The morbid fascination for infanticide

Disclaimer: I am currently writing a chapter on infanticidal queens in early modern drama. It is neither a pleasant topic, nor a pleasant undertaking — particularly at this moment for personal reasons easy to guess — but the topic raises interesting questions about national history, genealogy and perceptions of motherhood.

The topic of infanticide is always great fodder for experts and ordinary folk alike. In the past few years alone, there has been a slew of academic publications on the topic:cover: A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present some regional studies, such as Anne-Marie Kilday’s A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Michelle T. King’s Between Birth and Death: Female Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century China (Stanford UP, 2014), Margaret Brannan Lewis’s revised PhD on Infanticide and Abortion in Early Modern Germany (Routledge, 2014) or Elaine Farrell’s study on Ireland, ‘A most diabolical deed’: infanticide and Irish society, 1850-1900 (Manchester UP, 2013), as well as collections such as Endangered Children: Homicide and Other Crimes edited by Lita Linzer Schwartz and Natalie K. Isser (CNC, 2012), or studies from particular perspectives, as Lyasmine Kessaci’s revised PhD in psychopathology, De la maltraitance infantile à l’infanticide: la mère, l’enfant, le ravage (PU de Rennes, 2015), or Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau’s re-issued and augmented version of his now-classic study on violence against children during the Great War, L’enfant de l’ennemi : viol, avortement, infanticide pendant la Grande guerre (Flammarion, 2013, originally published in 1995)… If I were to quote mass media, a quick search on ‘Google News’ shows that the number of headlines featuring terms such as ‘murderous mom’ or ‘baby killer’ is terrifyingly common. The topic is always ‘hot’. Any contemporary Medea is guaranteed to make the news.1

A recent case in France has, it seems, a series of bizarrely early modern resonances. It concerns Fabienne Kabou, a French-Senegalese mother who  recently plead guilty of murdering her 15-month old daughter by abandoning her to drown in the sea. What makes this sad story an early modern tale are three elements which take on particular relevance when studying infanticide: location, witchcraft and ‘media coverage’. Continue reading The morbid fascination for infanticide

  1. ‘Medea’ is here used as a sensationalist blanket term, as the circumstances involving infanticide are usually much more mundane than the vengeful murder of a forsaken lover plunging the world in civil war. []

Stage or Scaffold?

My post on Mary Queen of Scots prompted me to think about why her case seems so dramatic, in the literal sense of the word, and why it gave rise to several theatrical adaptations. In this post, I’d like to provide one answer: Mary was executed on a scaffold and scaffolds were also among the first stages used for theatrical performances1. Contemporary accounts of her trial and execution are telling: both usually picture a square table or scaffold in the center, as if it were a stage in which was performed the final act of Mary’s tragedy. But the pictures themselves are more than just snapshots of a momentous episode of British history: they are actually built as plays with a narrative structure. Continue reading Stage or Scaffold?

  1. On the ‘théâtre de l’échafaud’, see Christian Biet, “Naissance sur l’échafaud ou la tragédie du début du XVIIe siècle“, in Intermédialités, n. 1, printemps 2003, p. 75-105, DOI : 10.7202/1005446ar, and Christian Biet et Charlotte Bouteille-Meister, Théâtre de la cruauté et récits sanglants en France: XVIe-XVIIe siècle, Paris, R. Laffont, 2006. []

Scot Queen Still Hot Topic

It was difficult to not think about big newspaper headlines when walking around Edinburgh this summer, seeing banners promoting the exhibit on Mary Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland on every lampost. Our hosts in Auld Reeky had heard good things about the exhibit, and we were warned that it took over 3h to visit. It did. Continue reading Scot Queen Still Hot Topic