Thursday, April 4, 2019

Grey on infanticide in 19th-c. England and Wales

Last year, Daniel J. R. Grey, University of Plymouth published " 'No Crime to Kill a Bastard-Child': Stereotypes of Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales" in B. Leonardi's edited volume, Intersections of Gender, Class, and Race in the Long Nineteenth Century and Beyond (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 41-66. From the introduction: 
Executions of English and Welsh women for infanticide during the 'long nineteenth century' (1789-1914) were very much an anomaly, not the rule, despite the fact that it remained a capital offence and indistinguishable from any other type of murder until 1922...Precisely because of the focus by many colonial critics during the nineteenth century on the supposed widespread danger of infanticide by indigenous peoples--especially targeting unwanted daughters--as a custom that only the so-called civilising mission and imperial rule could eradicate, any suggestions that there might be parallels between the killing of young children at home and similar homicides in the colonies were variously played down, ignored, or explicitly denied. Instead, English and Welsh women who committed the crime were routinely and emphatically emphasised to be 'normal,' frequently of excellent character, and cultural discourses stressed that such a defendant should often not be considered legally responsible for their crime, even if their circumstances did not actually fit with either legal or medical definitions of insanity. This chapter explores how and why a distressing crime which might theoretically have been singled out for particularly harsh treatment became, instead, stereotyped as a type of killing only ever committed by the 'normal' and 'respectable'--sometimes even the 'good'--in nineteenth-century England and Wales.
A short preview of the chapter is available here