Death Sentences

Literature and State Killing
Editor: Ève Morisi Birte Christ

As Albert Camus once remarked: ‘Of capital punishment, people write only […] in a low voice.’ Journalists and state officials alike use a carefully policed language when making any reference to the death penalty: when human beings are to be executed by the state, some key actors talk about what will be done in terms of legalities and procedures. Does fiction provide a counterbalance for that discretion, or simply echo it? What other perspectives can it bring into the foreground, and can literary language express a response to a supposedly necessary horror, or a terrible injustice, which other voices or media cannot?

Considering a range of major works from across Western Europe and the United States, from the 18th century until the present day, Death Sentences investigates the contribution of poetics to our understanding, past and present, of capital punishment. The sophisticated literary representations found in Hugo, Dostoevsky, Wilde, Kafka, Mailer, King and others offer a privileged vantage point from which to illuminate and critique a unique institution which itself relies heavily on spectacle and representation to be operative and legitimized.

 

Contents:

 

Introduction: Capital Literature
ÈVE MORISI
 
Part I: Fact and Fiction

Fedor Dostoevsky’s Death Sentences: Strategies of Indirection
WILLIAM MILLS TODD III
 
Matters of Grave Importance: Style in Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song
BRIAN JARVIS
 
Part II: Punishment and Performance

‘Le peuple veut du sang’: The Guillotine and the General Will in Revolutionary Pamphlet Theatre
JESSICA GOODMAN
 
Listening for a Man Swinging: A Prisoner Witnesses in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’
E. S. BURT
 
Merging Sovereignty and Meaning in Capital Punishment: Franz Kafka’s Der Proceß and Bertolt Brecht’s Die Maßnahme
DAVID PAN

Part III: Lyric and Law 

Dreadful Forms: The Romantic Ballad and the Death Penalty
MARK CANUEL
 
A Song Before Execution: José de Espronceda’s ‘El reo de muerte’
MICHAEL IAROCCI
 
Part IV: Poetics and Politics

Putting Pain to Paper: Victor Hugo’s New Abolitionist Poetics
ÈVE MORISI

Novel Arguments Against Capital Punishment: Plotting Death Sentences in E. D. E. N. Southworth’s The Gipsy’s Prophecy and The Lost Heiress
JOHN CYRIL BARTON
 
Stephen King’s Poetic Justice: Seriality, Narrative Framing, and Intertextuality in The Green Mile
BIRTE CHRIST

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