A 16-year-old girl murders her half-brother in cold blood, as an act of revenge against her horrible stepmother.
But here's what's interesting: Before the murder she attempted to run away to sea, cutting her hair off and cross-dressing as a boy... stuffing her girl-clothes down the same privy she would later stuff the body of her half-brother. Well, that got my attention. This was the daughter of a very wealthy family, and a life at sea is no picnic. She was caught and sent home.
What was also interesting is that she was tried and acquitted. She went to a girls' finishing school and then joined a quasi-convent, which took care of a hospital for unmarried mothers. She seemed to find family here, and especially in her relationship to the Mother Superior, Katherine Gream. In 1865, Katherine accompanied her to the police station, where she confessed the murder. Okay, that got my attention.
She served twenty years. Upon release, she emigrated to Australia, changed her name, and worked at an industrial school for girls, a hospital and a nursing home for nurses. She lived to be 100. That got my attention, too. She must have been a very strong woman to have survived two decades of prison healthy enough to live such a long life.
But here's what really got my attention. In 1928, when she was 84, Constance apparently sent a letter back to England (it was anonymous) , to the publisher of a book about the murder. It was a letter, finally, telling the familiy secrets. She told the publisher, if money was to be made from the account, to give it to the Welsh miners that "civilization is torturing into degradation." Wow.
Anyway... well let's see... Her stepmother started out as a governess, but when Constance's mother died, she married the dad. Apparently, she started the affair earlier and would openly mock Constance's dying mother. She ripped up Constance's little flower garden as a punishment for playing with the neighbors' children. The stepmother locked Constance in her room for hours, and once for two days, with bread and water. She would lock her in the garret, lock her in the cellar. She made her stand in a corner for hours, where she would sob and repeat over and over that she wanted to be good... until she came to realize the impossibility of that wish, seeing herself as a hopeless sinner. As an adult, Constance came to understand that her birth mother had not been insane, as she had been taught, but merely discarded, disrespected, and replaced by the evil governess. She murdered the stepmother's son to make her suffer. She felt that would be more cruel than murdering her.
Here is what intrigues me: I could not find references to this narrative of abuse anywhere on the Internet references to the crime, which was a very famous one. Yes, they would say she didn't like her stepmother... but that hardly seems fair to Constance.
I thought of how Marilyn Monroe's history of sexual abuse/incest as a child is so frequently removed from her biographies. (Yes, I wrote about that.) And I thought about how the rape of Joan of Arc, so pivotal in breaking her spirit, is also written out. (Yes, I wrote about that.) I thought about how the sadism toward Lizzie Borden's maid right before the ax murders was overlooked by the jury and remains overlooked today. (Yes, I wrote about that.) I thought about how Teena Brandon's horrendous experience of incest has been removed from both film and documentary. (Yes, I wrote about that.) I thought about how Xaviera Hollendar's childhood and experience of sexual torture IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP has been competely split off from the popular profile of the original "Happy Hooker." (The guards used to take their fingers and rip open the mouths of women prisoners who didn't smile enough...) Yes, of course, I wrote about that. And how nobody wants to remember Annie Oakley's sexual torture and enslavement. Yep. Got that too. And, I almost forgot... Bronson Alcott's repeated firings for inappropriate behavior with the children... and Louisa May's recurrent nightmare of the man in the dark cloak who was always telling her to "lie still..." Got a play about that...
Constance, I'm blogging today to give you your due. You were a strong, and really messed up kid. You tried valiantly to run away. You finally found communities of loving women, you confessed... you didn't have to. You had been acquitted. You did the right thing. You wanted your soul. And you had a second life, a good life. In communities of women. You lived to be a hundred. You rebirthed yourself. Nobody should have had to suffer what you did. Raised to be a psychopath, you retrieved your empathy. You understood and accepted who you were. Most of all, you never, ever stopped fighting for your life.