Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Leavenworth Case

The first book written in 1878 by Anna Katharine Green, this book has a rich historical status. It is remarkable that it is a classic which is experiencing a modern spotlight not unlike its bestseller status at its first publication. It stands the test of time and is as entertaining today as it was in centuries past. Its greatest claim to fame is that it was used in a Yale law class to point out the legal problems in circumstantial evidence. It is also significant that it was considered to be the first detective story written by a woman.

Considering that the book was written by a woman in 1878, the attitudes of men toward women are the most fascinating, and funny features of the story. Men seem torn between their requirement to treat women paternalistically and their admission to a weakness for the mysterious hold women have over men's attentions by way of their beauty and mercurial personalities. Men are confused by the vulnerable weaknesses women could display and bewildered by the possibility of a devious intent. They can't seem to trust their own instincts and don't know how to read or trust women.

They seem to suspect a greater strength of backbone in women than they are prepared to cope with. The men of authority are baffled by the behavior of women and can't decide if they are weak little hot house flowers, or great actresses and if they are using feminine wiles to conceal the truth. Therefore, the women feel free to indulge themselves in a great deal of hysterical melodrama to manipulate the men. The authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place because they can't treat the women as they would men in a situation regarding murder because the women can always play the gender card which shames the men into backing down. How things have changed in the world of crime and punishment. Gender equality didn't exist in 1878. Women in today's world could never get away with the self-indulgent "drama queen" behavior of the Nineteenth Century.

I am usually a speed reader but I "brake" for interesting and unusual prose. Not to sound too pompous, but I found the diction of this book created an interesting cadence to the prose. For example, instead of saying "I said" the lawyer says "I essayed."  Another phrase of many that caught my eye was, " The authorities evidently repose great confidence in him." I learned a new word--amanuensis.

The plot was intriguing, the social mores hilarious, and the use of language in the Nineteenth Century kept me entertained. Now I am on a quest for more of her work. Project Gutenberg has her works available for free downloads.

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