A Very British Murder- Lucy Worsley

Working With Light

This is a three part series that investigates into Britain’s obsession and development with murder mystery. We go right from the Victorian age to the present day, exploring the difference in how murder mystery was presented. I found this really helpful in gaining a basic understanding within my chosen topic.

The first part is discovering the start to Britain’s love of crime. I found the opening quote from Worsley really interesting, ‘But something happens when their turned into stories, safely places between the covers of a book’, this obviously relates to me as I have to create a photo book but its fascinating the way we know this is only fictional and once the book is shut we will no longer be placed in the middle of a gruesome murder.

An important figure that Worsley talks about is Thomas De Quincey. He was an author and a heavy user of Opium. He named the British people “Murder Fantasy’s”, due to the love we have to be caught in the middle of the murder scene. De Quincey says this is for two reasons; for fear and for ghoulish enjoyment, and he pointed out that we love murder but we the people at the time would never admit it. I guess it’s a very shocking thing to have a passion for, but now we have more of an understanding of the topic.

As Worsley introduces real life murders, we see that the Victorian age now understands that life is uncertain inn this world. Suddenly a specific murder group was popping up, and they really shared this enormous passion for the ‘art of murder’. And also at this age there were Melo dramas and puppet pantomimes starting, giving a loud and dramatic experience for their viewers. Furthermore, we are introduced to a specific, ‘The Red Barn Murder’, and this event created souviourneers of the death of Maria Marten. This would never happen today, we wouldn’t make teapots to remember a murder, we would be more appreciative and understanding, but this shows that at the Victorian time this is how obsessed they were.

As Victorian people were visiting crime scenes and becoming their own “detectives’”, the purpritraters were actually becoming weaker as a group. They would tend to run away from their crimes by train, but now with the invention of the telegram, the police could send the details of the criminal to other police groups. Meaning that the police as well as the public suddenly hunted the criminal.

The second part of this documentary is all about how the Victorians went from starting to have this interested in crime to how murder mystery was introduced. There was something called the ‘new murder’, which is a mix of forensic science and the detective. These crime investigators weren’t police, they were people actually from the same types of slums as the criminals themselves, and they would dress up in disguise and then rat them out by becoming friends. They had two ways of doing this; observation of crime and knowledge of criminal understanding. A key event showing this was the Dr William Palmer case, in which a doctor poisoned his victim and there was a scientific investigation into the case. They didn’t find anything due to Palmer being allowed to witness the post-mortem and he ‘accidentally’ knocked the detective so the body couldn’t be examined anymore, but this was the start to something new.

A short period after there was another case, ‘Road Hill House’. But this wasn’t any old murder; this was upper class. This created a huge interested with the working class “arm chair detectives” as they had never seen into the wealthy lifestyle let alone a crisis happen to them.

This led to the well-known detective novels that we know today. One of the first of these crime authors was Mary Elizabeth Braden, whose most famous novel includes a wife that pushed his husband down a well. She said that she found inspirations for her books by the ideas just popping into her head when she took walks. In 1864 Braden created two books, The Female Detective and The Revelation of a Lady Detective, which finally gave power to the women and they were the people solving the crimes, not just the men.

Within the same era, the most illusive murder of whom we all still know became known, Jack the Ripper. This became an interactive and theatrical event for the Victorian londers, they became obsessed with finding out who Jack really was themselves. People started to write into the police claiming to be Jack themselves. They did this either for fun, to see themselves in the paper or because they wanted to mock the police.

“The Crimes Club” started during the popularity of the “arm chair detective”, and it was a literary group who took tours in the slums. One of these members was sir author Conan Doyle, and they were seeking excitement and frighten. Conan Doyle then created one of the most well known detective of all time; Sherlock Holmes. This was a fictional detective who had a flawless knowledge of solving his murder crimes just like crosswords. He also did something very different from other previous detectives; he noticed the smaller details like the tiny pile of dust or a strand of hair. This new way of thinking completely revolutionised crime investigation and without it we wouldn’t have things like fingerprinting. Suddenly murder mystery had changed from being a grand and over the top event to something very thought provoking, quite and an activity to be taken alone.

The final part to these series is exploring the murder mystery that we now know. Worsley starts by saying, ‘Every murder tells a good story’, and I realise this is key to my project; everything has to be planned exactly in order for this to be a successful body of work.

Again Worsley shows us different famous murders, but the one of Dr Krippin and his accomplish Ethel really intrigued me due the use of their disguise. This murder also led to prohibited photographs being taken of the trial in the courtroom by the use of hats e.c.t.

Agatha Christie started writing during this era. She was a pharmacist’s assistant due to the men being away and war and the head pharmacist always carried a little black lump of poison around with him. When Christie asked why he said that ‘it makes me feel powerful’, inspiring her into a passion for murder mystery. She spent four years on her first book and she had such an amazing art for creating puzzle-solving tasks for her viewers. She went on to create characters like Mrs Marple and always carried around a little notebook, which documented different types of poisons or drugs. In one of the books Worsley explores, Christie simply writes down, ‘who when which where how’. This is the basis to any create murder mystery and it’s something I need to understand in order to create a successful crime photo book. Her work tends to be simple, such as a man sitting in his chair with a murder weapon, but yet these are incredibly effective. Christie also knew her audience, she says that they are busy people who need mental puzzles to relax and they get the ‘fun of the chase without moving from their armchair’. During a tape of Christie talking she is asked why female writers are the best crime writers and she says because we notice the small things that men don’t notice. It was a new way of thinking, there wasn’t any blood being splattered everywhere, it was all about the challenge and if you were intelligent enough to solve it faster then the detective.

An important figure in this era was the director Alfred Hitchcock. His movies were all about dark humour, vougarism, sex and death. These were all obviously silent films so the huge amount of gesturing and long pauses created a huge amount of intensity. Hitchcock’s intentions were to create a shiver down the viewer’s spine, and he even had intentions of create small electric shock chairs that would go off during the right moments to the movie. Hitchcock didn’t like the puzzle solving ways that had previously been explored; he wanted something completely new and radical. You can see this in the movie The Sabotage, in which there is a slow and agonising wait.

Americanism then influenced the British crime solving ways. People such as Graham Greene popped up and created extremely violent murders and experience such an s Brighton Rock. It suddenly switches from the attention on the detective to the murderer. This previous very public and cosy way of solving crime had suddenly changed into brutal psychological thrillers.

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