SWEET ADELAIDE by Julian Symons


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Like Jonathan Goodman's The Last Sentence (p. 608), this is what Symons calls ""an experimental crime story""--a fictionalized True Crime, complete with supposed solution. Here: the 1880s case of Adelaide Bartlett, acquitted in the poisoning of husband Edwin. Symons' version is a flashback-and-forward mosaic--diaries, trial testimony, years-later confession--that presents Adelaide as a Dickensian waif turned Victorian schizo: bastard child of a Lord-of-the-Manor, she grows up isolated and scorned, gets religion at a convent school, and is virtually sold-in-marriage to vulgar grocer Edwin--a hearty hypochondriac with rotting teeth and a large sexual appetite. Revolted by sex (especially after a stillborn child), Adelaide latches onto assorted cults and develops an obsessive ""Pure Love"" for a handsome minister. And finally she must free herself--with a semi-mercy killing of pathetic, ill, depressed Edwin. The only mystery: how she got the chloroform down his throat. Symons' answer is plausible enough, and, throughout, his concentration on Victorian disease and psychology is properly grisly. Still, Adelaide's psycho-portrait is never quite convincing enough to provide a compelling center here, and though skillful, this remains more an exercise than a novel--and slightly disappointing after the total Victorian triumph of The Blackheath Poisonings (1978).

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row