Stalking Eleanor (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Part One

Though the abduction attempt should have ruined him, John Carden found himself a  hero instead.  The story of his unrequited love for Eleanor and the extreme lengths he had gone to for her sake drew numerous admirers the crowd that gathered around the prison to support him, mostly women.   Though his stalking attempts may be regarded as a sign of mental illness today, Victorian society saw him as an irrepressible romantic and poor Eleanor found herself cast as the villain of the story.  Some prominent members of Irish high society even visited Carden's cell to wish him better luck in future abduction attempts.   

When the case came to court at the end of July, 1852, it became a major social event with numerous society women demanding seats to watch Carden defend himself.  According to one news story describing the trial:

"the gates of the court were besieged by respectably-dressed people so early as seven o'clock in the morning... Admission was by only obtained by ticket; and when the doors were at length thrown open, at nine o'clock, the galleries were soon filled with an array of fashionable ladies, who manifested the deepest interest in the proceedings, and the rest of the court was crowded in every available part." 

John Carden and his three henchmen were charged with abduction, attempted abduction, and felonious assault.  There seemed little doubt that Carden would be convicted considering the strength of the evidence against him and, naturally enough, Eleanor Arbuthnot testified against him.   Despite her testimony though, the lovesick Carden ordered his lawyer not to cross-examine her.   The abduction charge was dropped after Eleanor admitted on the witness stand that she had not actually been dragged from the carriage.  As for the women in the courtroom, they demonstrated their solid supported Carden every chance they could get. They even cheered  when the felonious assault charge was dropped and Carden was only given two years for attempted abduction.

While a few newspapers were bold enough to condemn Carden (one even suggested that he "'stands more in need of a straight-waistcoat than of a wife"), just about everyone else in Irish society seemed to be on his side.    He was given the chance to have his prison term suspended if he would only promise to sign a promissory note that he wouldn't go near Eleanor again, but Carden insisted on serving his full sentence instead.  When he was released in 1856, he renewed his campaign to marry poor Eleanor and even traveled to India to persuade her brother to help him (which didn't work).   Other members of the Gough family he approached flatly told him to stay away from them. 

With no chance of visiting the Gough estate as a legitimate visitor, he tried recruiting members of the household staff to run interference for him.  His clumsy attempts at infiltrating the Gough house led to yet another court case.   Though Eleanor Arbuthnot flatly insisted in court that she was frightened of Carden and never wanted to see him again, he refused to accept this and continued blaming her family for pressuring her to reject him.   How the entire saga was covered by the newspapers says a lot about Engliah-Irish relations at the time since Irish newspapers tended to support their fellow Irishman Carden while condemning Eleanor as a snobbish Englishwoman.  On the other hand, English papers such as The Times wrote sarcastic editorials about Irish suitors who couldn't take "no" for an answer.

Despite his repeated attempts to win over Eleanor and her continuing to refuse him, John Carden's obsession never really faded.  To his dying day, he spent much of his fortune fixing up his estate to make it suitable for his intended bride,  Still, while he became famous for entertaining guests,  Carden died an impoverished bachelor in 1866 after a brief illness.  His brother, Andrew, inherited the somewhat run-down estate.

As for Eleanor Arbuthnot, Carden's supporters continually denounced her as being heartless for not giving in to Carden.  The fact that she was an English heiress made her a popular target for Irish nationalists who blamed her for the entire mess.  Her family even discouraged her from appearing in public due to Carden supporters hissing at her in the streets.   While people who actually knew her described Eleanor as being kind-hearted and pleasant, the problems she faced over this harassment likely contributed to her never marrying.   She was eventually forced to move to Edinburgh to get away from the pro-Cardenites and dedicated the rest of her life to helping to raise her sister's children.  Eleanor Arbuthot died herself in 1894.  Needless to say, she and Carden are buried far apart from each other. 

Long after Carden's death, the story of his obsessive love for Eleanor inspired numerous folk songs including one favourite classic, "Carden's Wild Domain" which is still sung in some parts of Ireland.   That, and the ruins of the once-great house that John Rutter Carden spent much of his fortune improving to impress his intended, are all that really remain of what has to be one of the most famous examples of obsessive love in Irish history.

It wouldn't be until 1921 when French psychiatrist Gaetan Gatian de Clearambault first published his treatise, "Les psychoses passionelles", describing the condition now known as erotomania (also known as de Clerembault's syndrome in his honour).   Defined as a type of delusion that another person is in love with them, often without any real evidence to support it, erotomania is one of the chief motivators for stalking behaviour.    Whether it involves a celebrity or not, this kind of obsession is taken much more seriously nowadays, especially following incidents such as the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan by an man obsessed with actress Jodie Foster and the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer.  

While not every case of erotomania necessarily leads to violence, the emotional toll that stalking can have on the women and men who find themselves targeted is often overwhelming.   And, much like poor Eleanor Arbuthnot, victims of erotomania often find themselves being re-victimized by accusations that they were somehow at fault for the obsession.   Even as laws against stalking and harassment have become more stringent though, the Internet has opened up whole new opportunities for cyberstalkers making it easier than ever to go after intended victims. 

As stalking victim surveys in many countries typically report a lifetime prevalence of ten to twenty percent for women and a smaller percentage for men,  the obsessive love that terrified Eleanor Arbuthnot for much of her life is definitely still with us today.




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