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by Karen Halttunen

eBook Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination download ISBN: 0674003845
Author: Karen Halttunen
Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised edition (September 1, 2000)
Language: English
Pages: 368
ePub: 1223 kb
Fb2: 1494 kb
Rating: 4.9
Other formats: azw doc txt mobi
Category: Literature
Subcategory: History and Criticism

analyzes three centuries of American murder narratives, from execution sermons delivered in colonial America to the recent movies Seven and Dead Man Walking.

analyzes three centuries of American murder narratives, from execution sermons delivered in colonial America to the recent movies Seven and Dead Man Walking. Halttunen amply demonstrates that current American culture's avid interest in murder has important cultural and spiritual antecedents. Weaving examples and analysis together into a very readable whole, Halttunen manages neither to condemn nor to condone the various moralities she writes about, leaving readers free to make up their own minds about the usefulness of a murder-saturated popular imagination-a valuable achievement indeed.

Murder Most Foul book. But this was not always the popular response to murder.

Karen Halttunen's Murder Most Foul is an imaginative study of the changing nature of nonfiction narratives of murder in the early republic. It rests, however, on a time-honored anthropological thesis. For Halttunen, murder represents a "violent transgression" against the community. It calls "all relationships into question"-even the most intimate-and poses "troubling questions about the moral nature of humankind. The community must therefore.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 253-312) and index.

The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination. Halttunen makes a convincing argument that how we view murder depends very much on how we view murderers-and ourselves.

In & Most Foul& Karen Halttunen explores the changing view of murder from early New England sermons read at the .

The early narratives were shaped by a strong belief in original sin and spiritual redemption, by the idea that all murders were natural manifestations of the innate depravity of humankind.

But this was not always the popular response to murder

But this was not always the popular response to murder.

In Murder Most Foul, Karen Halttunen explores the changing view of murder from early New England sermons read at the public .

With the arrival of the gothic/romantic, Halttunen convincingly argues . If all this seems familiar, Halttunen notes that much of our modern view of crime comes directly from the conventions and tenets of the 19th-century gothic.

With the arrival of the gothic/romantic, Halttunen convincingly argues, murder came to be seen as a monstrous aberration, something outside the pale of ordinary humanity. For example, the insanity defense became widely accepted and its scope enlarged. Repentance was downplayed.

Confronting murder in the newspaper, on screen, and in sensational trials, we often feel the killer is fundamentally incomprehensible and morally alien. But this was not always the popular response to murder. In Murder Most Foul, Karen Halttunen explores the changing view of murder from early New England sermons read at the public execution of murderers, through the nineteenth century, when secular and sensational accounts replaced the sacred treatment of the crime, to today's true crime literature and tabloid reports.

The early narratives were shaped by a strong belief in original sin and spiritual redemption, by the idea that all murders were natural manifestations of the innate depravity of humankind. In a dramatic departure from that view, the Gothic imagination--with its central conventions of the fundamental horror and mystery of the crime--seized upon the murderer as a moral monster, separated from the normal majority by an impassable gulf. Halttunen shows how this perception helped shape the modern response to criminal transgression, mandating criminal incarceration, and informing a social-scientific model of criminal deviance.

The Gothic expression of horror and inhumanity is the predominant response to radical evil today; it has provided a set of conventions surrounding tales of murder that appear to be natural and instinctive, when in fact they are rooted in the nineteenth century. Halttunen's penetrating insight into her extraordinary treasure trove of creepy popular crime literature reveals how our stories have failed to make sense of the killer and how that failure has constrained our understanding and treatment of criminality today.

Comments: (6)
Shomeshet
In Murder Most Foul the author traces the how crime, murder in particular has been portrayed throughout American history. By way of a plethora of example and clear concise narrative, she makes a very good argument that our view of crime in America has changed along with societies changing view of evil and its origins. Starting with the puritan view of inherited original sin to the enlightenment narrative of the murderer as monster; the authors says that all of the portrayals are attempts to deal with the question of how could something so evil occur. The fact that the answer that we receive is never completely satisfying drives the fascination with each new occurrence.
What makes this book so interesting is that while most of the examples are from the early 19th century; the parallels with the True Crime genre of today are uncanny. This is a very good book with the part about the crimes involving women being especially interesting. If I had one criticism of the book, and this is a mild one, it is that the final chapter on criminal insanity seemed tacked on and would have fitted into the overall narrative better if it were at the beginning of the book.
Overall this is a readable and informative book and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in history of crime( especially 19th century), gender studies, or early American popular culture.
Gaxaisvem
The American white middle class, of course, reacts with facinated "horror" at the revelation that a murderer (preferably a serial sexual predator)is in their midst. As though they had never seen cruelty and depravity before they watch avidly as TV and True Crime accounts unfold to the last dripping second. But unlike the earlier religious basis for rejecting cruelty (termed sin), the perfected humanists don't see in themselves any degree of possibility for commission of such cruelty. Unlike the religious, the humanists don't think "there but for the grace of God (or dumb luck) go I".

Instead they react with (facinated)horror and sentence the miscreant (the mis-created) to the hell of prison or death row. Lately tired of using taxes to support prison rehabilitation or death row appeals they have discovered electronic shackeling and sentence the miscreant to life on a perpetual national sex offender registery where they consign the offender to a sort of social eternal damnation and include everyone from the boy down the street to Hanibal Lectre, as long as their heinous crime involved sex in any way (which by the way most facinates them).

Anyway the American Gothic Immagination (according to Ms Halttunen)throws such sinners/horrors (excuse me for mixing reliegious and humanist terminology) into permanant computer "outter darkness" because such murders etc are thought to possess no connecting humanity with the community of the most evolved human beings in history: The American White Middle Class. Those "horrifying" degenerates on the registry, in prison and on death row are not even acknowledged as throw backs in the evolution of mankind. They are Aliens/monsters in human form and are to be summarily dispenced with should they be discovered (Horror of Horrors)skulking about among us.

Great book elucidating as it does the difference between religious and humanist ideas about crime and punishment as exampled in the literature on Bloody (sexual)Murder
Haralem
This is an astounding piece of intellectual history, helpful for anyone interested in nineteenth century literature, the shifting political and social ideologies of the time, or for the Gothic narrative in general. My only qualm with this book is that it often sets too many examples of a certain trope or Gothic convention (the wife-murder section is one example), which take up pages and pages. It had me going, "Alright, I get it. Move on with the argument."
Mautaxe
The hardest history to write, is, arguably, cultural history. A professor I once knew phrased it thus - "When you sit down to write cultural history, you do your best, but knowing you are going to fail in some way." He meant that all the possible permutations of culture and the forces that impact culture defy the usual tools of chronology and simple "cause and effect." While this may indeed be so, this book manages to navigate those dangerous waters admirably.

Halttunen weaves a deft narrative about the subject of murder in eighteenth and nineteenth century America, and uses "execution sermons" and sensational but little known murder cases of the era to illustrate how the American attitude towards crime (especially with its reference to gender and social class) is a microcosm of an America in a state of massive cultural evolution. For example, the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett, a well-known courtesan of exceptional beauty, is a fascinating look into the "gendering" of crime as accounts praise her beauty but then descend into the most lurid speculation about her private life and her "fall from grace." It shows not only the "yellow press" at its worst, but how we - globally - will derive indirect gratification from the downfall of someone who is perceived as a "bad" person by shifting cultural standards. The book also powerfully suggests that the transition of murder from a "collective sin" to a private, voyeuristic "guilty pleasure" is part and parcel of the "privatization" of classes and individuals as the Republic grew up and grew prosperous. In other words, it is a small glimpse into a peculiar form of a "heart of darkness" any modern reader or even reality TV show maven will quickly recognize. But even more fascinating is her overview of how "alienists" and pseudo-science popular in the time period acted as a retardant to progressive changes in criminal investigation and mental health which still, even today, leave lingering traces. But Haltunnen is no doctrinaire theoritician, and disinclined to hysterical over-writing. She has a very pleasing empathy towards her long dead historical subjects which manages to bring them alive without descent into guesswork or - worse - speculative fiction. And like some of the best history, this subject invites more questions rather than posing as a definitive "last word."

Her research in primary source documents - newspapers, magazines, journals of the era - is broadly impressive indeed, and her examples well chosen as she advances her arguments.

I would caution the reader that some of the materials she chooses are, even by modern standards, disturbing. It is amazing that while we today think of our culture as "coarsened," the repressive eighteen hundreds could be on par or even worse.

I enthusiastically recommend this book. Beautifully researched, well-reasoned and well-supported, and written in a style anyone - professional historian or lay history lover - can access.