The public's fascination with the human drama of the courtroom did not begin with Perry Mason or Court TV. Cases involving the relationships between men and women, within or outside the bonds of marriage, have long engaged the popular imagination. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, published accounts of sensational trials provided the public with both entertainment and cautionary tales.
Studies in Scarlet presents the images of over 420 separately published trial narratives from the Harvard Law School Library's extensive trial collections. Included are a number of trials of the wealthy and renowned such as an account of the adultery trial of Caroline, Queen Consort of George IV, the sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde, and the trial of Harry Thaw for the murder of Stanford White, the famous architect who was Evelyn Nesbit Thaw's lover. The larger part of the collection, however, consists of the stories of ordinary men and women thrust into the public eye when their marriages and love affairs went wrong or their relationships did not conform to social standards.
For the practicing attorney or the law student, trial narratives have limited value. Lacking the weight of precedent of appellate court decisions, only a fraction of trial decisions are even published. For the legal or social historian, however, a popular trial account can reveal intriguing details about the application of the law and the motivations, manners, and mores of another era. Studies in Scarlet includes American, British, and Irish cases 1815-1914 involving domestic violence, bigamy, seduction, breach of promise to marry, and the custody of children, as well as trials for murder and rape. These trials are especially rich sources for the study of the history of women in early modern society.