Infanticide in 19th-Century England
- Nicolá GocNicolá GocSchool of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania
Throughout the history of journalism the notion of a mother killing her infant child—committing an act of infanticide—has always been high on the news values scale. In the 19th century, sensational news reports of illicit sexual liaisons, of childbirth and grisly murder, appeared regularly in the press, naming and shaming transgressive unmarried women and framing them as a danger to society. These lurid stories were published in broadsheets and the popular press as well as in respectable newspapers, including the most influential English newspaper of the century, The Times of London. In 19th-century England, The Times played a powerful role in influencing public opinion on the issue of infanticide using lurid reports of infanticide trials and coronial inquests as evidence in stirring editorials as part of their political campaign to reform the 1834 New Poor Law and repeal its pernicious Bastardy Clause, which had led to a large increase in rates of infanticide. News texts, because of their ability to capture one view of a society at a given moment in time, are a valuable historical resource and can also provide insight into journalism practices and the creation of public opinion. Infanticide court and coronial news reports provided details of the desperate murderous actions of young women and also furnished potent evidence of legal and government policy failures. The use of critical discourse analysis (CDA) in studying infanticide reports in The Times provides insight into the ways in which infanticide news stories worked as ideological texts and how journalists created understandings about illegitimacy, the “fallen woman,” infanticide, social injustice, and discriminatory gendered laws through news discourse.