Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Plot Thickens (a Shiny New Project update)

Interesting Development is sleeping late, which he does. So I've gotten up and gone out to a local coffee shop to work on Shiny New Project. I've successfully pushed grading out of my mind. This project is starting to be the thing that gets me up and going in the morning. That may not last, so I'm taking advantage of it. The thing is, every day there's something new.

1. I may have been wrong about my poisoning victim -- I think she survived. But she may be in custody for having tried to poison the man who allegedly tried to poison her.

2. I've been constructing her in my mind in the way that the overwhelming majority of the testimony has: as an adulterous wife who wanted to poison her husband in order to marry her lover. But now we have her testimony, and there's a new wrinkle: she claims that her husband had been carrying on an affair with his slave.** Also, that he was always jealous and possessive, and everybody knows that such men are likely to spin tales about their wives. And also that he once beat her so badly*** that she had to get full-time care from a physician.

3. Oh, and for all the cat-bloggers out there: I love you dearly, but it looks like the family cat probably dies in this one.

**Said slave was, in the husband's testimony, the wife's accomplice in delivering letters to the go-between for the wife and her lover. As a side note, several witnesses noted that the slave was missing part of her nose.

***Precisely, she said she feared that her eye would have to be amputated. Eyes popping out of their sockets is actually a trope in case literature on violence and beatings, so I'm not sure how seriously to take this.


clio's disciple said...

Sounds fascinating--I love the stage of research where everything is exciting and new...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Glad you think so, C.D. -- 'cause I'm probably going to talk your ear off about this case when we're in NYC!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Is it possible that the husband wasn't having an affair with his slave, but rather was raping her? I ask this too because of her nose injury, which may track with the husband's assault on his wife's face. (In other words, how consensual could a sexual relationship be in those circumstances? See Sharon Block's book on Rape in early America for a great discussion of the norming of some level of coercion or even physical violence in heterosexual relationships in 18th C America.)

Congratulations on finding a case so interesting it's getting you out of bed to work on it!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

H -- I think you're right on, because the power dynamics are all askew. How can there be real consent between someone who is owned and her owner? The wife's testimony is interesting, because she never blames the slave -- only says that she was so afraid of the husband that she would do or say anything he told her to. But I'll definitely check out the book you recommend.

Of course, there's the possibility that the wife is making it up in order to cast doubt on her husband's story. So I'm reserving judgment. Just playing with possibilities at this point.

As for the nose: the first time it was mentioned, I assumed it was related to disease. But it could also be the result of a deliberate injury: either in a beating, or as punishment. Since this woman (about 18 yrs old) is a slave, this could have come at the hands of a number of different people. It could also be a judicial measure, inflicted on her as punishment for some offense, either before or after she became a slave.

See why I love this case? So many avenues to explore!

Anonymous said...

what happened to the cat??

Anonymous said...

Weren't adulteresses punished by having their noses cut off? I swear I remember trying to find out about this for my dissertation. I'm pretty sure that in the Paston Letters, one of the Pastons' neighbors throws his wife out and threatens to cut off her nose if she ever comes back - there's something about an affair and nose-cutting, that much I remember (sorry I can't check right now because I archived all my medieval stuff, but let me know if you need me to check this). I've never been sure if this involves actually cutting off part of the nose or slitting the nostrils, which I've also heard about as punishment for something (but not necessarily in a medieval context).

(There was a very very creepy resonance in a modern memoir, focused around the author's rape, where the rapist threatened to come back and cut her nose off if she told anyone about it.)

Also, I'm 99% certain I've seen the eyes-popping-out trope in an English context! (Probably Sara Butler's book.)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. Now I'm worrying about that cat.

Susan said...

So this is why these studies are so interesting. Just remember, you'll never know who was right -- you'll know who you believe & why someone was believed at the time, but really? I always love the way you find out what is a plausible story. For the guy, it's that she was going to murder me so she could marry her lover, for her, he was possessive and wanted her out of the way while he carried on with his slave.

I love court records. Just saying.

Belle said...

Don't know what happened to my earlier comment here... hmmm. The mysteries of Notorious!

Well, if wifey is still alive, how is Dad dealing with his actions???