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The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases

by

The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In 1787, Benjamin Rush cautioned that public punishments were dangerous to the social and legal authority of the new nation. For Rush, irrepressible human sentiments all but guaranteed that public punishments would turn spectators against the institutions responsible for the punishments. Although public executions of criminals ended early in the 19th century, debate over the morality of capital punishment has continued to this day.

In this unique and fascinating glimpse into public reactions to prominent executions, from colonial times to the 1990s, Kristin Boudreau focuses on the central role of populist, often ephemeral literary forms in shaping attitudes toward capital punishment. Surveying popular poems, ballads, plays, and novels, she shows that, at key times of social unrest in American history, many Americans have felt excluded by the political and legal processes, and have turned instead to inexpensive literary forms of expression in an attempt to change the course of history.

Among the significant capital cases that the author discusses are: the Haymarket anarchist trial of 1886; the lynching of Leo Frank in 1914; the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and its effects on the Civil Rights movement; Norman Mailer’s treatment of the Gary Gilmore case in the 1979 novel, The Executioner’s Song; and the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a convicted murderer who became a born-again Christian on death row.

In the concluding chapter, Boudreau examines contemporary writers, musicians, actors, and other artists who are using their artistic media to influence official policies of states that permit capital punishment.

By examining these neglected texts, Boudreau brings to light a compelling story about ordinary Americans fighting an entrenched legal system at times of great national crisis.

Review:

"This exploration of execution literature offers not only close analysis of literary works-from bestselling books to little-known poems-inspired by publicly sanctioned deaths, but also vivid retellings of some less than judicious episodes in America's past. Boudreau has selected six cases, from famous (Emmett Till) and obscure (Leo Frank) lynchings, the Haymarket Anarchist Trial of 1886, the highly dramatized Karla Fay Tucker trial of 1998 and Gary Gilmore's murder case; the literary response to each highlights and influences an ever-evolving public opinion, which is the gristle of Boudreau's investigation. She provides intelligent observations on the works while still allowing them to speak for themselves. In her careful read of Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, for example, Boudreau comments on the 'deeply complicated' book which was critical of the scavenging journalists who flocked the to Gilmore's trial, but hewed firmly to the belief that its own breed of 'new journalism' as morally justifiable. The book seems to flame out toward the end, with the last chapter touching on George W. Bush's fondness for execution, The Exonerated and the Illinois moratorium on executions. While Boudreau's own prose is less than exciting, her consideration of literature of the public conscience-whether watershed or nearly anonymous-is thought-provoking and timely." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Book News Annotation:

Boudreau (English, U. of Georgia) reveals the close connection between executions, the sentiments of ordinary people, and popular literature, from the emergence of gallows literature in the American colonies and the unruly political effects in could have on readers, to the outpouring of sympathy for confessed murderer Karla Faye Tucker at her 1998 execution.
Annotation 2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Book News Annotation:

Boudreau (English, U. of Georgia) reveals the close connection between executions, the sentiments of ordinary people, and popular literature, from the emergence of gallows literature in the American colonies and the unruly political effects in could have on readers, to the outpouring of sympathy for confessed murderer Karla Faye Tucker at her 1998 execution. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

Examines literary forms reacting to public execution and demonstrates their affect on public attitudes toward capital punishment.

About the Author

Kristin Boudreau is associate professor of English at the University of Georgia and the author of Sympathy in American Literature: American Sentiments from Jefferson to the Jameses.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781591024033
Author:
Boudreau, Kristin.
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Author:
Boudreau, Kristin
Subject:
General
Subject:
Public opinion
Subject:
American literature
Subject:
Regional, Ethnic, Genre, Specific Subject
Subject:
American literature -- 19th century.
Subject:
American literature -- 20th century.
Subject:
Literary Criticism : General
Subject:
American
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20060431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
292
Dimensions:
8.96x6.06x.61 in. .88 lbs.

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » General Medicine
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General

The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases New Trade Paper
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Product details 292 pages Prometheus Books - English 9781591024033 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This exploration of execution literature offers not only close analysis of literary works-from bestselling books to little-known poems-inspired by publicly sanctioned deaths, but also vivid retellings of some less than judicious episodes in America's past. Boudreau has selected six cases, from famous (Emmett Till) and obscure (Leo Frank) lynchings, the Haymarket Anarchist Trial of 1886, the highly dramatized Karla Fay Tucker trial of 1998 and Gary Gilmore's murder case; the literary response to each highlights and influences an ever-evolving public opinion, which is the gristle of Boudreau's investigation. She provides intelligent observations on the works while still allowing them to speak for themselves. In her careful read of Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, for example, Boudreau comments on the 'deeply complicated' book which was critical of the scavenging journalists who flocked the to Gilmore's trial, but hewed firmly to the belief that its own breed of 'new journalism' as morally justifiable. The book seems to flame out toward the end, with the last chapter touching on George W. Bush's fondness for execution, The Exonerated and the Illinois moratorium on executions. While Boudreau's own prose is less than exciting, her consideration of literature of the public conscience-whether watershed or nearly anonymous-is thought-provoking and timely." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , Examines literary forms reacting to public execution and demonstrates their affect on public attitudes toward capital punishment.
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