‘A Hard-Working and Nice Person?’ Respectability, Femininity and Infanticide in England and Wales, 1800–2000

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Infanticide stands out as a crime which, in England and Wales, has been marked for at least two hundred years by deep-rooted continuities in its representation and treatment by both the criminal justice system and the media, despite the massive political, economic, social, legislative, and cultural changes that occurred over this period. Particularly remarkable about this longstanding discourse is its routine emphasis that the guilty mother is also a victim of tragic circumstances that led to the crime and deserving of sympathetic treatment. It also invariably sets infanticide apart as a “special case” which does not necessarily fit with either medical or legal definitions of diminished criminal responsibility. Perhaps surprisingly, this framing of women who commit infanticide stresses not only their “normality” prior to the offence but also their “respectability”, a sharp contrast to the sometimes overtly misogynistic representation of other types of women offenders. This chapter argues that it is above all “respectability” that profoundly shaped the cultural script relating to infanticide in England and Wales between 1800 and 2000, and that this continues to exert a powerful legacy on the relatively small number of cases that now come before the courts in the twenty-first century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Emerald International Handbook of Feminist Perspectives on Women’s Acts of Violence
EditorsStacy Banwel, Lynsey Black, Dawn K. Cecil, Yanyi K. Djamba, Sitawa R. Kimuna, Emma Milne, Lizzie Seal, Eric Y. Tenkorang
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Publishing
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-80382-255-6
ISBN (Print)978-1-80382-256-3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2023


  • infanticide
  • respectability
  • mental illness
  • homicide
  • women
  • socio-legal


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