Crippen and the Golden Age of Crime Fiction


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

The Dr Crippen murder case of 1910 holds a celebrated place in the annals of English, and indeed international, crime. The story of Michigan-born Crippen’s murder of his wife, his attempted escape with his mistress disguised as a boy, and his arrest on board a ship bound for Canada was described by George Orwell as “one of those episodes that no novelist would dare to make up”. It is small wonder that the case was to exert a profound influence on the Golden Age crime novelists of the ensuing thirty years. This course provides an opportunity to chart the dynamic influence and daring re-imagination of the Crippen story by such novelists as Christie, Sayers, Francis Isles, Ernest Raymond, and John Boyne. 

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

The Crippen Case in Context

This first session will outline the Edwardian context of the case and will explore its reception in the summer and autumn of 1910. Drawing upon the extensive contemporaneous newspaper coverage, and upon the memoirs and reminiscences of key investigators in the case, we will explore the competing reasons why this case above others should have fired the imaginations of the Golden Age crime novelists.

Crippen and Christie: partners in crime?

We will chart the reimagining of the Crippen case by preeminent Golden Age novelist, Agatha Christie. We will study Christie’s direct use of the Crippen story in the 1952 novel Mrs McGinty’s Dead; and her more oblique reimagining of the case’s outcome in The Labours of Hercules (1947) as well as charting the role of ‘Crippenesque’ motifs across the wider corpus of her works and even in aspects of her biography.

From detective fiction to crime novels.

In this session we will explore the centrality of the Crippen story in the wider movement of Golden Age novels from detective fiction to crime fiction. Discussion will focus on Francis Isles’ Malice Aforethought (1931) and Ernest Raymond’s We, The Accused (1935), with further texts and contexts supplied in extract. 

‘The Ladies in the Case’

This session will explore the narratives retrospectively provided to the two female protagonists in the Crippen case. We will explore Ursula Bloom’s 1955 quasi-historical novel, The Girl Who Loved Crippen; examine extracts from Ethel le Neve’s ghost-written memoirs of her experience as Crippen’s mistress, and the story of Crippen’s wife as presented in the incongruous genre of 1960 West End musical, Belle.

The Crippen Legacy in Modern Fiction

This last session will explore a range of modern renditions and adaptations of the Crippen case. Our main focus will be on John Boyne’s 2004 novel Crippen, with extracts also considered from such texts as Peter Lovesey’s The False Inspector Dew (1982); and Martin Edwards’, Dancing for the Hangman (2008).


Field Trip

Destination:   Wallingford Museum, Cholsey Parish Church

Excursion Rating: Moderate
Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl. field trip, lunch and dinner) £1115.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom, field trip and meals) £1610.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom, field trip and meals) £1425.00


Dr Roger David Dalrymple


Roger Dalrymple is an educationalist and medievalist and is based at Oxford Brookes University. He gained his DPhil from Oxford University in 1997 and has taught on the OUDCE Summer Programme in English Literature at Exeter College since 2003.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)