Beyond Deviant Damsels: Re-evaluating Female Criminality in the Nineteenth Century

Anne-Marie Kilday, Davis Nash

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


This book challenges the prevailing historiography of female criminality in nineteenth-century Britain which is currently dominated by stereotypes. In doing so it questions the construction of these and produces a much more nuanced reading of women’s criminality which does not crudely categorize or essentialize their behaviour. This approach has implications for the history of crime, behaviour, and gender in the nineteenth-century history and historiography of other societies. The micro histories in this work challenge conventional perceptions and stereotypes of female criminality created both by male crime historians and historians of gender studies. Every chapter in this new book examines one (or sometimes more) of these assumptions about how women commit crimes such as murder, infanticide, robbery, blasphemy, theft, and sexual misbehaviour. Women emerge from these instances as being more autonomous individuals, whose behaviour around criminality really does not warrant classification as either homogeneous, nor should be generally characterized as making them passive accessories to criminal action. Moreover, the suggestion that they display quintessentially ‘feminine’ approaches to the committal of crime or the contemplation of poor behaviour is shown to be overstated and even questionable. Women thus display motivations, assumptions, and actions much closer to those of men than has been previously been considered or portrayed. This has implications for seeing a range of historiographies (gendered criminality, politeness, separate spheres, and civilizing processes) as constructions that have conceivably been adopted too readily and too hastily.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages247
ISBN (Electronic)9780191868801
ISBN (Print)9780198830733
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2023


  • Women
  • Crime
  • female criminality
  • Gender
  • micro history
  • crime history
  • nineteenth century


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