There’s something in the tea: murder and materiality in Dark Angel

Claire Nally*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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The ITV two-part series, Dark Angel (2016) looks at the life of Mary Ann Cotton, a real-life nineteenth-century woman from County Durham who was charged with murdering her stepson and is suspected of dispatching several other members of her family for which she was executed in 1873. The TV adaptation draws heavily on the idiosyncratic biography about Cotton, written by David Wilson (2013), which sensationally frames her as “Britain’s first female serial killer.” Cotton allegedly poisoned her victims with arsenic in tea, and the teapot becomes a repeated signifier in the ITV drama for both murder and home, a tension which explores how far Cotton both subscribed to and departed from traditional versions of femininity (as nurse, wife, mother). Through an analysis informed by Brown’s and Marenko’s “Thing Theory,” this chapter proposes that Victorian domestic objects in the show (spoons, lace, teapots) extend far beyond their conventional utility, but paradoxically, lack the burden of memory and sentiment and therefore challenge perceptions of the Victorian period as embedded in mourning ritual. The TV programme provides a critique of the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution, set against the backdrop of the mining communities in the North East, and the trauma these communities experienced. In this way, we are offered a view of Cotton as a product of the monstrosity of capitalism. The representation of the abject corpse explores how the objectified body becomes a commodity, whilst Cotton’s body is used as sexual currency to gain economic security but evades any visualisation on the scaffold. Thus, the TV show provides a concerted reflection on how Cotton’s legacy has been revisited and navigated through both materiality and material culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeo-Victorian Things
Subtitle of host publicationRe-imagining Nineteenth-Century Material Cultures in Literature and Film
EditorsSarah E. Maier, Brenda Ayres, Danielle Mariann Dove
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783031062018
ISBN (Print)9783031062001
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2022


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