chapter  2
20 Pages

‘It Will Be Expected by You All, to Hear Something from Me’

Emotion, Performance, and Child Murder in Britain in the Eighteenth Century
ByDana Rabin

The last dying speeches ascribed to early modern British women accused and convicted of murdering their children reveal the significance placed upon the emotive comportment of the condemned in their final days and moments. Allegedly delivered at the gallows, such speeches were edited and published for a public that was eager to read about the feelings that led women to kill—seeking to find resolution, at least in print, in the wake of such a crime. Although single women experienced sex, pregnancy, and childbirth through their immediate emotional community, their speeches were addressed to the larger community—local and national—and built upon the rhetorical and emotional expectations of all convicted criminals. This chapter places the emotional content of these pamphlets at the intersection of theories of performativity and the history of emotions. The heightened interest in emotion in the eighteenth century grew out of the culture of sensibility and the concern to find the appropriate balance between reason and emotion. The pamphlets and judicial notes on which the paper draws show patterns in the representation of women’s emotional performances and provide rich evidence about systems of emotional exchange and how these shared systems of feelings constituted imagined communities.