‘So Foul A Deed’: Infanticide in Montreal, 1825-1850

From the introduction to the issue: “Our final article, by Ian Pilarczyk, examines the phenomemon of infanticide and the legal responses to [it] in Montreal from 1825 to 1850, a period marked by significant economic, social, political, and legal flux. Working with thirty-one unpublished case files of infanticide, he illustrates that the legal and social ramifications of this heavily gendered crime were chracterized by complexity, compromise, and conflict. He finds that the Canadian response largely mirrored that of other nineteenth-century Western jurisdictions. This finding suggests that local context matters, but should also remind scholars to consider the significance of transactional patterns in policing.”

My intro, in part: “This article argues that infanticide, and the legal and social responses thereto, exhibited a compromise between conflicting sentiments, realities, and paradigms. As a result, the actions of defendants, prosecutors, judges and jurors, and the public at large were characterized by competing motives and countervailing sympathies. The infant victims were nominally the focus of the law, but in reality these acts were viewed as crimes against social conventions. The issue of infanticide during this period therefore presents a fascinating study in this heavily gendered area of nineteenth-century criminal law, reflecting stark differences between law and custom. This article will provide a brief discussion of the historiography and underlying methodology, followed by the political and historical context for the Montreal experience, before moving on to the issue of infant abandonment, coroner’s inquests, and the legal mechanics of infanticide prosecutions.”

‘So Foul A Deed’: Infanticide in Montreal, 1825-1850, 30 Law & History Review 575-634 (May 2012)


‘So Foul A Deed’: Infanticide in Montreal, 1825-1850 — 3 Comments

  1. hi Ian–reminded me of a quote by Norman Cousins– “Respect for the fragility and importance of an individual life is still the mark of an educated man”. Not directly apropos, perhaps, given the heavily gendered nature of this crime, as you point out…but it came to mind as I read this. I found your article meticulously well researched, and the time you spent in examining primary sources must have been very considerable indeed. I think this will be an interesting addition to the historiography in this area, and I was particularly interested to learn more about the Montreal experience in this regard. Kudos; getting accepted by L&HR is no easy task!

  2. hi Ian– you might not remember me, but I had the pleasure of serving with you on a conference panel devoted to Quebec socio-history in 2002/3; I seem to remember you were the only law graduate student there and your presentation stole the show! We were all impressed by your ability to take a comparative perspective across UK, Canadian and American lines. Glad to see this in print, and I wanted to let you know that I found it compelling, poignant, and meticulously well-researched. Kudos! What do you have planned next? And do you find it difficult to find time to work on your projects– do you get support from BU? In the hopes that you do remember me, I’m at Nottingham now and I’ve included my email address. All best, Stacey Marsh.

    “Justice is always violent to the party offending, for every man is innocent in his own eyes.” –Daniel Defoe.

    • hello Stacey! of course I remember you; while I am sure I won’t due your work justice due to faulty memory, I recall your doctoral work was on 19th century women’s private spaces and the public/private divide– I think we meandered through some of McGill’s mansions and I showed you some of my favorite examples of servants’ spaces/entrances (I vividly remember the delivery entrance cut into the hillside leading to Purvis Hall, in particular, and the garret in OCDH). Yes, time is hard to come by– these have to be ‘labors of love’ since they’re not part of my regular work flow, etc. After the book chapter, I have 3-4 more articles in various stages of readiness, but I think the next one will be a comparative (by way of gender) analysis of 19th century spousal homicides. I will drop you a lengthier line via email shortly. Glad to reconnect! Best wishes, Ian

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