A mysterious death in respectable society: a brilliant historical true crime story
In 1849, a woman called Ellen Langley died in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. She was the wife of a prosperous local doctor. So why was she buried in a pauper's coffin? Why had she been confined to the grim attic of the house she shared with her husband, and then exiled to a rented dwelling-room in an impoverished part of the famine-ravaged town? And why was her husband charged with murder?
Following every twist and turn of the inquest into Ellen Langley's death and the trial of her husband, The Doctor's Wife is Dead tells the story of an unhappy marriage, of a man's confidence that he could get away with abusing his wife, and of the brave efforts of a number of ordinary citizens to hold him to account. Andrew Tierney has produced a tour de force of narrative nonfiction that shines a light on the double standards of Victorian law and morality and illuminates the weave of money, sex, ambition and respectability that defined the possibilities and limitations of married life. It is a gripping portrait of a marriage, a society and a shocking legal drama.
'An astonishing book ... a vivid chronicle of the unspeakable cruelty perpetrated by a husband on his spouse at a time when, in law, a wife was a man's chattel' Damian Corless, Irish Independent
'Opens in gripping style and rarely falters ... fascinating and well researched' Mary Carr, Irish Mail on Sunday (5 stars)
'Truly illuminating ... Tierney's exploration of the case's influence on Irish and English lawmaking and literature is particularly intriguing, drawing comparisons with Kate Summerscale's similar work in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' Jessica Traynor, Sunday Times
'Riveting ... meticulously researched and deftly told' Irish Examiner
'A nonfiction work with the pulse of a courtroom drama ... Tierney's book is a moving account of Ellen Langley's squalid last days, but it's also a study of Famine-era Irish society. Men dominate, be they grimly professional gents in tall hats and grey waistcoats or feckless scoundrels using women as chattel' Peter Murphy, Irish Times
'A dark tale of spousal abuse, illicit sex and uncertain justice, set against a backdrop of poverty and privilege, marital inequality and the deep religious divide between Catholics and Protestants. Tierney is an archaeologist, and his skill in unearthing the past is on display as he digs deep into the historical record of a murder case so shocking and controversial that it was debated in parliament. ... Tierney writes with passion ... and deftly weaves a plot that's filled with surprising twists and turns' History Ireland