Dangerous Daughters

18th century child girl crime



This portion of NicoleDeGuzman.com has been designed as a final project for my graduate English class in the spring of 2015, 18th Century CrimeNicole DeGuzman and Punishment, taught by Dr. Cheryl Wanko at West Chester University. With a growing research interest in young adult literature, the possibilities of a youth lens, and aetonormativity, I saw an opportunity in this class to expand these concepts into the eighteenth century.

Admittedly, the project has morphed from this early conception, and does not include children’s / young adult literature at all (see below). But nevertheless, I hope it will prove useful for scholars and all other interested parties. I encourage you to connect with me, through social media or otherwise, and let me know your thoughts. Thank you for stopping by!

About the Project & the Site

Throughout the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, new conceptions of the self, the growing importance of trade, and the rise of popular culture changed our world forever. In many ways, it created the world we know today. But while capitalism flourished and the scientific method developed, crime also experienced a popular surge that reached new heights. You can thank the eighteenth century for your visions of gallant highwaymen, saucy harlots, and spirited rioters.

But I am interested in untold stories. What of the non-glamorous lives of everyday people driven to crime by something other than adventure? In particular, I’ve attempted to explore the figure of the criminal girl, both the causes of girls’ criminality and the representations of their lives.Research Questions

There are two main areas of Dangerous Daughters: the historical and the literary. It will be most helpful to visit the pages in order. The Historical Background pages approach the difficulty of defining childhood and girlhood in the eighteenth century as well as seek to inform about social issues that could influence a girl’s entrance into criminal activity.

The literary pages under Genre Analysis look at the representations of girl criminals and the causes of their crimes in genres along the spectrum of imagined to real: I trace girl criminality from the fiction of the novel Moll Flanders, to the blurred quasi-fiction of criminal biography inspired by Mary Frith, alias Moll Cutpurse; and finally to the nonfictional accounts of girl’s criminal trials found in the records of the Old Bailey courts.

 By considering the messages and purposes of each, it is possible to learn about not just the nature of girl criminals, but about conceptions of childhood and the role of literatures in reinforcing women’s status throughout the eighteenth century. The texts reveal an underlying matrix of biases on how to “handle” and represent girls who, for one reason or another, are not content with their given station in life and are thus driven to crime. While the fiction of Moll Flanders has a cautionary and didactic bent, the pendulum swings the opposite direction in the quasi-fiction of Mary Frith criminal biographies, which seek to entertain. Non-fiction texts, alternatively, in their purpose to record, reveal an altogether different representation of girls and the courts seeking to correct them. In each case, however, the end result is the same: girls, and women by extension, ought to accept their limitations.


Continue by visiting the Defining 18th Century Childhood page.

Nicole DeGuzman ~ 5/6/15

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