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250 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 Will the hen drive the chicken from under her wing And leave it to perish, the poor little thing, Or will dumb brutes desert their offspring, ah! no, What proofs of affection animals show. Yet mothers alas their children will slay, Or else pay another to put it away. These populist commentaries point up the dramatic and moralistic aspects of punishment for murder. There is much to be learned about social attitudes from the material that Judith Knelman has examined. Trollope wrote that women ought to be 'soft, tender, and virtuous,' and his opinion was very widely held. The merit of this study is that it examines cases of women proved to be the opposite of these things. The author brings out very well the ambivalent attitude to be found at all levels of society. There was, on the one hand, a tendency to sympathize with the accused woman, especially when undergoing the horrors of capital punishment, and yet, at the same time, a tendency to condemn in the severest terms the perversion of womanly virtues. As an example of an invitation to sympathy we may take, from a newspaper account of an execution, 'all eyes were upturned to the halffainting form of the wretched criminal.' A good example of the harsh condenmation of perverted virtue occurs in a pamphlet of 1809: 'Women, as they are naturally much more amiable, tender and compassionate than the other sex become, when they pervert the dictates of nature, more remorseless and cruel, and can conceive and execute the most diabolical of crimes.' The tensionbetween these perspectives is very well presented, and the author offers excellent commentary and analysis. The cases examined here will not readily sustain general conclusions about the nature of Victorian society and the role of women in it, or about motives and possible excuses for murder. The author is perhaps a little ill at ease here, but she has no need to be, for the cases are too few, and their circumstances too varied, to support general social, legal, or ethical theories. The book stands on its merits as what it is: an excellent study of public reactions to murders committed by women. (STEPHEN WADDAMS) Peter Thoms. Detection and Its Designs: Narrative and Power in Nineteenth-Centunj Detective Fiction Ohio University Press. xii, 178. us $32.95 Detective fiction, writes Peter Thoms, is about storytelling, and the detective 'detects with the intention of gaining storytelling supremacy.' In Detection and Its Designs, Thoms offers close readings of nineteenth-century detective fiction, starting with Caleb Williams, moving to Poe's Dupin tales, HUMANITIES 251 and culminating with three classics of the genre - Bleak House, The Moonstone , and The Hound of the Baskervilles. The detective, he argues, is an authorial figure who strives to apprehend and contain the criminal plot and thus appropriate the entire story. Nor is this drive for narrative mastery an innocent one: as Thoms observes of Caleb Williams, 'the story of the investigation seems to curl self-consciously back on the investigator, pondering his pretense of innocence, his motives, and his own disposition to worldliness and power.' In his desire to control others and their plots, Thoms argues, the detective thus bears a disturbing resemblance to the criminaL Thorns's series of close readings convincingly reveals detective fiction to be essentially and pervasively self-conscious, a genre which almost obsessively examines the subject of storytelling itself. In a compelling reading of Bleak House, for example, Thoms argues that the guilty society of the novel embraces detection and storytelling as mechanisms both of self-scrutiny and of deflecting guilt by investigating others. Detection, he submits, becomes in this text 'a technique of evading detection.' In turn, Thoms points out that the classic Victorian detective novel, The Moonstone, almost eschews detection altogetherin favour of a 'self-interested assertion of innocence,' whereby Franklin Blake suppresses the less respectable sides of himself and painstakingly constructs his identity as a stable, innocent, and impeccablyEnglish- man. Detective fiction is thus about who controls narrative power and to what ends. FinallYJ Thoms's analysis of The Hound ofthe Baskervilles suggests that detective stories are not just about restoring order, as many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 250-252
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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