Crime News and the Pamphlet



Although the term pamphlet has no completely stable definition, in the early modern period it is commonly used with the force of a diminutive and hence, by association, to refer to a printed publication that is ephemeral, occasional and frivolous in nature; ‘pedlarie pamphlets’, ‘scald, trivial, lying pamphlets’, ‘carelesse scareless Pamphlets’, are some of the ways contemporaries described them.1 Marie-Hélène Davies says that it derives from Old French ‘palme-feuillet’, meaning literally ‘what could be held in a hand’,2 which conforms with the etymologies given in the OED and also with the bibliographers’ view of it as a publication sold stitched or stabbed (sewn sideways) but unbound and therefore cheaper than a book.3 The term denotes a format, a category of printed production, but not a genre of writing like the broadside ballad or the domestic play with its own formal and rhetorical conventions. The pamphlets which are my chief concern here, those that give accounts of crimes committed by women, generally originate as a subset of the literature of ‘strange news’, stories of monstrous, prodigious or disastrous occurrences, and are structured through conventions of style and content developed in accordance with the perceived nature of this content and its cultural functions. But as accounts of criminal activity acquire meanings and significance outside this particular discourse during the seventeenth century, so too do the pamphlets shift generically.


Seventeenth Century Early Modern Period Murder Attempt Crime News Peter Lake 
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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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