Writing British Infanticide: Child-Murder, Gender, and Print, 1722-1859

By Jennifer Thorn | Go to book overview

Introduction:
Stories of Child-Murder, Stories of Print

Jennifer Thorn

NOT A WEEK GOES BY IN THE UNITED STATES IN WHICH THE NATIONAL AND local media do not report the discovery of an abandoned or murdered infant or child. The frequency of such stories poses a paradox: where on the one hand, their newsworthiness rests squarely upon their presumed deviance from unnewsworthy quotidian life, on the other hand, the stories' regularity would seem to render such presumptions strangely blind, if not hypocritical. What can we make of the visibility of stories of child-murder and the paradoxical invisibility of their omnipresence? Would the most appropriate response to this cognitive dissonance be the declaration of an epidemic that demands action to end it? What are we to make of the fact that, then and now, those most regularly presented as infanticidal or childmurdering are women? Drawing attention to perpetual crises in child-murder repeatedly "discovered" through the century-plus in which print most dramatically transformed culture, this book historicizes such questions the better to determine how to ask, if not answer, them today. Writing British Infanticide attends particularly closely to conscription of commentators on child-murder in, and to their benefit from, such telling, in order to come to terms with the seeming inevitability both of child-murder and of the consolidation of a limiting professionalism around it, and in order to imagine alternatives to both.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, British readers of quite various kinds of writings would have been hard put to avoid confronting child-murder in print. Broadsheets and ballads told tales of those accused of child-murder, mostly women, conjuring the deed itself and often the accused's dying words, sometimes with illustrations. Local and national newspapers carried reports of the bodies of infants found in public parks and streets and of the progress and outcome of trials. Pamphleteers wondered why so few of the accused were condemned to die in the face of what Thomas

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