Introduction by Catherine Pelonero
As described by its author, They Hanged My Saintly Billy is “a novel filled with sex, drink, dope, horse racing, incest, suicides, murders, scandalous legal proceedings, cross examinations, inquests and a good public hanging.”
A real historical figure, the British surgeon Dr. William Palmer was accused in 1856 of murdering fourteen people by means of poison. The Dr. Kevorkian trial of the 19th century, with a bit of O.J. Simpson mixed in for good measure, the scandal entranced nearly the entire population of the British Isles. Everyone had an opinion on the case—including esteemed poet and historical fabulist Robert Graves. They Hanged My Saintly Billy is true crime as only a true literary master could write it, with exquisitely rendered portraits of Palmer’s era and milieu, told from the shifting perspectives of all who came into contact with the notorious doctor. Just as his renowned I, Claudius opened a window onto a case of history once thought to be closed, Graves’s account of Palmer’s life recasts the surgeon as a victim of yellow journalism and overzealous judges. But ultimately it’s left up to the reader to decide whether or not Palmer’s mother is in the right, or merely duped along with the rest of Palmer’s supporters, when she laments: “Yes, they hanged my saintly Billy! He was a bit of a scamp right enough, but a good son to me; the best of the brood . . . and no murderer.”
Today marks the publication day for Robert Graves and Alan Hodge's The Reader Over Your Shoulder, which grammarian extraordinaire Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe is I, calls "the best book on writing ever published." The Reader Over Your Shoulder is not just a writing handbook. It is a witty and engaging treatise on the pleasures and pains of the English language itself, with witty criticisms of Graves's contemporaries, including Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and H. G. Wells.
The Reader Over Your Shoulder is only the first of fourteen works from the eccentric, downright polymathic mind of Robert Graves. An esteemed poet, a bestselling author of the historical novel I, Claudius, Graves wrote also wrote a diverse set of novels, books on mythology, and children's tales. Seven Stories is excited to introduce these works back into the reading public. Check out the Graves books so far scheduled for publication here, and check out the full list of forthcoming titles here.