Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France

Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France

by Paul Friedland
     
 

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From the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, capital punishment in France, as in many other countries, was staged before large crowds of spectators. Paul Friedland traces the theory and practice of public executions over time, both from the perspective of those who staged these punishments as well as from the vantage point of the many thousands who came to

Overview

From the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, capital punishment in France, as in many other countries, was staged before large crowds of spectators. Paul Friedland traces the theory and practice of public executions over time, both from the perspective of those who staged these punishments as well as from the vantage point of the many thousands who came to 'see justice done'. While penal theorists often stressed that the fundamental purpose of public punishment was to strike fear in the hearts of spectators, the eagerness with which crowds flocked to executions, and the extent to which spectators actually enjoyed the spectacle of suffering suggests that there was a wide gulf between theoretical intentions and actual experiences. Moreover, public executions of animals, effigies, and corpses point to an enduring ritual function that had little to do with exemplary deterrence. In the eighteenth century, when a revolution in sensibilities made it unseemly for individuals to take pleasure in or even witness the suffering of others, capital punishment became the target of reformers. From the invention of the guillotine, which reduced the moment of death to the blink of an eye, to the 1939 decree which moved executions behind prison walls, capital punishment in France was systematically stripped of its spectacular elements.

Partly a history of penal theory, partly an anthropologically-inspired study of the penal ritual, Seeing Justice Done traces the historical roots of modern capital punishment, and sheds light on the fundamental 'disconnect' between the theory and practice of punishment which endures to this day, nit only in France but in the Western penal tradition more generally.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] well-researched and engagingly argued book.... Compellingly narrated." —Journal of Modern History

"[P]resent[s] a colorful picture of a time when executions were a form of public entertainment, and provides keen insight into the origins of contemporary preoccupations with deterrence as the avowed goal of punishment. Highly recommended." —CHOICE

"[I]mpeccably researched and written... French historians, but Europeanists also, will profit from the broad reach and scholarly acumen of this book." —Pamela Pilbeam, History

"This book's impressive timespan provides the reader with access to an extraordinary range of interrelated material, which Friedland astutely juggles into a cohesive whole."
—Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, French History

"[A] brilliant book about changing taste in executions... This thoughtful and thoughtprovoking book is filled with interesting, arcane information. The argument is clear and the research admirable." —David P. Jordan, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This fine book takes up, works with and complicates a whole series of narratives about power, justice, punishment and death... Thought-provoking at almost every turn, it poses questions about ordinary people's relationship with the most extreme manifestations of state power that continue to resonate into the present day." —David Andress, American Historical Review

"Anyone wanting to understand how capital punishment developed in the first place, both in France and on the wider European stage, and how the move towards its diminution and abolition began, should read this book." —Hugh Gough, English Historical Review

"By concentrating on the history of capital punishment when it was performed publicly in France, Friedland hopes to provoke reflection on the continued use of the death penalty in the United States today... [Friedland] has written a sweeping intellectual and cultural history that challenges a number of prevailing explanations about the rise and fall of public executions in France." —H-France

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780198715993
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
09/03/2014
Pages:
346
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Paul Friedland is Professor of History at Cornell University. His first book, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French Revolution (2002), was awarded the Pinkney Prize for the best book of the year by the Society for French Historical Studies.

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