Bibliophilia: Mr Crippen & The Islington Mystery

Mrs. Crippen
Mrs. Crippen

When I’m doing research for this blog my starting point is always Wikipedia. It’s the only site that  intuitively eggs me on. Every article link I click on makes me feel like I’m reading my way towards something great. It’s like a thought crescendo. And when the music swells and you you finally reach that one article; it’s a fantastic moment. Last Friday I reached that point when I came across the article for Hawley Crippen and discovered one of the most bizarre [possible] murder stories I’ve ever heard. But since, in theory, this is a blog about books lets begin at the literary interpretation of Mr. Crippen’s crime in Arthur Machen’s 1927 story “The Islington Mystery.”

What I found particularly interesting about “The Islington Mystery” is how Machen begins his story. Plenty of horror stories, in an attempt to gain plausibility, begin with a foreword telling the audience that everything that follows is “true” but Machen takes it a bit farther. Machen not only mentions the Crippen case by name but talks about how much of sensation it was and how it’s constant coverage overshadowed what Machen felt to be more interesting crimes. In doing this he cheekily equates murder to an art form and gossip hounds to an audience who more often pass up “quality” for fanfare.

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