Perceptions of gender in English news pamphlets 1660-1700
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Sensational murders were a popular topic for news pamphlets in England from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth. Early pamphlets are characterized by religious and dramatic imagery, but beginning in the late seventeenth century these documents began to focus more on legalistic details of the crimes depicted, with less emphasis on religious morality. Moreover, the pamphlets also show significant changes in the portrayal of gender over time. Using a qualitative rather than a quantitative research methodology, I analyze a sample of fifty-five English pamphlets printed between 1660 and 1700 describing murder cases. The thesis argues that they reveal a social anxiety toward unchecked patriarchy in conjunction with an enhanced depiction of female vulnerability. I place this evidence within the context of fears regarding increasing crime among some elements in society and the late seventeenth-century intellectual debate over the duties of a good father and a good ruler. A close reading of murder pamphlets demonstrates their authors constructed the narratives to play upon the early modern audience's fear of public disorder, not just in the area of crime, but also with respect to the unraveling of traditional gender roles. By comparing the depictions of murders in which men and women were both perpetrators and victims, it was possible to conclude that a compelling issue for late seventeenthcentury English society was disorder created, on the one hand, by men crossing the boundaries of conventional patriarchal roles and, on the other, by women whose activities were not monitored by an appropriate male figure. In particular, analysis of these murder narratives sheds light on the ensuing struggle and negotiation of gender boundaries that took place in the wake of profound changes in society following the Civil War and the Interregnum.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Murder pamphlets: reinforcing gender stereotypes? -- Aggressive men: a threat to social order -- Women and murder: vulnerability vs. culpability -- Conclusion