Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness

Written by Lisa Appignanesi
Review by Douglas Kemp

The author focuses on a small number of criminal trials in England, France and the United States in the latter years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries. These cases demonstrate how society’s views on what can be termed crimes of passion have evolved, and are still changing. The central and growing role of psychological and psychiatric expertise is delineated as its practitioners felt their way to determining definitions and applications of insanity to those whose emotional and sexual attachments precipitated acts of violence. Despite the attempts to classify and analyse, it was (and to some degree remains) an inexact science to understand how an individual can slide into delusion and insanity, and just precisely how can one define a person’s madness in an objective way. Lisa Appignanesi’s research is meticulous, and she articulates the issues, mores and prejudices of the days in impressive detail.