Lecturers’ Talk on Role of Poison in Crime Fiction

Lucy Arnold
Dr Lucy Arnold

Dr Lucy Arnold, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, has joined forces with Dr Charley Barnes, lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton, to deliver the talk, which is now sold out, on Friday October 21, at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

They will be discussing how poison and its uses – particularly poison previously available legitimately from sources such as pharmacists – has been represented by writers.

“Our talk will explore the role poison plays in novels and why it is used so frequently,” said Dr Arnold. “For me, when poison is present in these texts, we are being asked to question how apparently innocuous objects, substances and habits might harbour risk and danger and how vulnerable we might be, even in the spaces we feel most at home. These substances might be in the home for a domestic purpose, but be seized on to commit a crime.”

Titled ‘Over the Counter: Poison, Pharmacy and Crime Fiction’, the talk will focus on the work of Golden Age detective novelists Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie. The Golden Age refers to detective and fiction predominantly written in the 1920s and 30s, a period which gave rise to a specific kind of 'murder mystery' which shared a number of common characteristics. The lecture will consider cultural understanding of poison as a murder weapon and the ways it is bound up with science and rationality, but also gender and domesticity, all with reference to fiction and, in Dr Barnes’ case, writing practice.

Dr Arnold explains that she took inspiration from the Museum’s recreated chemist shop exhibit. “It is a space which is at once familiar and a little sinister, intriguing and perplexing,” she said. “It got us thinking about how the substances which used to be procurable 'over the counter' were both highly domestic and potentially deadly. This description could just as easily be applied to the crime fiction we both have an interest in, as scholars, writers and readers.”

Dr Arnold predominantly specialises in contemporary fiction, and narratives of haunting, so this foray into Golden Age detective fiction is a new direction. As well as being an academic, Dr Barnes is an established writer in prose and poetry, with a particular specialism in the crime and thriller genre. Her most recent novel, Safe Word was published last month.

Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum’s recreated chemist shop which will be open after hours for attendees to explore during the evening.

To book a free ticket to the talk visit the website: https://www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk/events/poison/.