Book Reviews -- in the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais De Justice in Second Empire Paris by Katherine Fischer Taylor

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In the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais de Justice in Second Empire Paris

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. 183 pp.; 60 b/w ills. $35.00

In late September 1869, tens of thousands of Parisians set out for a new weekend tourist spot. Traveling in family groups with dogs from the Gare du Nord, and carrying picnic food and small children, city dwellers of all classes made their way in crowded trains to the recently industrialized suburb of Pantin to a plain they called the "field of cadavers" at the "crossroads of murder."(1) Writing some fifteen years later, Second Empire Paris police chief Antoine Claude characterized their pilgrimage in terms prefiguring those used to describe the crowds of the Commune: "It was necessary to close the entrance gate of the train station on the crowd that could no longer go in or out, that screamed from every direction in explosions of terror and rage: 'Yet another victim of Pantin!'"(2) Despite the familiar ring of their cry, the masses sought to visit neither battlefield nor barricade, but rather the locale of a mass murder that captivated public attention in the last year of Napoleon III's reign. And although the enigmatic murderer, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, himself became a central focus of intrigue, his acts were represented particularly in terms of the places through which he passed: Le Havre, where he was fished from the harbor and arrested by police officers; Soulz, where his eighth victim was discovered; the prisons of Mazas and the Conciergerie where crowds begged special rights to observe him; the Paris Palais de Justice in which he was judged in December 1869; La Roquette prison where he was guillotined in January 1870; and especially, the Paris suburb of Pantin where seven of his victims were discovered "sur ce triste champ de crimes."(3) What contemporaries called the "Crime of Pantin" was not just the story of a heinous murder, however, but, as Katherine Fischer Taylor demonstrates in a remarkable new book, the story of the imaginary relationship of crime and space.

Taylor's In the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais de Justice in Second Empire Paris, the first in a new series from Princeton University Press on 19th-century art, culture, and society, edited by Jacques de Caso and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, thus announces an interdisciplinary concern with cultural theory and social history that promises to fuel debates well beyond those concerned with French or even just 19th-century subjects. Taylor recognizes the Troppmann case's unique relationship to place as a way of pursuing a yet more significant methodological trail, the analysis of the relationship between the spaces of the 19th-century state and the political and social plots enacted within them. As an account of architectural representation in the context of other discourses of criminality and justice, Taylor's study is stunningly exemplary. As a contribution to research on social institutions and their representation of social values, In the Theater of Criminal Justice makes significant theoretical and historical contributions that should have an impact on research for years to come. Accessible and lucid, yet meticulous in its attention o visual detail and thorough in its historical documentation, Taylor's book makes an extraordinary contribution to ways of thinking about representation, both political and discursive.

The Troppmann case provides an ideal optic for Taylor's exploration of the representation of criminal justice in 19th-century France because it gave a radical new significance to place at a moment of social turmoil and transition. In the Theater of Criminal Justice explores how the Troppmann trial became a peculiar kind of test case for the elaboration of a "modern, revised justice" (p. xxi) that had gone into one of the most important architectural projects of Napoleon III's Empire. These final years of the Second Empire found the government's conceptions of justice hotly contested--to such an extent that the Troppmann trial focalized debates about the uses of monarchic authority and the spaces in which it was enacted. …