“I did not mean to make away with the child, I did not know what I was about”: Autobiographical Traces of Infanticide in Eighteenth-Century Trial Records

Sonja Boon


In this essay, I am interested in the possibilities of maternal autobiography in court documents. I focus specifically on the trial records of mothers charged with infanticide between 1700 and 1800. Drawing on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, I consider these narratives both through the lenses of legal and social histories of infanticide, and in relation to Marlene Kadar et al.’s notion of “autobiographical traces,” fragmentary stories that emerge when pieces of individual lives are stitched together with the historical, social and political context in which they emerged. The fragments I explore in this essay include not only the limited textual interventions of the accused mothers themselves, as they took the stand to speak in their defense, but also their silences and erasures. In addition to this, I consider the autobiographical potential of these women’s actions and behaviours, as witnessed and deposed by those called to the stand. Finally, I consider the stories of self that emerge from the reproductive and maternal body; that is, I am interested in the ways that bodily stories and understandings inevitably complicate textual and behavioural narratives. 


This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on 15 September 2014 and published on 25 June 2015.


Infanticide, motherhood, life writing, Old Bailey

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5463/ejlw.4.123

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.