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Blue Fire by Wendy Walker

Blue Fire

by Wendy Walker

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Murder most foul: A babe found horribly treated in the bottom of a well. Suspicion falls upon the recently remarried father, then his son William, then his daughter Constance; but the case remains unsolved. Five years pass, Constance confesses to her priest, who in turn alerts the authorities. Convicted and sentenced to death, her penalty is reduced to life by the Queen. After twenty years, Constance is released, moves to Australia to live near William, and becomes a nurse. She lives to be a hundred. Before she dies, the "Sydney Document" appears in London, telling all. But can it be believed? Alas, it burns in the Blitz before the handwriting can be examined. The mystery remains.....Blue fire is an indicator of a buried soul.

But all of this is background for a remarkable piece of experimental prose. Claiming that “every text contains its own critique,” Wendy Walker has selected a single word from each line in a book about the crime written by a friend of the murdered child's father. That book, The Great Crime of 1860 by Joseph Stapleton, one of the first “true crime” works ever published, “repelled” Walker with its biases and casual misogyny and this selection technique became a means for her to work through it.

These word strings are paired with extracts taken from writings about the crime and other contemporary texts such as The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin, A Child's History of England and The Murder of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. All the extracts either shed light on the details of the murder or demonstrate the oppressive patriarchy of the Victorian age. Interestingly, the only refreshing voice for me was that of the French historian Hippolyte Taine whose Notes on England give an outsider's view of Victorian hypocrisy.

The words from Stapleton are placed on the verso and the extracted passages on the recto. The verso passages are opaque and cryptic. Like a Greek chorus, they mediate between the reader and the recto texts, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. They seem to give voice to the darkness behind the glitter and polish of the extracts. The result is quite unsettling.
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  le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
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