Jean Genet once wrote that the only man to stand out in modern society is the man condemned to death. It is indeed hard to think of an event more dramatic than a public execution, of a moment when the social order and an individual's destiny conflict more acutely - an extreme instance of the principle by which small boys are caned in class. In France, since 1792, death by execution has almost always meant the guillotine, and in that nation's literature a small, distinguished band of heroes has made its way to the great knife: Stendhal's Sorel, Camus' Meursault, Genet's Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, their demises dignified in varying degrees by irony and an implicit rupture with society. 'The only man', wrote Genet, and indeed, his own novels, which are based on real events, focus on the destinies of miscreant, decapitated males. But what of heroines? Were any women singled out by history or literature for destinies exceptional? And, to add a word to the Red Queen's celebrated utterance, who cut off their heads?