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Stepmom stereotype

by
June 2010, issue no. 322

Murdering Stepmothers: The execution of Martha Rendell by Anna Haebich

UWA Publishing, $26.95 pb, 224 pp

Stepmom stereotype

by
June 2010, issue no. 322

Stepmotherly malevolence is enshrined in myth and legend, and sometimes in real life. Anna Haebich’s Murdering Stepmothers takes up the controversial case of Perth woman Martha Rendell, who in 1909 was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of her fourteen-year-old stepson. It was widely believed that she also murdered her two stepdaughters in the same fashion, slowly poisoning them by swabbing their throats with hydrochloric acid, invoking the symptoms of an inexplicable illness and a slow, agonising death.

Rendell, condemned at the time as a cruel stepmother who tortured the children for her own sadistic pleasure, continues to be reviled as a merciless child murderer. Academically trained historian Haebich, turning to fiction, examines Rendell’s story with a more sympathetic eye; she believes that the facts of the case may have been viewed through the distorted lens of the ‘wicked stepmother’ stereotype.

Wendy Were reviews 'Murdering Stepmothers: The execution of Martha Rendell' by Anna Haebich

Murdering Stepmothers: The execution of Martha Rendell

by Anna Haebich

UWA Publishing, $26.95 pb, 224 pp

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