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Severed Heads and Martyred Souls

Crime and Capital Punishment in French Romantic Literature


Laura J. Poulosky

Since capital punishment was such a hotly debated issue in Europe during the early nineteenth century, and since crime, trials, and executions provided ideal material for the melodrama that characterizes French Romanticism, several authors of the period naturally exploited the death penalty in their works. Severed Heads and Martyred Souls examines the Romantics’ obsession with capital punishment, analyzing its literary treatment in texts by Hugo, Lamartine, Eugene Sue, Dumas the elder, Vigny, Balzac, Stendhal, and Nodier. The book explores the effects of death sentences on character and plot development, the language of the texts, and the overt or implicit moral and political messages of each author, and successfully demonstrates that reflecting upon the French Romantics’ treatment of capital punishment is both important to understanding the Romantic movement, and instructive for current debate on the issue of capital punishment.