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Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons

The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment

Martha Duncan

Publication Year: 1996

An ex-convict struggles with his addictive yearning for prison. A law-abiding citizen broods over his pleasure in violent, illegal acts. A prison warden loses his job because he is so successful in rehabilitating criminals. These are but a few of the intriguing stories Martha Grace Duncan examines in her bold, interdisciplinary book Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons.

Duncan writes: "This is a book about paradoxes and mingled yarns - about the bright sides of dark events, the silver linings of sable clouds." She portrays upright citizens who harbor a strange liking for criminal deeds, and criminals who conceive of prison in positive terms: as a nurturing mother, an academy, a matrix of spiritual rebirth, or a refuge from life's trivia. In developing her unique vision, Duncan draws on literature, history, psychoanalysis, and law. Her work reveals a nonutopian world in which criminals and non-criminals--while injuring each other in obvious ways--nonetheless live together in a symbiotic as well as an adversarial relationship, needing each other, serving each other, enriching each other's lives in profound and surprising fashion.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

This is a book about paradoxes and mingled yarns—about the bright sides of dark events, the silver linings of sable clouds. T h e book portrays law-abiding citizens who harbor a "strange liking" for criminal deeds, and criminals who find an "extraordinary...

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pp. 1-6

While Morton Sobell was serving a thirty-year prison sentence as a co-conspirator of the Rosenbergs, his wife, Helen, observed that the two of them were actually happier than many couples living in freedom. Sobell agreed, but cautioned his wife against expressing...

PART ONE Cradled on the Sea: Positive Images of Prison and Theories of Punishment

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CHAPTER 1 A Thousand Leagues Above: Prison As a Refuge from the Prosaic

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pp. 9-23

Toward the end of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel The Cancer Ward, Oleg Kostoglotov is released from the hospital where he has been confined and goes to buy a shirt in a department store. While looking over the shirts, he hears a man ask the clerk, "Do...

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CHAPTER 2 Cradled on the Sea: Prison As a Mother Who Provides and Protects

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pp. 24-31

The student of prison memoirs cannot fail to be startled by the repeated characterizations of prison as a peaceful and safe place. In some instances the idea can be understood by reference to the relative quietude of life inside, but the theme is equally salient...

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CHAPTER 3 To Die and Become: Prison As a Matrix of Spiritual Rebirth

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pp. 32-37

In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn writes of prison: "[T]he day when I deliberately let myself sink to the bottom and felt it firm under my feet—the hard, rocky bottom which is the same for all—was the beginning of the most important years in my life, the years...

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CHAPTER 4 Flowers Are Flowers: Prison As a Place Like Any Other

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pp. 38-43

While serving time on death row, Edgar Smith was often asked to explain why he read and made other efforts to improve himself. In his prison memoir, he answers this question as follows: "There is perhaps nothing more frightening to me than the prospect of...

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CHAPTER 5 Methodological Issues

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pp. 44-47

Before considering the implications of the foregoing analysis for criminal law, it is important to discuss two questions: (1) given the elusive relationship between text and meaning, how can we be sure that the interpretations presented here are legitimate? and (2)...

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CHAPTER 6 Positive Images of Prison and Theories of Punishment

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pp. 48-55

This study, which thus far has focused on the prisoner's subjective experience of imprisonment, will now undergo a shift of perspective. It endeavors to explore some implications of the preceding analysis for the three traditional theories of punishment: deterrence,...

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Epilogue to Part One

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p. 56-56

At one point in her prison memoir, when describing her friendship with "Sunshine," nineteen-year-old hijacker Tamsin Fitzgerald writes: "We talked about a farmhouse with fields and woods and about how strange happiness is. She always says, 'But if I hadn't...

PART TWO A Strange Liking: Our Admiration for Criminals

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Prologue to Part Two

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pp. 59-63

From beloved prisons, we turn now to romantic outlaws. As we do, our perspective changes from convicted criminals describing punishment to law-abiding citizens describing criminals. Like the beloved-prisons theme of Part One, the subject of romantic outlaws...

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CHAPTER 7 Reluctant Admiration: The Forms of Our Conflict over Criminals

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pp. 64-69

In Wilkie Collins's mystery novel The Woman in White, the sober and mature heroine, Marian Halcombe, finds herself deeply attracted to Count Fosco, whom she has known for only a few days. Although she does not yet realize on a conscious level that he is a...

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CHAPTER 8 Rationalized Admiration: Overt Delight in Camouflaged Criminals

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pp. 70-101

A courageous idealist, an instrument of fairness and right, and at the same time a violent outlaw—such is the type of admired criminal that we will consider first. Unlike the criminals we will examine in later sections, these lawbreakers evoke admiration...

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CHAPTER 9 Repressed Admiration: Loathing As a Vicissitude of Attraction to Criminals

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pp. 102-115

In Guy de Maupassant's novella Ball-of-Fat, a group of men and women are traveling by stagecoach through occupied France. Among them is a prostitute nicknamed "Ball-of-Fat."1 Early in the novella, she wins the other passengers' grudging respect for...

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Conclusion to Part Two: This Unforeseen Partnership

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pp. 116-118

In Part Two I have pursued three interrelated goals: (i) to show the pervasiveness and conflictive nature of our admiration for criminals; (2) to explore the bases of our admiration for criminals— not only the articulated, conscious explanations but also...

PART THREE In Slime and Darkness: The Metaphor of Filth in Criminal Justice

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Prologue to Part Three

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pp. 121-122

Philosophers have long proclaimed the essential role of metaphors in generating meaning. Words that say one thing and suggest another are necessary for the growth of our thought and may be an inevitable aspect of language itself.1 Nevertheless, metaphors...

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CHAPTER 10 Eject Him Tainted Now: The Criminal As Filth in Western Culture

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pp. 123-146

Early in Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities, during the first trial of Charles Darnay, an intriguing scene occurs. The British attorney general has been attempting with circumstantial evidence to show that Darnay passed state secrets to the French. He has...

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CHAPTER 11 Projecting an Excrementitious Mass: The Metaphor of Filth in the History of Botany Bay

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pp. 147-170

In 1786, having lost its American colonies, which had previously served as a repository for British criminals, and being plagued by overcrowded prisons, from which typhus threatened to spread into the surrounding communities, the British government...

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CHAPTER 12 Stirring the Odorous Pile: Vicissitudes of the Metaphor in Britain and the United States

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pp. 171-184

Laws against vagrants criminalize a lifestyle that many people find aesthetically offensive, in part because of its association with filth. For example, a county court in New York State characterized vagrants as the "sordid individuals who infest our stations such as...

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Conclusion to Part Three: Metaphor Understood

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pp. 185-187

In these pages I have endeavored to explore the metaphor likening the criminal to filth—to penetrate its origins and unravel its vicissitudes in criminal justice policy. In the course of this exploration, I have sometimes treated the metaphor of filth as a cause, at...

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Conclusion: The Romanticization of Criminals and the Defense against Despair

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pp. 188-194

In the essays that form the core of this book, I have explored three central paradoxes of criminal justice: beloved prisons, romantic outlaws, and a metaphor that renders criminals as attractive filth. In this final chapter, I will discuss themes present in all three...


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pp. 195-196


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pp. 197-242


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pp. 243-262


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pp. 263-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780814721100
E-ISBN-10: 0814721109
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814718803
Print-ISBN-10: 0814718809

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 1996