Printer Friendly

The "accidental murderer": jury acquittal in Maupassant's crime stories.

In several of Guy de Maupassant's stories, juries acquit defendants who have admitted to heinous crimes: a mother who has committed infanticide; a deaf-mute who strangled his unfaithful wife; a man who killed his employer simply for telling the truth, that his wife had cuckolded him. How do we explain these acquittals--bizarre outcomes given that these are murder cases? This essay applies a law and literature perspective to read these stories in the light of debates then occurring in France about the nature of the criminal mind, about the appropriateness of tailoring punishment to fit the criminal, and about the role of juries. Explicitly or implicitly, Maupassant's stories call upon the reader to assume the role as juror and examine whether "accidental killers" deserve exoneration.


In Europe in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there was vigorous debate about whether certain individuals were "born criminals," and the extent to which crime was caused by congenital disposition versus social factors such as poverty. In 1876 Cesare Lombroso claimed that atavistic morphological peculiarities such as asymmetrical facial bones and abnormal skulls characterized "the born criminal." Lombroso's theories led naturally to an argument that hardened criminals were incapable of reform (Harris 80-85, Leps 32-33). Over the course of the 1880s, Lombroso was opposed by Alexandre Lacassagne and other French anthropologists, who emphasized instead poverty, misery, and alcoholism as causes of crime (Lacassagne 3-5). (1)

As early as 1844, Arnould Bonneville de Marsangy argued that penal policy should focus not only on "le delit" but also on "le delinquant" and consider the merits and demerits of the felon in assigning punishment (iii). Similarly, Adolphe Chauveau advocated leniency for crimes committed "par l'entrainement de la passion, la legitimite de la vengeance, la violence de la provocation morale, ou par incomprehensibles egarements de la raison" (17). At a time when the French government was actively debating penal transportation for serious felonies, Hubert-Ernest Michaux published his Etudes sur la question des peines (1872), which distinguished between "le crime-accident et le crime-profession. Beaucoup d'indulgence pour le premier, une severite impitoyable pour le second" (177). Michaux argued that transportation should be reserved for recidivists as opposed to accidental criminals, a position seconded by Fernand Desportes among others (Nye 73-75, 84). Desportes sought to distinguish the punishment of a first crime committed in a moment of despair or passion from that of the habitual offender:
   ... entre celui qui, pur de tout antecedent facheux commet une
   premiere faute, dans un moment d'egarement, de desespoir ou de
   passion; entre l'homme dont la faute, si blamable quelle soit,
   n'est pas deshonorante, et celui dont le delit suppose la
   perversion complete du sens moral. (22)

Jurists focused less on the nature of the crime and more on the character and psychology of the criminal: had he acted in a way that was not dishonoring or was he a moral degenerate?

Felony trials conducted in cours d'assises reflect a pervasive concern with ascertaining the character of the criminal and motivations for his or her conduct. Under the Code d'instruction criminelle of 1808, a juge d'instruction or examining magistrate directed the investigation into the circumstances of the crime. Examining magistrates would scrutinize the judicial dossier, examining letters, diaries, and other information that would shed light on the psychology of the defendant (Harris 126). The president of a three-judge tribunal conducted trials in cours d'assises. Without rules of evidence, all kinds of information were admissible (127). Invariably the president's questions at trial sought autobiographical information as well as an explanation of the crime. The attorneys were allowed to make impassioned speeches to the jury in an attempt to influence the outcome. Benjamin Martin has characterized the trial before the assises as "a species of morality play. The purpose of the trial was to judge the accused after an inexorable revelation of his life and of the truth" (177).

In assise trials, there was a tendency on the part of jurors to focus on the relative moral culpability of the offender as opposed to limiting their consideration to the nature of the offense. The duty of the twelve male jurors was first to consider "if a criminal act had been convicted and second if the defendant was coupable'" (Harris 137). The jurors' oath required that they listen attentively to the proceedings, act impartially, listen without hate or malice, and then decide the case "suivant [leur] conscience et [leur] intime conviction." (2) The juror followed his inner conscience in determining whether a defendant who had committed a criminal act should nonetheless not be found guilty because of temporary insanity or exculpating factors.

French juries granted an extremely high rate of acquittals in the assise courts during this period. In 1894, Emile Yvernes of the Ministere de la Justice reported that acquittals for serious assault had increased from twenty-seven percent to seventy-eight percent between 1860 and 1890, while acquittals for murder grew from fifteen percent to thirty-four percent, and acquittals for homicide increased from sixteen percent to twenty-four percent (14). However, acquittals in crimes against property during this period rose only from seventeen to nineteen percent (14). Based on a study of 251 cases of domestic violence during this period, Eliza Ferguson argues that the high rate of acquittals was due not to jury incompetence but rather to jurors' determination that punishment was unwarranted in cases of crime passionnel (296).

A major reason for the high rate of acquittal was the freedom of witnesses to craft their own narrative: the French assise court offered considerable latitude to those on the witness stand, in contrast to American trials in which witnesses testify in response to questions and are reprimanded by judges if they digress (Ferguson 304). The defendant and other witnesses could spell out their version of the incidents, the abuse, or the misconduct that had led to, or even compelled, a violent reaction. One might not have expected jurors, drawn primarily from the middle class, to sympathize with working class defendants; however, jurors tended to acquit in cases involving domestic crime where the interest of the state in conviction appeared relatively minor and the act of violence seemed "understandable, excusable, or even deserved" (307). Medico-legal experts "dominated the Parisian courtroom" with analyses of how neuroses and insanity could have led to defendants' violent actions (Harris 143). (3)

James Donovan conducted a study of convictions in the assise courts between 1825 and 1914 based on the annual Compte general de l'administration de la justice criminelle from the Ministere de la Justice. He concludes that "the two factors most likely to influence the behavior of French jurors were their extreme harshness towards property crimes and their relative indifference to violent crimes" ("Justice Unblind" 91). (4) While the thief threatened a social order based on property, the man who killed out of passion or vengeance "was apparently viewed as a far lesser social peril" (94). In a more recent study Donovan displays statistics for theft and murder during the years 1880-1893: a conviction rate of 81.7% for theft, 75.1% for premeditated murder, and 69.7% for unpremeditated murder (Juries 73-74). Donovan suggests that the primary reason for acquittals in unpremeditated murder trials was the sympathetic response of jurors to crimes that were motivated by impulsivity and passion (74-75).


Maupassant closely followed the reports of criminal trials in the faits divers (Benhamou 50-54). What did Maupassant think about frequent acquittals of so-called accidental criminals? We know from his essays that he disagreed both with acquittals of men who killed adulterous wives in crimes of passion ("Le Prejuge du deshonneur," 1881) and with acquittals of women who attacked men when their honor was insulted ("Le Sentiment de la justice," 1884). Maupassant criticized

ce tribunal fantaisiste qu'on nomme un jury. Toutes les fois qu'il s'agit d'amour, l'indulgence attendrie du tribunal est acquise d'avance a celle qui a mutile son seducteur. Elle est acquittee d'enthousiasme ... Donc, les femmes d'aujourd'hui a peu pres autorisees a regler toutes leurs affaires a coups de revolver et de vitriol. ("Le Sentiment de la justice," Chroniques 2: 929-30)

I select four stories for discussion of acquittal in Maupassant's work: "Rosalie Prudent," "Les Becasses," "L'Assassin," and "Un Parricide." These stories have in common the crime of murder committed by an accidental criminal. As Mariane Bury comments, often in Maupassant's stories there is no resolution: "conclure n'est pas conclure" (246). The obvious effect is to make the reader work, to dwell on the reasons for the characters' actions, and to consider the consequences. Stories involving trials directly ask the reader to function as a jury, to consider the moral culpability of the protagonist: "Est-il bon? est-il mechant? Que penser? Que croire? Peut-on mEme tirer une morale des faits?" (Bury 253). The stories also ask us to evaluate the extent to which the act of murder was precipitated by the hypocrisy of the social order and/or the malice of those whose self-absorbed pursuit of their own interests contributed to the killings.

"Rosalie Prudent" (1886; Contes 2: 699-702) tells the story of a young woman, impregnated and abandoned by the nephew of her employer, who gives birth to twins. Overwhelmed by the burden of raising two children in poverty, she kills her babies and buries them in the garden. At trial there is a surprising disclosure, that Rosalie had carefully prepared a layette anticipating the birth of a singleton: when twins are born, as the girl explains at trial, she was overwhelmed by the impossibility of raising two children: "Deux enfants! Moi qui gagne vingt francs par mois! Dites ... est-ce possible! Un, oui, ca s' peut, en se privant ... mais pas deux! Ca m'a tourne la tEte. Est-ce que je sais, moi? J'pouvais-t-il choisir, dites?" (702). Several aspects of the story are typical: she was seduced; she gave birth alone; she knew she would lose her job when her employers found out. Other witnesses corroborated Rosalie's testimony that she planned to raise her baby, that she consulted a midwife, and that she prepared a layette. Her employers are presented as totally without sympathy: they would like to guillotine the girl. Rosalie breaks down in sobs as she describes smothering and burying the babies; the jury is sobbing as well and quick to acquit. "La moitie des jures se mouchaient coup sur coup pour ne point pleurer. Des femmes sanglotaient dans l'assistance" (702).

Acquittals were frequent: 37.7% of the 2117 persons tried for infanticide in cours d'assises were acquitted during 1880-1890 (Donovan, Juries 219). Juries sympathized with the usual defendant, a poor and abandoned woman, typically "une femme celibataire, illettree et d'origine rurale" (Vallaud 48s). (5) Women like Rosalie who had been impregnated by employers or supervisors were likely to be destitute given that there was no legal recourse entitling them to support from the baby's father (Donovan, "Justice Unblind" 96). (6)

While medico-legal experts did not raise a specific defense of puerperal insanity during this period, several women spoke of a kind of "temporary insanity"--"a sense of extreme desolation, the horror of bringing dishonor on their families, and the certain knowledge that they would lose their jobs if the birth became known" (Shapiro 129). In evaluating claims of madness, these experts examined the defendant's conduct. They found it significant if women "concealed their pregnancies, failed to prepare a layette, and delivered in secrecy--a pattern of behavior that seemed particularly calculating and thus apparently ruled out a discussion of nervous disorder" (Shapiro 131). We can imagine jurors hanging attentively on every word as they tried to understand the psychology and motivations behind a mother's decision to kill her newborn child.

We gain a fresh perspective on "Rosalie Prudent" if we appreciate the tension between jury sympathy for a young woman in desperate circumstances and the alternative portrayal of a calculating defendant who planned to kill her infant as soon as it was born. Charlotte Schapira points out that the surname "Prudent" has a double meaning--"in addition to being a criticism of social injustice," the name implies that "no one, no matter how 'prudent,' can possibly foresee everything; man is but the plaything of fortune" (258). I suggest that the name "Prudent" is ironic here--Rosalie was not a calculating woman in the negative sense, who took her pleasure, became pregnant, and never planned to raise her child; rather, she was a decent woman who carefully (prudently) planned a layette and intended to raise her baby. The first line of the story describes the affair as "un mystere que ni les jures, ni le president, ni le procureur de la Republique lui-mEme ne parvenaient a comprendre" (699). Why would a young woman who had taken such care to prepare a layette and consult a midwife for advice about delivery commit infanticide? The reason is that she utterly lacked the means to deal with two infants. (7) In "Rosalie Prudent," Maupassant invites us to consider how we should address a crime that is, on the one hand, among the most heinous and, on the other, the most likely to evoke our sympathy.

While infanticides are rarer in America today than in nineteenth-century France due to the availability of contraception, abortion, and welfare services, it remains the case that most mothers who kill newborns are young and single; they generally deliver their babies alone and in secret (Oberman 28-29). The fact that juries still struggle with the issue raised in "Rosalie Prudent"--whether the defendant is "mad" or "bad"--reflects their "ambivalence about allocating blame in infanticide cases" (56). Rosalie's killing of her twins shortly after giving birth is typical of neonaticide committed by single women who find themselves alone and in poverty, and who also may be experiencing severe exhaustion or post-partum psychosis. The proposed reform of criminal laws applicable to infanticide has focused attention on whether neonaticide should be punished with more leniency than other cases of infanticide. (8) As was the case in Maupassant's story, juries still cry when they deliver verdicts in infanticide cases, whether they convict or acquit (Pearson 89).

"Les Becasses" (1885; Contes 2: 563-71) in many respects represents the paradigm of stories involving a murder committed in the heat of passion: a Norman shepherd named Gargan strangles his wife when he catches her with another man. The twist here is that Gargan is a deaf-mute, who married a souse ("la Goutte") who becomes notorious for her promiscuity. Gargan, who was apparently blind to his wife's shenanigans, cannot control his rage when he finds her in flagrante. At Gargan's trial, Picot, the farmer who employs the shepherd, serves as advocate and interpreter. Picot realizes that he must act craftily to succeed. Through a process of mime, Picot elicits from Gargan (who nods his head to respond) that he had been unaware that his wife was cheating on him and that he killed his wife "parce quelle etait liee a lui devant les hommes et devant le ciel" (570). Picot calls upon Gargan to demonstrate first the coupling he observed and then the strangling of his wife. There is a gasp in the courtroom when Gargan, who can scream although he cannot speak, wails out loud in his anguish. Picot carries the day by telling the jury "Il a de l'honneur, cet homme-la" (570). Gargan is acquitted.

As a result of Gargan's impairment, Picot must act in a manner that is "malin" (569) to present his client's case to the jury. Is the need for cleverness driven by the difficulty of palliating the crime or by the challenge of presenting a narrative through a defendant who is deaf and mute? Picot must persuade the jury that Gargan, a man of brutish aspect who lacks the human attribute of speech, is as capable of feeling dishonored by his wife's infidelity as the next man. Peter Cogman writes that Gargan, although rude and primitive, embodies the positive values of fidelity and honor, in contrast to the artifice and vanity of elegant Parisian society (26-27). From the perspective of today's attitudes towards individuals with disabilities, it is a painful moment when the jury jeers at Gargan's antics as he re-enacts the crime. Gargan's inability to speak represents an interesting variation on the typical scenario of murder and adultery, and we may wonder if Maupassant implies an association between mutism and physical violence. (9) There is the possibility that Picot has constructed the narrative and reconfigured the murderous act "with a moralistic gloss" as an affair of honor (Ward 5).

However, if we look beyond his impairment, Gargan is the prototypical accidental killer, a wronged husband who kills in a fit of passion. Maupassant specifically criticizes jury acquittals of the man who kills an unfaithful wife:

Les jures, tous maris, sont pleins d'indulgence pour ces fureurs d'epoux outrages; ils acquittent le meurtrier, et l'assistance tres speciale des cours d'assises, lecteurs de romans-feuilletons ... applaudit a ce verdict, jugeant que le mari trompe a lave son honneur dans le sang, qu'il s'est rehabilite par le meurtre! ... Je suis pour la femme qui tombe contre le mari qui tue. ("Le Prejuge du deshonneur," Chroniques 1: 209)

Maupassant adds that the husband's love for his wife--whom he picked up in the streets--is no excuse: the duck always returns to the same pond and she will not change her nature merely because she is married. "Pourquoi tue-t-il? Parce qu'il se croit deshonore!" (Chroniques 1: 229) For Maupassant, it is not a justification for a man to kill his wife that his honor has been injured.

"L'Assassin" (1887; Contes 2: 991-95) tells a related and perhaps still stranger story of a crime of passion. Here there is an emphasis on the psychological motives for an otherwise incomprehensible crime. In "second-person narrative," the defendant's advocate addresses the reader as juror:
   Les faits sont indeniables, messieurs les jures. Mon client, un
   honnEte homme, un employe irreprochable, doux et timide, a
   assassine son patron dans un mouvement de colere qui parait
   incomprehensible. Voulez-vous me permettre de faire la psychologie
   de ce crime, si je puis ainsi parler, sans rien attenuer, sans rien
   excuser? Vous jugerez ensuite. (991)

Lougere, a model employee, kills his boss in a moment of anger because of a flaw, which his lawyer characterizes as an exaggerated sense of "le respect" (991). At twenty, Lougere married a young woman as pure and honest as himself, a woman whom he virtually worships. After she dies of typhoid fever, the lonely widower meets a calculating woman who works in a brasserie. As in the case of "Les Becasses," Lougere's wife takes up with other men--a scandal known to everyone but her husband. One day this deceitful woman seduces the son of Lougere's employer, who mistakenly calls in Lougere and threatens to dismiss him because his wife has taken 10,000 francs from the employer's son. Shocked by a revelation that calls into question his moral foundation, Lougere takes scissors from the desk and stabs his employer. The lawyer's defense is a simple one: "Il a respecte sa seconde femme avec aveuglement parce qu'il avait respecte la premiere avec raison" (995). It takes the jury only a short time to deliberate and acquit Lougere.

Distraught by solitude, Lougere exemplifies the protagonists in Maupassant's stories who regard solitude as a fate worse than death: he precipitously remarries rather than remain alone as a widower. Matthew MacNamara draws attention to the recurrent juxtaposition of "coeur" and "chair" in Maupassant's stories, a juxtaposition of psychological expression and carnal attachment (53-54): Lougere "avait au fond du Coeur et au fond de la chair le besoin irresistible d'un coeur et d'une chair de femme" (2: 994). In her study of the function of the trap in Maupassant's fiction, Micheline Besnard-Coursodon answers the question of why men seek out marital bonds that ultimately turn out to be traps by explaining that man is haunted by the fear of solitude; "la solitude pousse donc l'homme a se lier" (183). But marriage brings no escape from solitude when the spouse is unfaithful and the bond is a yoke.

Certainly, the women come off poorly in "Les Becasses" and "L'Assassin"--they are presented as deceitful and without redeeming qualities. (10) However, we can also read these stories as criticisms of the gullibility of weak husbands and as a commentary on a justice system too ready to grant acquittals. Albert H. Wallace comments:
   M. Lougere ("L'Assassin") receives little but his creator's scorn
   for allowing himself to be dominated by his wife's lie to the point
   of killing his employer when the latter reveals the truth to him;
   he kills his boss out of pride and adherence to the convention that
   no honorable man would permit his wife to be slandered in such a
   manner. (35)

In "Le Sentiment de la Justice," Maupassant presents the case of a woman whose virtue has been slandered and who kills the unfortunate man who retold tales that he had been told about her dalliances (tantamount to "shooting the messenger"). (11) "L'Assassin" represents the reductio ad absurdum of honor killing and the acquittal in cases of crime passionnel. Surely we are meant to be critical of Lougere's acquittal: the innocent victim's only offense was to tell Lougere the truth about the misconduct of his spouse. As we have noted, Bonneville de Marsangy urged leniency for first-time offenders who killed out of legitimate motives of vengeance--Lougere fails this test.

"Un Parricide" (1882; Contes 1: 553-59) invites the reader to respond as if she were a juror to the use of the insanity defense at a trial where a bourgeois killed his biological parents in a fit of rage. The story again begins with the lawyer's defense: "L'avocat avait plaide la folie. Comment expliquer autrement ce crime etrange?" (553) A man raised by his wet nurse has suffered all his life from rejection by his birth parents. In school he is taunted as "batard" (555). Georges Louis admits that he acted out of vengeance: "Je me suis venge, j'ai tue. C'etait mon droit legitime. J'ai pris leur vie heureuse en echange de la vie horrible qu'ils m'avaient imposee" (556). The crime occurs when he realizes that customers at his store are his parents: his suspicions are confirmed when the woman faints after Georges remarks that his parents "etaient des miserables qui m'ont abandonne" (557). His father, however, denies paternity, and the result is that Georges loses control and bludgeons him: "J'ai vu rouge, je ne sais plus, j'avais mon compas dans ma poche; je l'ai frappe, frappe tant que j'ai pu" (558). Shortly thereafter he kills his mother as well. "Voila.--Maintenant, jugez-moi" (558).

The last line of the story puts the burden on readers to judge: "Si nous etions jures, que ferions-nous de ce parricide?" (559). As Andrew Todd Irving notes, "Maupassant spares no one in his description of illegitimacy"; the guilt lies with the parricide, with the parents who engendered a son they refused to acknowledge, and with a society that oppresses the esteem of the illegitimate child (140). Georges's efforts to escape from the stigma of illegitimacy are self-defeating; they exemplify the fatal cycle in which Maupassant's protagonists attempt in vain to escape an asphyxiating entrapment (Fonyi 29-30). (12)

Georges's patricidal rage is explained by fractured identity born of parental rejection and social stigma. In this respect, "Un Parricide" evokes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), in which a creature who has been rejected by his biological "father" seeks vengeance. Because Georges imposes on the jury and the reader the duty to judge his case, we are confronted with a difficult dilemma. Maupassant obviously took the psychological burden of illegitimacy very seriously, as is clear from the number of times the topic appears in his oeuvre. Georges is the prototype of the accidental criminal who would seem unlikely to kill again and so punishment would not be justified by the need to incapacitate him. However, parricide is a heinous crime that would seem to require retribution.

I have argued that Maupassant's stories reflect important criminological debates: should juries exonerate the accidental killer on the grounds that she or he is unlikely to kill again? Maupassant was deeply troubled by jurors' emotional responses and propensity to exonerate murders committed in the heat of passion:

La creation des jurys a ete d'ailleurs, en principe, la substitution du sentiment a la justice, car les jures jugent selon leur coeur, et ces braves gens seraient fort embarrasses pour faire autrement puisqu'ils n'ont que ca pour juger. On leur soumet des cas compliques de psychologie, or ils sont prepares a les resoudre, uniquement par les romans-feuilletons de leur journal. Une fille seduite! Ils ne connaissent que ca! Ils ont assez pleure en lisant "La Folle du Carrefour," et ils voient immediatement une situation analogue. (Chroniques 2: 931)

Jury nullification--whether in nineteenth-century France or in twenty-first-century America--need not be considered as inevitably incompatible with the valid purpose of the criminal law. (13) Criminal punishment has four main goals: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution. While the first three objectives are utilitarian and forward-looking, the retributive objective expresses the community's condemnation of unlawful conduct. Retribution or the principle of "just deserts" incorporates proportionality: the defendant receives the punishment that she deserves. Commenting on jury nullification as it is applied today in the United States, Robert Schopp argues that nullification represents "deliberate, conscientious, jury deviation"; nullification can promote the goals of the criminal justice system by taking into account "overriding values such as justice or fairness," and thereby promote the ends of the system (2081-82). (14) Nullification in this context is a corrective device, a safety valve that comes into play when, in the views of the morally conscientious juror, strict application of the criminal code would create injustice.

As we have seen, in nineteenth-century France, the juror was invited to examine and apply his conscience to the cases that he tried. Maupassant's essays indicate not that he opposed all acquittals, but that he thought that jurors were entirely too willing to excuse defendants who killed in response to accusations of slander or in cases of adultery. Rosalie's acquittal is relatively understandable: however abhorrent the crime, she was the victim of a patriarchal society. Of course, the total exoneration of the drunk who tried to sell his wife and almost drowned her is a laugh-out-loud result.

Maupassant's stories invite the reader to assume the role of putative juror, and to evaluate the proper weight to be given to a defendant's plea that he or she acted in a moment of rage, or to vindicate honor. The answer to these questions is not easy. Maupassant's stories present a complex picture: surely he had sympathy with the plight of poor women abandoned by their seducers; with the shame suffered by illegitimate sons; and with the pain caused by a spouse's adultery. These stories invite the reader to consider not only the culpability of the accused but also that of the "victims" whose pursuit of their own selfish interests enraged the killers ("Les Becasses," "Un Parricide"), and of society as a whole for its neglect of the marginal and its false ideals of honor ("Rosalie Prudent," "L'Assassin," "Un Parricide"). Yet Maupassant does not exonerate those who have killed without sufficient motive, nor excuse acquittal of the accidental killer.

Georgetown University Law Center

University of Maryland Honors College


Benhamou, Noelle. "De l'influence du fait divers: Les chroniques et contes de Maupassant." Romantisme 97 (1997): 47-58.

Besnard-Coursodon, Micheline. Etude thematique et structurale de l'oeuvre de Maupassant: le piege. Paris: Nizet, 1973.

Bonville de Marsangy, Arnould. De la recidive. Paris: Cotillon, 1844.

Bury, Marianne. La Poetique de Maupassant. Paris: Sedes, 1994.

Chauveau, Adolphe. Code penal progressif, commentaire sur la loi modificative du Code penal. Paris: Imprimerie de Decourchant, 1832.

Cogman, Peter. Narration in Nineteenth-Century French Short Fiction: Prosper Merimee to Marcel Schwob. Manchester UK: Manchester UP, 2011.

Desportes, Fernand. La Recidive: Examen du projet de loi sur la relegation des recidivistes. Paris: Chaix et Cie., 1883.

Donovan, James. M. Juries and the Transformation of Criminal Justice in France in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Chapel Hill NC: U of North Carolina P, 2010.

--. "Justice Unblind: The Juries and the Criminal Classes in France, 1825-1914." Journal of Social History 15.1 (1981): 89-103.

Farcy, Jean-Claude. Le Criminel endurci: recidive et recidivistes du Moyen age au XXe siecle. Ed. Francoise Briegel and Michel Porret. Geneva: Droz, 2006. 187-227.

Ferguson, Eliza Earle. "Judicial Authority and Popular Justice: Crimes of Passion in Fin-de-Siecle Paris." Journal of Social History 40.2 (2006): 293-315.

Fonyi, Antonia. Maupassant 1993. Paris: Editions Kime, 1993.

Harris, Ruth. Murders and Madness: Medicine, Law, and Society in the Fin-de-Siecle. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

Irving, Andrew Todd. Maupassant and Solitude: A Critical Analysis of Selected Short Stories by Maupassant in the Context of the Recurring Theme of Solitude. Diss. U of Madison, Wisconsin, 1997.

Lacassagne, Alexandre. L'Homme criminel compare a l'homme primitif. Lyon: Giraud, 1882.

Lalou, Richard. "L'Infanticide devant les tribunaux francais (1825-1910)." Communications 44 (1986): 175-200.

Leps, Marie-Christine. Apprehending the Criminal: The Production of Deviance. Durham nc: Duke UP, 1992.

Martin, Benjamin F. Crime and Criminal Justice under the Third Republic. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1990.

Maupassant, Guy de. Chroniques. Ed. Gerard Delaisement. 2 vols. Paris: Rive Droite, 2004.

--. Contes et nouvelles. Ed. Louis Forestier. 2 vols. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1974.

MacNamara, Matthew. Style and Vision in Maupassant's Nouvelles. Berne: Peter Lang, 1987.

Michaux, E. H. [Hubert-Ernest]. Etudes sur la question des peines. Paris: Challamel aine, 1872.

Nye, Robert A. Crime, Madness, and Politics in Modem France: The Medical Concept of National Decline. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984.

Oberman, Michelle. "Mothers Who Kill: Corning to Terms with Modern American Infanticide." DePaul Journal Health Care 8 (2004): 3-110.

Pauly, Alexandre. De l'organisation du jury de cours d'assises. Toulouse: V. Riviere, 1901.

Pearson, Patricia. When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence. New York: Viking, 1997.

Perrot, Michelle. "Delinquance et systeme penitentiaire en France au XIX1 siecle." Annales: Economies, Societes, Civilisations 30 (1975): 67-91.

Poteau-Tralie, Mary L. Voices of Authority: Criminal Obsession in Guy de Maupassant's Short Works. New York: Peter Lang, 1994.

Pourcher, Yves. "Des assises de grace? Le jury de la cour d'assises de la Lozere au XIXe siecle." Etudes rurales 95-96 (1984): 167-80.

Renneville, Marc. "Lombroso in France: A Paradoxical Reception." The Cesare Lombroso Handbook. Ed. Paul Knepper and Per J. Ystehede. London and New York: Routledge, 2013. 281-92.

Savitt, William. "Villainous Verdicts? Rethinking the Nineteenth-Century French Jury." Columbia Law Review 96 (1996): 1019-59.

Schapira, Charlotte. "Proper Names in Maupassant's Short Stories." Names: A Journal of Onomastics 40.4 (1992): 253-60.

Schopp, Robert F. "Verdicts of Conscience: Nullification and Necessity as Jury Responses to Crimes of Conscience." Southern California Law Review 69 (1996): 2039-116.

Shapiro, Ann-Louise. Breaking the Codes: Female Criminality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris. Stanford ca: Stanford UP, 1996.

Vallaud, Dominique. "Le Crime d'infanticide et l'indulgence des cours d'assises en France au XIXe siecle." Social Science Information 21 (1982): 475-99.

Wallace, A[lbert] H. Guy de Maupassant. Twayne's World Authors Series 265. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1973.

Ward, Tony. "Standing Mute." Law and Literature 24.3 (2012): 1-15.

Wenger, Kaimipono David and David A. Hoffman. "Nullificatory Juries." Wisconsin Law Review 2003 (2003): 1115-61.

Yvernes, Emile. Le Crime et le criminel devant le jury. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1894.


(1.) See Nye (107-16), Renneville, and Farcy for a discussion of the response to Lacassagne's theories in France.

(2.) Article 312 of the Code d'instruction criminelle, quoted in Pauly 166.

(3.) One of these experts, Antoine-Emile Blanche, was the same doctor who treated Maupassant in a private mental asylum (Harris 143).

(4.) Perrot (76), Pourchet (173), and Martin (188) argue that the frequent acquittals in property cases reflect the views of French jurors that the thief and the swindler were far more dangerous than the murderer. Savitt questions the prevailing view that divergent acquittal rates reflect the French jurors' obsession with property. He notes that in property cases many defendants were caught red-handed and confessed in open court in order to obtain a more lenient sentence (1051-52). Murder charges tended to be defended with an exculpatory excuse and allowed room for moral ambiguity (1053-54).

(5.) Lalou similarly finds that the typical infanticide as a young, poor, illiterate, rural single mother who acted alone; however, he characterizes infanticide as a crime of honor as young girls who had become pregnant were ashamed to face their families and wished to avoid reputational damage (185,194-95).

(6.) Infanticide, the crime most frequently committed by women, was a common occurrence. Statistics show 4000 infanticides for each five-year period between 1856 and 1895 (Lalou 180-81).

(7.) Maupassant wrote a second story on infanticide from the male point of view, "La Confession" (1884) (Contes 2:371), in which a man who finds himself encumbered with the burden of an infant born from a liaison with his mistress allows the baby to die from the cold. Although he starts a new family and leads a model life, he is ravaged by this infanticide his entire life, and confesses his crime in his testament.

(8.) For example, Oberman proposes that we treat neonaticide (deaths within the first 48 hours after a woman gives birth) (98). She proposes that we treat infanticide of older children as voluntary manslaughter in line with other killings committed in "a heat of passion" when the actor lost self-control. The infanticide defendant would have to prove that at the time of the killing, she or he "was in a state of extreme emotional disturbance as a result of psychological, social, or socioeconomic circumstances consequent upon her or his status as the child's permanent primary caretaker" (105).

(9.) "Les Becasses" can be compared to Herman Melville's later novella about an American sailor afflicted with a severe stutter, "Billy Budd" (written from 1891-1894 but not published until 1924). Billy explains that he struck Claggart with a fatal blow when the latter falsely accused Billy of mutiny, because Billy could not speak to deny the charge.

(10.) Poteau-Tralie writes that in Maupassant's portrayal of adulterous women, there is a "well-documented misogyny," but in addition to his "definite scorn for women," there is also "a certain terror as to their power" (38).

(11.) Maupassant refers to the infamous trial and acquittal of Jeanne Clovis-Hugues, who killed a private investigator for slandering her reputation.

(12.) In Antonia Fonyi's description of entrapment, "on se trouve dans un espace clos; on sort dans l'espace ouvert; on est repris dans le clos, dans le mEme or dans l'autre, souvent plus resserree qu'auparavant et presque toujours plus nefaste" (29-30).

(13.) Under US law, jury nullification arises "when a jury acquits a defendant despite finding facts that leave no reasonable doubt as to guilt" (Wenger and Hoffman 1116). Even today juries occasionally acquit in criminal trials, although they are not instructed that they have this power, when a rule of law seems unfair and/or they are concerned about racial bias (1139-40).

(14.) Jury nullification is, however, relatively rare in the US today given prosecutorial discretion, plea bargaining, and multiple graduations in degrees of criminal offenses that allow for leniency and mitigation.
COPYRIGHT 2014 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Guy de Maupassant
Author:Schotland, Sara D.
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 22, 2014
Previous Article:Keys: press and privacy in the Goncourts' Charles Demailly.
Next Article:"A nous deux," Balzac: Barres's les deracines, and the ghosts of la Comedie humaine.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters