(Labouring Under Strong Mental Derangement) the Wretched Woman
Women, Sexuality, and Crime Broadsides in Victorian Britain
Single-sheet, cheap-to-print publications popularized in urban centres in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, broadsides were used to disseminate knowledge and entertainment among the common reading classes of England. Murder broadsides were a particularly common genre during the Victorian period in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century, and while the majority of these focused on the downfalls of male criminals, a significant number of publications concerning female murderers survives. Studying how broadsides were produced, read, and shared, especially in London, this paper examines the significance of their representations of female murderers. Ultimately, murder broadsides about women embodied the anxieties of the Victorian age. In the city, social boundaries were pushed, crossed, and blurred relentlessly; broadsides and their representations of women were active expressions of and responses to such anxieties. But while the tendency of broadsides was towards “moral conservativism” which sought to condemn violent crime, promote sexual purity, and sanctify chaste mothers and wives, broadsides also afforded the women they portrayed a certain notoriety and voice, complicating the common reading of the broadside as a prescriptive or even repressive document.
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