Punishing the dead?: Suicide, Lordship, and Community in Britain, 1500-1830

Hardcover | September 26, 2010

byRobert A. Houston

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What can we learn from suicide, that most personal and often inscrutable of acts? This strikingly original work shows how, from treatment of suicides in historic Britain, unique insights can be gained into the development of both social and political relationships and cultural attitudes in aperiod of profound change. Drawing ideas from a range of disciplines including law, philosophy, the social sciences, and literary studies as well as history, the book comprehensively analyses how successful and attempted suicide was viewed by the living and how they dealt with its aftermath, using awide variety of legal, fiscal, and literary sources. By investigating the distinctive institutional environments and mental worlds of early modern England and Scotland, it explains why suicide was treated as a crime subject to financial and corporal punishments, and it questions modern assumptionsabout the apparent 'enlightenment' of attitudes in the eighteenth century.The book is divided into two parts. Part one examines the role of lordship in managing social and economic relationships following suicide and illuminates the importance of distinctive punishments inflicted on suicides' bodies for understanding historic communities. The second part of the bookplaces suicide in its cultural context, analysing the attitudes of early modern people to those who killed themselves. It explores religious beliefs and the place of the devil as well as secular and medical understandings of suicide's causes in sources that include provincial newspapers.Informed by continental as well as British research, Punishing the Dead? explicitly compares England and Scotland, making this a completely British history. It also offers intriguing evidence for the importance of cultural regions and local vernaculars that transcend national boundaries.

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What can we learn from suicide, that most personal and often inscrutable of acts? This strikingly original work shows how, from treatment of suicides in historic Britain, unique insights can be gained into the development of both social and political relationships and cultural attitudes in aperiod of profound change. Drawing ideas from...

Robert Allan Houston was born in Hamilton, Scotland, lived in India and Ghana and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and St Andrews University before spending six years at Cambridge University as a research student (Peterhouse) and research fellow (Clare College). He has worked at the University of St Andrews since 1983 and is Prof...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:416 pagesPublished:September 26, 2010Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019958642X

ISBN - 13:9780199586424

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I: Punishing the DeadIntroduction: Penalties Against Suicide in Britain and on the ContinentSection 1: Forfeiture in ScotlandSection 2: Forfeiture in EnglandSection 2A: Local Franchises and the Handling of ForfeitureSection 3: Burial PracticesSection 4: Corporal PunishmentSection 5: Conclusion to Part IPart II: Understanding the DeadSection 1: The Secularization of Suicide?Section 2: Newspapers and Public Opinion: Neutralizing Suicide?Conclusion: National, Regional, and Local HistoriesCODA: When did Suicide Become Acceptable?Select BibliographyIndex