and wouldn’t do that colored the minds of the investigators. Had this same crime been committed today, there would have most likely have been a conviction. An interesting piece of Victorian true crime. ( )
1 vote lauriebrown54 | Dec 11, 2014 |
The book was fascinating, but I wasn't so keen on the authors writing. He seemed to go for sensationalism over good writing, and his tone often seemed dismissive.

( )
  Violetthedwarf | Oct 23, 2014 |
In December of 1875, the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married a handsome and influential young attorney named Charles Bravo. The dissolution of Florence's first marriage as well as the revelation of her affair with prominent doctor James Gully, had led to her becoming a social pariah. However, her marriage to Charles Bravo was Florence's way of escaping the scandals of her past; and she fervently hoped that such a marriage would reopen certain doors which had formerly been closed to her.

As the newlyweds settled into the Priory, Florence's posh mansion outside London, the couple seemed destined to live a charmed life together. But the marriage was far from happy, as Charles proved to be a brutal, vindictive and conniving man. He abused and tormented his wife and antagonized her servants, ultimately dismissing her housekeeper and loyal companion, Mrs. Cox, despite her years of service.

Then one night while preparing for bed, Charles Bravo suddenly collapsed. Although the greatest English physicians of the era - including the royal physician, Sir William Gull - were summoned to his bedside, they ultimately could do nothing to help him, and three days later Charles died an agonizing death. The doctors were unanimous in their diagnosis of the cause of his death: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The graphic and sensational details of the case would eventually capture the public imagination of Victorian England as the investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects soon grew to include Florence; her former secret lover, the eminent doctor James Gully; her longtime companion and former housekeeper Mrs. Cox; and a recently dismissed stableman named George Griffiths.

Although press coverage of that era relied heavily on speculation surrounding the details of the case, the subsequent murder investigation was never resolved. No actual motive was ever discovered, and ultimately no murderer could be determined. And despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and many other esteemed writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has remained unsolved for over a century.

Now James Ruddick retells this gripping story of love, greed, brutality and betrayal among the elite, offering an intimate portrait of Victorian culture and of one woman's struggle to live in this repressive society. Simultaneously a murder mystery, a colorful social history, and a modern-day detective tale, Death at the Priory is a thrilling read and a window into a fascinating time. As Agatha Christie once claimed: "One of the most mysterious poisoning cases ever recorded."

I really enjoyed reading this book - I found it to be meticulously researched; clearly and precisely written, and I appreciated that James Ruddick's writing was not in any way dry or technical - he had an easy and engaging way of stating the facts of the case. I would be delighted to learn that James Ruddick has written much more, because I thoroughly enjoy his economical writing style. I knew of the Charles Bravo Murder already, as I had read Elizabeth Jenkins' wonderful book, Dr. Gully's Story several years ago.

I give Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick a resounding A+! ( )
1 vote | moonshineandrosefire | Sep 19, 2014 |
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On a warm April morning in 1876, the body of a young barrister named Charles Bravo was carried out of a house in Balham, south London.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802139744, Paperback)

The fatal poisoning of Charles Bravo in 1876 remains a great, unsolved mystery. As James Ruddick shows in this engrossing account, there was no shortage of suspects. Among them were Bravo's wife, Florence, who married the young barrister in part to erase the taint of a recent sexual scandal; Jane Cox, a servant caught spinning a web of lies about what happened the night Bravo died; and James Gully, an esteemed doctor who was also once Florence's lover. "In time, the case passed into the pantheon of English crime, a riddle that drew the interest in speculation of every passing generation," writes Ruddick. It's not hard to see why. Death at the Priory is full of compelling personalities and titillating revelations about what happened behind the closed doors of Victorian England. Ruddick promises something more than a rehash of the established facts: "I discovered the new evidence which has enabled me to expose Charles Bravo's murderer." The author ultimately does not point his finger in a surprising direction, though he has added substantial details to what's known about the case. Fans of true-crime literature will enjoy this book, especially if they're attracted to its historical setting. --John Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In 1875, the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married the handsome and successful young attorney Charles Bravo, hoping to escape the scandals of her past. As they settled into the Priory, her posh mansion outside London, the couple seemed to be living a charmed life. But Bravo proved to be a brutal and conniving man, and the marriage was far from happy. He abused his wife and antagonized her servants, ultimately dismissing her housekeeper and longtime companion, Mrs. Cox, despite her years of service. Then one night while preparing for bed, Charles Bravo suddenly collapsed. Though the greatest English physicians of the era were summoned to his side, they could do nothing, and three days later he died an agonizing death. The doctors were unanimous in their diagnosis: Charles Bravo had been poisoned. The graphic and sensational details of the case would capture the public imagination of Victorian England. The investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects grew to include Florence; her secret lover, the eminent doctor James Gully; Mrs. Cox; and the recently dismissed stable man, George Griffiths. But ultimately no murderer could be determined, and despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and other writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has never been definitively solved. Until now."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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