Arguing that the female criminal subject was central to the rise of the British novel, Kirsten T. Saxton provides fresh and convincing insights into the deeply complex ways in which categories of criminality, gender, and fiction intersected in the long eighteenth century. She offers the figure of the murderess as evidence of the constitutive relationship between eighteenth-century legal and fictional texts, comparing non-fiction representations of homicidal women in biographies of Newgate Ordinaries and in trial reports with those in the early novels of Aphra Behn, Delariviere Manley, Daniel Defoe, and Henry Fielding. As Saxton demonstrates that legal narratives informed the budding genre of the novel and fictional texts shaped the development of legal narratives, her study of deadly plots becomes a feminist intervention in scholarship on the literature of crime that simultaneously insists on the centrality of crime literature in feminist histories of the novel. Her epilogue shows that more than two centuries later, we still contend with displays of female violence that defy and define our notions of textual and sexual license and continue to shape legal and literary mandates, even as the lines between the real and the fictive remain blurred.
’The narrativising of murder is the focus of Kirsten Saxton's lively and engaging study… Saxton's writing is witty and colourful and she engages a wide range of visual and written sources… Saxton's compelling and provocative study is to be welcomed for the light it begins to shed on one of our enduring objects of cultural fascination.’ Review of English Studies 'Kirsten Saxton has created a very valuable piece of scholarship for those interested in print accounts of female murderers in the long eighteenth century.' Journal of British Studies 'Narratives of Women and Murder in England is important as the first booklength study of the complex and conflicting relations among femininity, criminal violence, and narrative in eighteenth-century England. It is lively and strongly argued, and departs from previous work on criminality and gender in productive and provocative ways.' 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era 'Narratives of Women and Murder is a compellingly written account that reveals the social constructs underlying narratives of both real and imagined crime.' Notes and Queries
Contents: Introduction; Imagining murder in Augustan England: bodies of evidence; murder and gender; Moving violations: Aphra Benn, Delarivier Manley, and the romance of violence; 'Interesting memoirs of the most notorious characters': four 18th-century murderesses; 'The confines of virtue and the frontiers of vice': Daniel Defoe's Roxana, and Henry Fielding's Amelia; 'The prisoner at the bar': Mary Blandy and Henry Fielding; Epilogue; Select bibliography; Index.