Women’s Crimes: Their Social Context and Their Representation



The aim of this chapter is to address two questions: the first is, what crimes did women commit in early modern England, and which of these were represented in popular literature? This question can be answered directly, with recourse to fact and evidence. The second is more complex: how did contemporary constructions of gender as expressed in social institutions such as law and the family condition that representation? My method here is to work within a certain broad focus on the issues and the texts that illustrate them; in consequence, detailed discussion of some issues which arise, will be deferred to subsequent chapters. I am not concerned to sift fact from fiction, to assess the accuracy of popular accounts of women’s crimes, but to use cultural evidence of one kind (legislation, some documented evidence, prescriptive handbooks) to interpret another (sensational accounts of women’s crimes). In this context, discussion of gender issues in early modern law broadens out in two directions: first, into consideration of a particular aspect of it which relates especially to women and is reflected in various kinds of social practice: its peculiarly communal nature. The second issue that arises from consideration of legal theory and practice is that of agency: the extent to which women can be regarded in law as responsible for their actions, how the woman who commits crimes can be explained. I examine, with some examples, the question of how crime writing can function to shape a subjectivity for women and the extent to which it is differentiated from men’s.


Social Context Unmarried Woman Early Modern Period Popular Literature Male Violence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Sandra Clark 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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