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Hiding the Guillotine

Hiding the Guillotine

Public Executions in France, 1870–1939

by Emmanuel Taïeb

Translated by Sarah-Louise Raillard

Foreword by Mitchel P. Roth

Published by: Cornell University Press

306 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 1 b&w line drawing, 3 graphs

  • ISBN: 9781501750946
  • Published: November 2020


Hiding the Guillotine examines the question of state involvement in violence by tracing the evolution of public executions in France. Why did the state move executions from the bloody and public stage of the guillotine to behind prison doors? In a fascinating exploration of a grim subject, Emmanuel Taïeb exposes the rituals and theatrical form of the death penalty and tells us who watched, who participated, and who criticized (and ultimately brought an end to) a spectacle that the state called "punishment".

France's abolition of the death penalty in 1981 has long overshadowed its suppression of public executions over forty years before. Since the Revolution, executions attracted tens of thousands of curious onlookers. But gradually, there was a shift in attitude and the public no longer saw this as a civilized pastime. Why? Combining material from legal archives, police files, an executioner's notebooks, newspaper clippings, and documents relating to 566 executions, Hiding the Guillotine answers this question.

Taïeb demonstrates the ways in which the media was at the vanguard of putting an end to the publicity surrounding the death penalty. The press had ample reason to be critical: cities were now being used more and more for leisure activity, and prisons for those accused of criminal activity. The agitation surrounding each execution, coupled with a growing identification with the condemned, would blur these boundaries. Ranked among the top hundred history books by the website, Café du Web Historizo, Hiding the Guillotine has much to impart to students of legal history, human rights, and criminology, as well as to American historians.