‘Agonised Weeping’: Representing Femininity, Emotion and Infanticide in Edwardian Newspapers

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Newspaper reports of actual or suspected infanticide were by no means unusual in early twentieth-century England, yet few of these ever resulted in conviction on the capital charge. This article traces the ways in which both local and national newspapers reported on one of the rare cases which a woman was sentenced to death for the murder of her baby: the 1909 trial of Alice Cleaver at the Central Criminal Court. Despite clear evidence of her guilt, newspapers focused instead on the ways in which the defendant had conformed to ideas about respectable femininity, and were united in depicting Cleaver as deserving of judicial and public sympathy. Comparing press reports of the trial with unpublished Home Office papers also reveals the deliberate silence of the press on matters which conflicted with the ‘standard’ representation of infanticide cases—including the fact that Cleaver had a learning disability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-480
JournalMedia History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2015


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