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Harriet

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  494 ratings  ·  106 reviews
When a handsome, unscrupulous fortune hunter approaches Harriet, a young woman of means whom most people would call half-witted, no good can result. Elizabeth Jenkins's artistry, however, transforms the bare facts of this case from the annals of Victorian England's Old Bailey into an absolutely spine-chilling exploration of the depths of human depravity. ...more
Paperback, 191 pages
Published June 26th 1980 by Penguin Books (first published 1934)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  494 ratings  ·  106 reviews


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mark monday
it is a sad thing that Jenkins' 1934 novel is not better known! perhaps the darkness, realism, and tragedy that form the basis of this novel's insights on humanity's often predatory nature has precluded it from being embraced.

the premise is simple enough. take a "natural" from any given Austen novel - those simple-minded, childish, often greedy, but also often innately sweet women who the central heroines usually have to protect or at least work around - and set her in a starkly realistic settin
...more
Vanessa
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins was my first Persephone, and I feel this isn't the typical story that Persephone publishes - it's dark, gritty, upsetting, and more interestingly a fictionalised version of real tragic events.

It follows a woman called Harriet who is termed as a 'natural' - she has learning disabilities, and lives with her mother in a protective environment. She is careful with her appearance, and has a great deal of money (and more to come into upon the death of her aunt). On one of
...more
Nancy Oakes
As always, I'm chatty Cathy about this book, so if you want the longie, you can go here; otherwise, carry on with the short version.

Originally written in 1934, Harriet is based on an actual British murder case from the 1870s known as "The Penge Murder Mystery." It is one of the more disturbing books I've read, although I must say it is also one of the best crime novels I've had in my hands in a very, very long time. While information is widely available online about the Penge Murders or The Sta
...more
Hilary
Review of the Persephone edition.

You can see where this is going and you can see it's going to be a very depressing read. I happened to read the information inside the dust jacket at the back that tells you about the author, I don't look at the information inside dust jacket at the front,that tells you about the book, as I have found Persephone books are prone to spoilers. But for some reason the author information gives a massive spoiler about the book. This detail (view spoiler)
...more
Karen
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: persephone
One of Persephone's darkest novels based on the true story of the 1877 Penge Murder case.
A story of cruelty,greed and passion, this book may not be everyone's cup of tea but it is so well written by Elizabeth Jenkins .
I was hooked from the start and wanted to know what happened.
Recommended for true crime fans
...more
Janie C.
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immense greed, trickery, narcissism, neglect and cruelty breed contempt and indignation towards the family that grossly mistreats an innocent and mentally deficient woman. What makes this novel a horror story is the fact that it is based on truth. A Victorian novel that wraps the reader around the finger that points towards ultimate justice.
Jane
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“It was a crime involving almost unbelievable callousness and cruelty. A half-witted young woman named Harriet who had inherited a small fortune was living happily, and securely in the care of her mother. Lewis Staunton, a good-looking young man and a relentless criminal, saw his opportunity, and making love to the innocent, ignorant creature, got her away from her mother’s protection and married her. He then arranged for her to be boarded with his brother Patrick Staunton and the latter’s wife ...more
Zynab
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever come across, while taking a walk, the dead form of an animal that has been repeatedly driven over and trod on, so much so that flesh, fur and blood make a glue that brings together all sorts of bits of the environment (gravel, leaves, food wrappers)—an awful amalgam that you can't truly feel sick at and sorry for because it doesn't look like anything that was ever alive? That's Harriet. Elizabeth Jenkins holds nothing back in telling this woman’s story, a woman who died because she ...more
Marie-Therese
This "faction" (the biographer and sometime novelist Jenkins name for her stories based on real-life circumstances and documentation but extrapolated and filled out beyond biography) is perhaps one of the most distressing things I've read in ages. I kept wanting to skip ahead as I read in the hope that everything would be OK but I hung back because my more sensible, historically informed self knew that couldn't be true.

Based on a genuine Victorian case of a developmentally disabled woman seduce
...more
Kirsty
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chilling, horrifying, and incredibly compelling. A fantastic and sickening read.
Sarah
I read The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins earlier this year and loved it. Good story, good writing, interesting nuances, characters and perspectives, all while being absolutely entertaining. I worried 'Harriet' might not be as engaging but it was at least as good.
Although I didn't know until well into the book, the plot is based on a true story. A mentally handicapped woman, Harriet, who has a small fortune to her name, is seduced by a younger man named Louis, whom she soon marries a
...more
Lady Delacour
A Hauntingly Emotional
Macabre Horror Story.
3.5 Distressing Stars.
Listened with TTS.
Clean.
6 Mild Words
Emer (A Little Haze)
I once again just picked up this book based on its distinctive grey Persephone cover in my library and opened the pages to discover a crime thriller. It was incredibly atmospheric and quite disturbing in its sinister quietness. But when I reached the end and read the afterword, that's when I was shaken up. Because it so happens this book is based on a real crime and the unfortunate titular character was a real life person subject to the most cruel and deceptive of crimes. A good book for people ...more
Seonad
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This has totally shocked me. I am disturbed. This novel, written by Elizabeth Jenkins is the true life account of the murder of a girl with learning difficulties in the late 1800s. It is shocking how horrific humans can treat one another. It has deeply upset me! However strange that may seem, I did really enjoy it (I have morbid fascination. I love true crime.) It is a very powerful, very well written book. Harriet's mother must have suffered greatly. Elizabeth Jenkins has truly succeeded with t ...more
Kim
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my word what a wild ride this book was.

Written in 1934 and based on an actual murder case Elizabeth Jenkins' Harriet is one of the most enthralling and disturbing crime novels I have ever read. I was completely absorbed throughout the whole book and found myself completely emotionally invested.

This book is very upsetting and definitely not a calm beach read. Money makes people do insane things sure but is the real trigger money or madness?
...more
Karla
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
I went into this expecting a historical thriller and ended up getting an early true crime tale from 1934. Sometimes I don't mind being surprised, but this one fell a little flat.

Since Jenkins took the real story of Harriet Staunton's murder and seems to have only changed last names of all the characters, I don't know why she didn't write straight-up non-fiction about the case. Because the writing, while sometimes laboriously crafted like vintage Victorian fiction, reads more like a report of the
...more
Laura King
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Robert
May 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
Harriet is a well-written tale of greed and depravity and was likely groundbreaking for the true crime genre. But despite its strengths, it was just so grim I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone. ...more
Robert burke
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Kudos to Valancourt books for the new publication of this 1934 novel,based on a Victorian trial in 1877. The book also has an afterword written especially for this edition.
Pascale
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gooseflesh-inducing study in the banality of evil. What Jenkins gives in this book is a barely fictionalized version of her take on a famous case involving a mentally handicapped heiress who died of starvation at the hands of her husband, his mistress, his brother and his sister-in-law. Although the 4 were initially condemned to the death penalty, eventually Alice, the mistress, was released. The other 3, Lewis, Patrick and Elizabeth, did time in prison, where Patrick died of pneumonia. Lewis ...more
Karen Mace
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seems strange to say you 'enjoyed' a book that was so disturbing and based on the real life case in 1877 of Harriet Staunton (the Penge Murder Mystery), but I found myself captivated and horrified in equal measures over this story.

Harriet is at the centre of the story. She had learning difficulties and was cared for by her mother, Mrs Ogilvy, until her head was turned by a chancer who promised her the world, but was really only interested in the money that Harriet had for her care after a relati
...more
Amy
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: peresephone
Wow. This was so well done but very hard to read due to the malevolent nature of the story. Then when I read the afterward and realized it was based on a true story, I was doubly horrified. I can definitely recommend it for its well crafted prose and the characters are expertly drawn. There are few books (maybe 2 or 3) that I have gotten from the Persephone reading list that haven't been outstanding.

The following is perhaps a spoiler alert so only proceed if you don't care finding out how the st
...more
Frank
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century
Interesting as a description of the Staunton murder case that created such a scandal in the 1870s and that may have been a tangential inspiration for Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove. But it’s not a terribly good novel and in that respect nowhere as fascinating as the same author’s later The Tortoise and the Hare. The problem is partly that the author on the one hand takes sides rather clearly, while on the other hand not quite always explaining why people do what they do and to what extent th ...more
Ali
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have had this Persephone book on my shelf for a little while now- bought with some lovely Persephone gift vouchers on my Birthday in May. I was so looking forward to it, although I already knew that the story would be a dark one. It almost seems wrong to say I loved it – but I did. The story is a desperately sad one, all the more so for being based upon real events.
“Harriet came with little bouncing steps towards the tea table and looked into the teapot. “This is do Mama,” she said; she someti
...more
Mimi Jones
May 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Before Capote’s In Cold Blood popularized the idea of the nonfiction novel, Elizabeth Jenkins had done the same in this brilliant, chilling 1934 book, a richly realized work of fiction closely based on a real life crime.

Set in 1877 England, it's about a quartet of conscienceless schemers who arrange for one of their number, Lewis, to court and marry a rich young woman. Harriet is "a natural" which is then-contemporary parlance for a person of very limited intellectual capability. Raised and pro
...more
Rosemary
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: persephone
A novel based on the true story of Harriet Staunton, a young woman with learning difficulties who in 1875 married a young man who was only after her money. Her mother tried and failed to get the courts to protect her. Her husband turned Harriet against her mother and then left her with his brother’s family where she and her new baby were neglected and starved while the husband lived with another woman. Written years later in the 1930s, this is a heartrending story brought vividly to life by Eliz ...more
Romily
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling and disturbing novel, based on the notorious murder trial of those responsible for the death of Harriet Richardson, a wealthy woman, whom we would now describe as having learning difficulties. The novelist's skill is in conveying the sheer ordinariness of the alleged perpetrators : their self-deception and greed, their misplaced loyalties and lack of human decency. Sometimes the reader is jolted into a sudden realisation of what is being described through the veneer of munda ...more
Jeslyn
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Tricky - the words "really liked it!" (associated with the 4-star rating) didn't ring through my head upon finishing, since my dominant thoughts were "I sure hope that was fiction, but I'm not so sure"...and my dread was confirmed in the Afterword - this novel was indeed rooted in true events. Jenkins did an excellent job of weaving fictional detail into the public evidence of the case - definitely a page turner. But be prepared - it is dark reading and upsetting, and not one I'd ever pick up ag ...more
Bill FromPA
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1930s, thriller
The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant fo
...more
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From Elizabeth Jenkins' obituary in The New York Times:

As a novelist, Ms. Jenkins was best known for “The Tortoise and the Hare” (1954), the story of a disintegrating marriage between a barrister and his desperate wife that Hilary Mantel, writing in The Sunday Times of London in 1993, called “as smooth and seductive as a bowl of cream.” Its author, Ms. Mantel wrote, “seems to know a good deal abou
...more

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“Harriet, her only child, was what the villagers in Mrs. Ogilvy’s old home would have called a natural. Her intellect was not so clouded that intercourse with ordinary people was out of the question; the deficiency showed itself rather in a horrid uncouthness, the more noticeable in that she had a vigorous and powerful zest for such aspects of existence as were intelligible to her; she was not easy to put out of the way.” 0 likes
“some of their less well-to-do connections were glad to put up with the slight awkwardness of having her in the house for a short space, in consideration of the handsome boarding fee which was paid them for it.” 0 likes
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