Le Bourreau, Figure Emblématique du Débat Sur la Peine de Mort au Dix-Neuvième Siècle
AdvisorLe Hir, Marie-Pierre
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIf one of the first accomplishments of the French Revolution was to prohibit torture, attempts to abolish the death penalty in the early years of the Revolution proved unsuccessful. As a result, the function of executioner survived, but the executioner's job description and his status changed considerably. The prohibition of torture led to the banishment of the term "bourreau;" the guillotine, adopted in 1792, made executions less cruel and more egalitarian; and the executioner, a full-fledged citizen since 1790, ceased to act as the "hand" of the king striking on behalf of God, to become the last link of the judiciary. One could therefore expect the executioner to disappear into the mass of anonymous civil servants, particularly since the number of executions steadily declined over the course of the nineteenth century. But the opposite is the case: the "bourreau" haunts the literary imagination of the period. Most of the texts by Balzac, Hugo, and Sanson examined in this dissertation have in common an effort on the part of narrators to convince the reader that executioners are not monsters but good and sensitive human beings. The goal of this dissertation is to explain this paradox. In Chapter I, which is devoted to Balzac's Memoirs of Sanson and An Episode Under the Terror, we show the Romantic portrayal of the executioner to be part of the royalist policies of commemoration of the regicide, of the dominant political discourse of the time that placed the blame for the regicide on the Convention. In Chapter II, we trace the evolution of Victor Hugo's thinking on the death penalty from Han d'Islande, with its sensitive executioner, to The Last Day of a Condemned Man, and its firm and unequivocal stand against the death penalty on moral grounds, and to Claude Gueux, an analysis of crimes and punishments in their social context. In chapter III, devoted to the Memoirs of the Sansons, we examine the reasons for the success of this work published by an ex-executioner in 1862, decades after the official disappearance of the "bourreau."
Degree ProgramGraduate College