Scotch Verdict: The Real-Life Story That Inspired "The Children's Hour"

Lillian Faderman,

Columbia University Press, 2013

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

In 1810, a Scottish student named Jane Cumming accused her school mistresses, Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, of having an affair in the presence of their students. Dame Helen Cumming Gordon, the wealthy and powerful grandmother of the accusing student, advised her friends to remove their daughters from the Drumsheugh boarding school. Within days, the institution was deserted and the two women were deprived of their livelihoods.

Award-winning author Lillian Faderman recreates the events surrounding this notorious case, which became the basis for Lillian Hellman's famous play, The Children's Hour. Reconstructing the libel suit filed by Pirie and Woods, which resulted in a scotch verdict, or a verdict of inconclusive/not proven, Faderman builds a compelling narrative from court transcripts, judges' notes, witnesses' contradictory testimony, and the prejudices of the men presiding over the case. Her fascinating portrait documents the social, economic, and sexual pressures shaping the lives of nineteenth-century women and the issues of class and gender contributing to their marginalization.

"Faderman continues her valuable excavations of the archaeology of erotic relationships between women.... [She] has succeeded in recreating an absorbing, often peculiarly moving courtroom drama."
—Terry Castle, Signs

"The records are fascinating: they open up for us the worlds of the young female student and the schoolmistress, as well as the workings of the judicial system of early nineteenth-century Scotland. Beyond that, they make us privy to a unique glimpse of what lesbianism was considered to be at the time.... A brilliant find."
—Karla Jay, Women's Review of Books

"Faderman, a noted U.S. feminist, recreates the trial superbly, using the original transcripts and her own detective work. She examines the trial from a feminist viewpoint, showing how it revealed the prevailing attitudes toward women in a phallocentric society. Her approach is valid and compelling, but her story is fascinating on many other levels as well.... Totally engrossing."
—William French, Globe and Mail

"An absorbing transcript detailing the evolution of our understanding of the sexual relationships between women using the Scotch trial as the lynchpin. The story is mesmerizing while the writing is riveting."
—Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review