Lovers Leaping, Shooting and Drowning January 11, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Love suicides are happily today a rare thing. But they were common enough from 1700 to, say, after the Second World War to enter folklore: many places in the English-speaking world have their ‘Lovers Leaps’. (Derbyshire, a small British Midland county has four!) Why were love suicides so popular? Perhaps we can separate the pull and the push factors. First, this was an age when parents had a regrettable amount of power over sons and daughters and were quite prepared to withhold permission if the match was not ‘good’: of course, in an age where divorce was not operable the parents were sometimes right to do so. Second, there was the melodramatic fin-de-siècle quality of love suicide: the kind of nonsense that would lead eventually to Verdun and Madame Bovary’s stomach cramps. Here is a nice example from 1891:
Fraulein Helene Hortung, a young and beautiful girl, the daughter of a wealthy and distinguished resident of Kummelsborg, a suburb of Berlin, committed suicide at midnight under the most romantic circumstances [!!!!]. She rushed from a ball-room in which a select party was assembled, ran down the street in all possible haste and jumped into a lake, where she was drowned. Six or seven ladies and gentlemen followed her, shouting after her, entreating her to return. The girl was in full ball toilette. She had an altercation with the gentleman to whom she was engaged, in the ball room, became hysterical, and ran off with the expressed intention of drowning herself. Worc Jou 20 Jun 1891, 8
There were three classic ways for a couple to off themselves. The first and surely by far the best was to climb to a high place and jump. Surprisingly such examples seem to have been rather rare in newspaper and historical reports. Here is one from the Alps, 1913.
A pathetic tragedy is reported from Kufstein, in the Tyrol. A young German couple took their lives by throwing themselves down a precipice because their parents refused consent their marriage. The man was a rich resident of Mannheim and the woman was from Dresden (Dun Tel, 8 Aug, 1913, 2).
Much more common were attempts to drown. Typically the couple would tie their bodies together and then hurl themselves into the water. Beach can’t help but thinking that these poor young lovers didn’t understand the nature of drowning. It isn’t fun and the idea of these two scrabbling at each other’s bodies in the struggle to breathe seems the devil’s own parody of love.
At Lechlade, Gloucestershire, on Saturday, an inquest was held of Ernest Vietor Spencer, a groom, and Alice Elsie Monlden, each eighteen years of age, who were found drowned in the River Thames with their arms tied together with handkerchiefs. The mother of the girl received a letter signed Spencer and Moulde, announcing their intention to die together, and stating that they would be found in the river. The jury found that ‘Deceased committed suicide drowning.’ (Gran Jou, 12 Mar 1910, 3)
Sometimes of course it didn’t work. It is particularly striking how many tried to drown themselves in canals and ponds. Here is tragic-comic example, involving a doubtless sincere young girl and a man who deserved to be chased through the city by baying dogs.
At Manchester yesterday, George Rideal aged 33, clerk, and Ann Griffiths, servant, were charged with attempting commit suicide. Rideal had married Griffith’s mother, but soon transferred his affections to the girl. The wife discovered the intrigue, but pardoned it on receiving the promise of amendment. Further trouble ensued, however, and the erring pair went together afterwards. While in great distress and, despairing of succour, they took landanum, but the drug failed to act and they decided to drown themselves. Accordingly, about midnight on the 7 March they jumped into Rochdale Canal. Once more, however, they were saved from death, for Rideal, finding he could touch the bottom, stood upright in the water, and hearing the girl screaming, he went to her assistance. Shields, 14 Apr 1888, 3
A real gentleman. He got three months in prison and then doubtless ‘transferred his affections’ elsewhere.
The third option was gunpowder or a knife. The problem with this is that it usually involved one of the two, typically the man, going first. There was always the danger, then, that he would kill but then for some reason not commit suicide. There is something terrible about these cases: part Evelyn Waugh, part darkest Jacobean theatre. The Derby Daily reported 24 Aug 1934, 1, how two lovers tossed a coin to see who should shoot themselves first. The woman won ‘but knowing Peter’s feelings I let him go first’, she then lost her nerve. She subsequently walked around London till her feet were blistered (the most painful detail in all these accounts) then went home and put a gas pipe in her mouth: it worked. Here, instead, is a failed suicide-pact from Paris:
Two lovers, who in a year old letter [!!!] near their bodies had sworn to commit suicide together ‘when things went wrong,’ were found in pools of their own blood in a Paris hotel room. The woman, 34-years-old Florise Bartier, was dead. Her lover, 54-years-old Oscar Leblus, had attempted to cut his own throat with a razor, but was still alive, and faintly groaning, Glouc Echo, 7 Jan 1947, 1.
Other lover suicide pacts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com