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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Unwanted Husbands, Rich Uncles, and Arsenic

In early nineteenth century England, a good way to get rid of your husband was arsenic. A medical examiner usually couldn't tell whether the poison was involved, because the symptoms--diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain--are much like those of other disorders. Nor could he necessarily place you at the murder scene. The dying typically took hours. Also, you could administer the poison gradually, a little bit every day. In the mid-century, arsenic poisoning was commonly the resort of women. But unpleasant husbands were not the only people to eliminate. During this period of feverish social mobility, a young person might be waiting impatiently for an inheritance, and there was old Uncle Ted, sitting on all that money and meanwhile bossing you around, toying with your hopes. In such cases, male poisoners presumably outnumbered females.

Joan Acocella, "The Rise and Fall of Arsenic," The New Yorker, October 7, 2013

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