Venomous Women: Poison murderesses in nineteenth-century Germany

27 November 2009

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Professor Susanne Kord (UCL German)

Women and poison have long been thought of as elective affinities: poison is presumed to be a ‘woman’s weapon’, and poison murder as quintessentially ‘female’. An example documenting these assumptions is the case of Germany’s most famous serial killer, Gesche Margarethe Gottfried (1785-1831), convicted of murdering fifteen people, including her entire family.

This lecture offers an analysis of her interrogation records, her psychological profile (one of the earliest in Germany) and of contemporary fiction about the case. The focus will be on Gottfried’s motives, which she refused to reveal and which have remained mysterious to this day. Can these motives be seen not only as those of a female killer, but as more generally ‘female’?

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