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reviews Victor Bailey. "This RashAct": SuicideAcross theLife Cycle in the Victorian City. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. xvi + 349. Victor Bailey considers his sociological study ofsuicide during the Victorian era in the borough ofKingston upon Hull particularly unique among similarstudies, not only because the coroner's inquest records he draws from are the only "unbroken run" ofsuch records for aVictorian provincial city (6), but also because his book allows "real" Victorian voices to be heard. These voices are those ofthe suicides themselves (through suicide notes) as well as the voices oftheir friends, family, and acquaintances whowere called as witnesses at the inquests. Bailey's title echoes a recurring phrase used in the notes for the suicides' way ofdescribing the act they were about to commit. Bailey is well aware ofthe limitations accompanying such a specific and localized study (Bailey took as his sample a total of729 inquests in Hull over the entire Victorian period), but he argues that the advantages of having a complete population outweigh the difficulties of studying this type of"microhistory" (vii). Furthermore, he claims that his use of life-cycle analysis gives his study wider applicability (10). By life-cycle analysis, Bailey refers to a study ofthe developmental stages individuals undergo in their lives and the way in which they make the transition from one stage to the next. One of the strengths of Bailey's book is the first chapter, with its clear, concise summary ofthe two main traditions ofstudy in the "sociology ofself-slaughter" (16). His intention is to evaluate these two traditions , Durkheimian positivism and ethnomethodology, "the one emphasizing structural determination, the other the meanings that actors ascribe to events" (15)> in order to present his own methodology, which he calls a "refurbished Durkheimianism" and which seeks to combine the strengths ofboth traditions (5). Bailey's term for his own methodology is telling, because he consistently allies himselfwith the Durkheimian statistical method rather than the more individualized and personalized ethnomethodological critique. The only chapter that focuses on the individual experience ofsuicide is the epilogue, which is provocative and insightful. Chapters two and three explain how and why the coroner's inquest 125 volume 25 ? u vt be r 2 documents are used as a study of statistical trends of suicide and the experience ofsuicide. To Bailey's credit, he consistently refers the reader to footnotes that compare the date from Hull with national date, so that itis relatively simple to determinewhich findings conform to andwhich diverge from national data. Chapter four is aparticularly strongchapter which pulls together information from secondary literature on the urban life cycle in Victorian England, providing the readerwith a clear picture ofthedifficulties common to eachage group. Chapter five describes the specificeconomic and societal makeup ofHull in which these life cycles were lived, effectively linking the "ideal type" (101) of Victorian life described in Chapter four with the actual urban community ofHull. The first five chapters set the stage for the statistical analysisand interpretations ofthe suicide rates in Hull that follow them. Bailey chooses to use life-cycle analysis as the framework bywhich to organize these statistics because ofthe possibilities it affords to combine "structural and subjective approaches to the study ofsuicide" (J). Life-cyde analysis certainly brings alive the vicissitudes ofVictorian life. The struggle ofthe elderlywith illness and economic difficulties in an era before pensions is particularly poignant. Also notable is Bailey's finding that the major cause ofsuicide in young women was not the literary stereotype ofseduction and abandonment, but difficulties associated with domestic service. However, Bailey's choice to structure the remaining chapters according to different phases in the life cycle seems forced in terms ofsuicide rates. Except for the early-life stage (in which domesticservice for young women figures), suicide rates and motives for suicide seem remarkably similar across the life cycle, from the prime oflife to old age (generally illness is the primary motive, followed by economic problems, for all stages in the life cycle). These similarities, however, are obscured by the structure ofthe chapters. What seems more significant in Bailey's findings are gender differences and the decades in which the suicides took place (there are significant differences between male and female suicides and between...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 125-127
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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