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Hiding the Guillotine - Public Executions in France 1870–1939 - cover

Hiding the Guillotine - Public Executions in France 1870–1939

Emmanuel Taïeb

Translator Sarah-Louise Raillard

Publisher: Cornell University Press

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Summary

Hiding the Guillotine examines the question of state involvement in violence by tracing the evolution of public executions in France. Why did the state move executions from the bloody and public stage of the guillotine to behind prison doors? In a fascinating exploration of a grim subject, Emmanuel Taïeb exposes the rituals and theatrical form of the death penalty and tells us who watched, who participated in, and who criticized (and ultimately brought an end to) a spectacle that the state called "punishment." France's abolition of the death penalty in 1981 has long overshadowed its suppression of public executions over forty years earlier. Since the Revolution, executions attracted tens of thousands of curious onlookers. But, gradually, there was a shift in attitude and the public no longer saw this as a civilized pastime. Why? Combining material from legal archives, police files, an executioner's notebooks, newspaper clippings, and documents relating to 566 executions, Hiding the Guillotine answers this question.Taïeb demonstrates the ways in which the media was at the vanguard of putting an end to the publicity surrounding the death penalty. The press had ample reason to be critical: cities were increasingly being used for leisure activity and prisons for those accused of criminal activity. The agitation surrounding each execution, coupled with a growing identification with the condemned, would blur these boundaries. Ranked among the top hundred history books by the website, Café du Web Historizo, Hiding the Guillotine has much to impart to students of legal history, human rights, and criminology, as well as to American historians.

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