Nineteenth-Century Female Poisoners: Three English Women Who by Victoria M. Nagy (auth.)

By Victoria M. Nagy (auth.)

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117 While it was possible for either a man or a woman to be called a witch, negative, malicious acts were more frequently associated with women. 118 The magical powers of men, who were often called cunning folk, were linked with the more ‘positive’ aspects of magic, such as warding off spirits or releasing people from bewitchment, for which they often found willing customers; by contrast, women were accused of blacker magic. Even women who were seemingly on the side of good by working as herbalists were sometimes suspected of being well acquainted with the dark arts.

I have also drawn heavily on archival source material from the National Archives (TNA) in Kew and the Essex Record Office (ERO) in Chelmsford in order to discover varying constructions of femininity and crime. These constructions would have remained inaccessible if only newspapers had been used as source material. In the three chapters that discuss the cases in depth, I use primarily microhistorical and feminist historical theory in combination with aspects of critical media analysis and feminist criminological theory.

It was the middle class who considered themselves the purveyors of morality, and cultural gender norms were enforced not only in the home but also via the newspapers and new laws passed by Parliament. 106 The other crime most associated with men was theft. Indeed, there was a tendency in the early nineteenth century to label all young men (those aged 18 to 30) as potential thieves, always ready to steal and swindle due to their inherent laziness. However, the opinion of social commentators in the eighteenth century had been that many an honest young man had been led astray by a seductress, a trope still being repeated.

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