Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Deadly Service

Kate Clarke is someone I’ve never met in person, but she once was shortlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and I’ve been delighted to make her acquaintance through cyberspace in recent times. She’s written a number of very interesting books, and I’ll have more to say about another of them some other time. Today, though, the focus is on her recent title Deadly Service, accounts of seven cases where employees were accused of killing their employers.

Kate kindly agreed to provide me with a guest blog post on the theme of the book:

“I have often wondered what ignites and unleashes an uncontrollable fury in servants who kill their employers, exposing the smouldering resentment in those who finally rebel against a life of servitude. Surprisingly, perhaps, this type of killing is relatively rare and when one considers the degradation and exploitation experienced by generations of servants, it is remarkable indeed that so few have resorted to murder.

Surely it could not have been merely the fussy, ostentatious ways of Mrs Julia Thomas that drove her surly housekeeper, Kate Webster, in 1879, to push her down the stairs and then systematically dismember her body and boil the bits in the kitchen copper?

Could it be that the obsequious widow, Jane Cannon Cox, was so determined to maintain her luxurious life-style as companion to the wealthy Florence Bravo, that, in 1876, she was prepared to kill Charles, her mistress’s new husband, with enough antimony to ‘kill a horse’?

Is it really possible that something as innocuous as a broken iron could have unleashed such an orgy of violence in the gruesome case of the two maids, Christine and Léa Papin, who, in France in 1933, mercilessly beat their mistress and her daughter to death and literally scratched their eyes out?”

Intriguing, don’t you think? The butler may not have done it as often as cliché suggests, but you don’t have to be an employment lawyer, to appreciate Deadly Service!



Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thank you for hosting Kate. I do indeed think it's intriguing!

Kate - Thanks for sharing those really interesting stories! You raise an interesting point too about how relatively few servants have murdered their employers. I will have to check out Deadly Service

Arabella McIntyre-Brown said...

Intriguing, indeed. One for the shopping list!

Martin - it would be great if you put a 'follow via email' button on your blog - I don't use blogger any more, or the Google thing, but I'd like to get updates from you.

btw I've added your site to my blog's links list.

John said...

I understand this type of murder more and more as I continue to slave away in a job where support staff are underappreciated and taken advantage of routinely. We are often the "invisible people" of the office world, the servants of this techno obsessed world to whom the dull tasks are relegated. You easily can draw analogies between office workers who "go postal" to these tales of murderous servants who have done in their employers.

The story of those French maids intrigued a lot of people for many many years. It's been dramatized and filmed several times - the first time by Genet and I still think it's the best. Each time getting more and more lurid with a lot of lesbian "eroticism" thrown into the story to titillate that crowd. But now compared to the horrors of spree killing and cannibalistic serial killers it seems almost tame to me.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I can recommend Kate's book. It's a good one.
Arabella, great to hear from you. Long time no see. I will sort out a button!
John, the office is a fertile source of temptation to murder, I've founnd!