This article investigates practices of domestic violence behind "crimes of passion" in fin-de-siècle Paris. Professional discourses attributed crimes of passion to a loss of rational control caused by suggestive images in the media and the atomization of modern urban life. Yet far from being symptomatic of social disintegration, this article argues that crimes of passion reveal complex local systems of social control at the household and neighborhood level. Testimony in more than 250 cases of violent crime between domestic partners tried in the assize court of the Seine shows that victims and perpetrators alike were firmly embedded in close-knit urban communities, where neighbors had detailed knowledge of each other's daily lives and readily intervened in domestic disputes. From this perspective, it is possible to construct a social history of domestic violence even in a time and place where the concept was not yet subject to feminist analysis.
This article examines two court cases from Marseille's civil court in 1424 and the three competing goals of the people involved. Silona Calverie initiated the suits to dissolve her marriage and reclaim her dowry from her husband, whom she claimed had mismanaged her dowry, usurped her inheritance, beaten and imprisoned her. Johannes Calverie dismissed Silona's claim, saying the court had no jurisdiction over marriage, and he had a right to chastise his wife as he saw fit. Having recently survived a Catalan attack, Silona's witnesses, from her neighborhood and the city's hierarchy, intervened to limit the violence in their midst. Unlike other studies, which have found communities rallying behind abused women and supporting their desire to separate from their husbands, the witnesses in this case did not stand entirely behind Silona's story. The discrepancy between Silona's claims and the witness testimony in her case suggests anxieties about unattached women and maintaining a peaceful neighborhood.
Art historian Barbara Kellum's 1973 article on child murder in medieval England paints a picture of a world replete with ruthless and murderous single mothers who escaped the legal consequences of their actions due to an indifferent court system that chose to turn a blind eye to the deaths of young children. Despite the overstated tone of her work, it remains the most systematic study of child murder in the medieval English context. Employing a sampling of 131 instances of child murder (including 144 victims), drawn from royal and ecclesiastical courts from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries, the current investigation asks us to rethink these early conclusions. Infanticide was a felony in the Middle Ages and neither jurors nor royal officials treated child murder with indifference. Nevertheless, it is clear that both gender and marital status guided the courts in their decisions throughout the legal process in terms of indicting, prosecuting, and sentencing defendants in cases of child murder.
In the wake of the First World War in Australia, numerous ex-soldiers appeared before the courts after having committed acts of violence against their wives. Reports and records of these court cases suggest that many in the community accepted explanations that connected men's apparent nerve-shattering experiences of battle with their violent actions back home. While a link between war trauma and wife abuse appears to be borne out in many cases, there were also many instances where such a link clearly did not exist. As public attention focused on men's war injuries (whether real or assumed), the abuse suffered by wives was overlooked. The notion that returned soldiers' violence in the home was the result of mental disturbance can be seen as a contributing factor in the shift towards a psychological understanding of domestic violence that occurred in Australia over the first half of the twentieth century.
Although historians have identified violence against wives as a particular concern for late-nineteenth-century feminists, this article argues that class politics limited feminists' engagement with the problem of wife beating. English feminists used tales of working-class brutes who beat and maimed their wives to demand the vote for educated and propertied women; however, the class dynamics of such tales made them impolitic for Australian feminists fighting for the vote in a country with a proud tradition of universal manhood suffrage. Stories that revolved around passive victims and irredeemable brutes remained largely unconnected with feminist critiques of marriage. Leaders of the English women's movement used wife beating mainly to construct women's suffrage as a selfless duty middle-class women owed to their suffering sisters. In Australia, feminists infused these tales with their faith in progress and the possibilities of a new land and came to understand wife beating as predominantly a problem of the past and the Old World.