'A most diabolical deed'Infanticide and Irish society, 1850–1900
Subject Area: History
BIC Category: British & Irish history
Published: July 2013
216 x 138 mm
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Also available in: Hardback
This book examines the phenomenon of infanticide in Ireland from 1850 to 1900, examining a sample of 4,645 individual cases of infant murder, attempted infanticide and concealment of birth. Evidence for this study has been gleaned from a variety of sources, including court documents, coroners’ records, prison files, parliamentary papers, and newspapers. Through these sources, many of which are rarely used by scholars, attitudes towards the crime, the women accused of the offence, and the victim, are revealed. Although infant murder was a capital offence during this period, none of the women found guilty of the crime were executed, suggesting a degree of sympathy and understanding towards the accused. Infanticide cases also allude to complex dynamics and tensions between employers and servants, parents and pregnant daughters, judges and defendants, and prison authorities and inmates. This book highlights much about the lived realities of nineteenth-century Ireland.
1. ‘A melancholy thing’: an overview
2. ‘Dead children, like drowned sailors, tell no tales’: coroners’ courts
3. ‘That species of crime’: criminal courts
4. ‘Rumor, with its hundred tongues’: the community
5. ‘News of the ghastly spectacle’: the press
6. ‘A very great escape’: prisons
Elaine Farrell’s richly detailed and compelling analysis of these cases provides readers with a vivid insight into Irish society and culture in this period, paying particular attention to the nuances of gender and class as factors in shaping individual lives.
Farrell has produced a meticulous and well-written study that deserves a wide audience, and will undoubtedly be of immense benefit to all those interested in the histories of gender, crime and childhood. Accessible, nuanced and engaging, ‘A most diabolical deed’ will prove an essential addition to reading lists for both undergraduate and postgraduate modules dealing with gender and criminal justice, as well as to broader surveys of nineteenth century Britain and Ireland.
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