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Watson's Apology by Beryl Bainbridge

Watson's Apology

by Beryl Bainbridge

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In 1844 a middle-aged Irish spinster by the name of Anne Armstrong, gets the unexpected chance to escape her life of genteel poverty. An English schoolmaster, the Reverend John Selby Watson, a man whom she met briefly more than seven years before, and whom Anne has long since forgotten, appears suddenly with a proposal. While the Reverend Watson is certainly no Prince Charming, and his home is in no way a castle, life with him is seemingly so much more preferable to Anne's current living situation - that she accepts John's proposal. Thus begins a marriage that should never have been - where frustrations pile upon disillusionments until everything collapses in hatred and bloody violence.

For, after nearly thirty years of marriage, the quiet, staid, rather ordinary Reverend Watson bludgeons his wife to death one Sunday after church. The seemingly customary history of the Watsons' unhappy marriage unfolds until it culminates in a sudden brutal act and a headline-grabbing trial. Staying as true to the documented facts of this historical case as she does to the workings of her singular imagination, Ms. Bainbridge artfully reveals what history withholds: the motives, the feelings, and the insanity that drive the Watsons to their domestic tragedy.

I did enjoy reading this book; although it seemed to me to be a little disjointed in places. Perhaps this was the impression that the author wanted to give the reader, I'm not really sure. However, I found this story to be incredibly sad - and although I usually enjoy reading tear-jerking stories - I think that the knowledge that this book was based on an actual murder case, was something that made this story almost too sad for me to read. I just felt incredibly sorry for all the characters involved, and the grinding hopelessness of the Watsons situation, as well as the historical period itself, really came through to me. I give Watson's Apology: A Novel by Beryl Bainbridge a definite A! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Jun 1, 2014 |
In repressive mid-Victorian London, a pedantic English schoolteacher is yoked in marriage to an unsympathetic Irish wife. They torment each other ceaselessly until. . .

"Watson's Apology" is notable not for its plot, but for the absolute mastery of tone which the author demonstrates on nearly every page. IMHO, the cumulative impact is all the much greater because of, not in spite of, Bainbridge's "dryness" and "detachment" from her doomed characters.

If you've never read a Beryl Bainbridge before, you might want to try one of her later works first. BB is an acquired taste. . . ( )
  yooperprof | Nov 27, 2011 |
A real murder case is the focus of this novel by one of my favorite authors, Beryl Bainbridge. She notes that although the facts of the case are true, she has endeavored to take "the historical facts of this mundane murder case" and add certain "motives of the characters, their conversations and their feelings," so that the reader might understand how a respectable schoolmaster could go berserk and kill his wife.

- don't worry, no spoilers:

Mr. John Selby Watson remembered a girl he had met once at the home of a mutual acquaintance, a Miss Anne Armstrong. Miss Armstrong and her sister Olive were of the upper classes until during the Irish troubles, the bank that their father's money was in closed. At that point, the family fortune went into decline; now the only family the two sisters had was each other, and their situation was pretty much hopeless. We know from the start that Anne has some problems; Olive was always holding up some past crime of Anne's that got her fired from a position as governess. Anyway, Watson, who is getting on in years and who, if he marries, will get a larger salary & bigger home, decides to write Anne and offer her marriage. In her desperate situation, Anne agrees, and becomes the wife of the schoolmaster. Although Watson had been in his position for some 25 years or so, the board of the school voted him out; he had no prospects, Anne had turned out to be somewhat of a nag, driven by her tempestuous nature & he couldn't take it any more. So one day she ends up dead.

Bainbridge combines real documents from the trial with a fictional narrative to try to explain why this meek, mild schoolmaster may have done away with his wife. It is truly somewhat of a nonstory overall, when you consider that there were murderers making headlines at the time who were much more newsworthy. But it is a really intriguing look into the psyches of two very different & desperate people that makes this book. I can definitely recommend this one; don't expect things to flow; the narrative is different from the usual but Bainbridge's writing, as always, is exquisite. ( )
  bcquinnsmom | May 30, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786709359, Paperback)

After nearly thirty years of marriage, a Victorian clergyman, John Selby Watson, bludgeons his wife to death one Sunday afternoon after church. In this compelling tale by award-winning novelist Beryl Bainbridge, the seemingly ordinary history of their marriage unfolds until it climaxes in a sudden brutal act and a headline-grabbing trial. As true to the documented facts of this actual case as to the workings of her singular imagination, Bainbridge artfully reveals what history withholds: the motives, feelings, and insanity that drive the Watsons to their domestic tragedy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:05 -0400)

A novel of marital bickering--and murder--based on a historical case in Victorian England, from the bestselling author of The Birthday Boys. In the winter of 1884, John Selby Watson, a clergyman and headmaster living in London, writes a series of love letters--including a marriage proposal--to a woman he met only briefly at a social gathering many years before. Though Anne Armstrong does not remember Watson, she is desperate to escape poverty and the miserable life she shares with her sister in a moldy Dublin boarding house. So she accepts. Despite the abrupt circumstances of their engagement--and Anne's initial distaste for her betrothed--several years of happy marriage follow. But Watson soon becomes entrenched in his studies of classical literature, leaving his wife feeling alienated and dejected. Trivial disputes agitate the couple's domestic life with increasing frequency--a letter goes missing, the page of a book gets stained--until the bickering erupts into full-blown abuse and, during a night of drinking, their toxic environment reaches its destructive climax. Based on a real nineteenth-century murder case, Watson's Apology is a speculative novel about the complex psychological motivations that underlie a seemingly straightforward domestic tragedy. Using dark irony and twisted humor, award-winning British author Beryl Bainbridge reveals the terror that resides in the banal, and the suspense that can be found in the mysteries of the mind and heart.… (more)

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