Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment
Martha Grace Duncan, ROMANTIC OUTLAWS, BELOVED PRISONS: THE UNCONSCIOUS MEANINGS OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, New York University Press, 1996
Posted: 20 Nov 2009 Last revised: 25 Nov 2009
Date Written: November 12, 2009
This is a book about paradoxes and mingled yarns – about the bright sides of dark events, the silver linings of sable clouds, ROMANTIC OUTLAWS, BELOVED PRISONS portrays upright citizens who harbor a “strange liking” for criminal deeds, and criminals who conceive of prison in positive terms: as a nurturing mother, an academy, a matrix of spiritual birth, and a refuge from life’s trivia.
In her effort to show how people experience imprisonment and criminality, Professor Duncan draws on novels and prison memoirs, psychoanalysis, and history, as well as legal cases. Her analysis reveals a world that is non-utopian in principle, a world in which criminals and non-criminals are linked in a symbiotic relationship – as necessary to one another as Sancho Panza and Don Quijote, the Fool and King Lear, or two partners entwined in a complicated dance.
In the concluding section of her book, Professor Duncan epitomizes these themes with the remarkable story of the “Botany Bay Venture,” Britain’s decision to establish a “thieves’ colony” in remote Australia in the 18th century. By analyzing the debates of the British parliament, classic works of fiction, and children’s toys, Professor Duncan illuminates this decision, which historians have described as “puzzling,” “bizarre,” and “irrational.” Key to her interpretation is the insight that the metaphors of slime, stain, and excrement – words used by the British to speak about the “transported” convicts – are not really as negative as they appear. Rather, this language constitutes a defense against the illicit attraction to lawbreakers and the knowledge that we all, in some sense, come from slime and to slime will return.
In this SSRN paper, we provide the Table of Contents and the Introduction to the book.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation