Exhibtion Index  Credits   Bryn Mawr College Library    



 

Sin, crime and guilt are sisters, but they can be separated intellectually.  There is sin without crime and – perhaps – crime without sin.  Women, however, are seldom free from guilt and sin, especially sexual sin, when they become involved with the law – at least in the popular imagination.  In this exhibition of crime and trial accounts from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, we see that the stories which caught the imagination of the public were frequently those where the inherently sexual, inherently sinful, character of the female criminal was put into the foreground, and what would otherwise be merely tawdry acquired a salacious and voyeuristic attraction. On one level these were moral tales that warned the reader of the dire consequences of sin and evoked public outrage over the evil deeds of the depraved. At the same time, people read them because they offered a satisfying combination of horror and prurience that was absent in more genteel literature. For the modern reader they offer insight into historical social expectations for women and their behavior by displaying the terrible results when those women failed to live up to the norms.

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