Added: October 25, 2008 – Last updated: August 1, 2015


Author: Peter Bardaglio

Title: "An Outrage Upon Nature"

Subtitle: Incest and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South

In: In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South, 1830-1900

Edited by: Carol Bleser

Place: New York and Oxford

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 1991

Pages: 32-51

ISBN-10: 0195060474 – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-10: 0195060482 (pbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: 19th Century | U.S. History | Offenders: Fathers; Prosecution: Laws, Trials


Link: Google Books (Limited Preview)


Abstract: »The hierarchical nature of the household and the patriarchal authority of its head opened the way to the most outrageous contradiction of all. Patriarchal authority could be exploited criminally to give men sexual access to women and children in their family. Since the integrity of the family was the foundation of the southern social order and patriarchy was the ideal form of the family, this was an institution facing serious inner conflict. "The tension between the condemnation of incest and the commitment to patriarchy" is addressed by Peter Bardaglio, patricularly in the way incest cases were handled by the judiciary of the southern courts. The courts reflected the tension between society's outrage against incest and the continued commitment to the patriarchal ideal by judicial ambivalence in such cases. While they roundly denounced incest as a crime against nature, courts were slow in actually prosecuting men for the crime. They shied away from criminal punishment when evidence of force and physical resistance was not clearly forthcoming, displayed basic mistrust in the victim's testimony, and placed a heavy burden of proof upon the plaintiff. The legal fiction of being an accomplice to incest permitted judges to condemn the crime while limiting convictions to the few undeniably guilty of deeds calling into question the legitimacy of patriarchal authority. Thus, they had it both ways–defenders of family integrity as well as patriarchal ideal.« (C. Vann Woodward. »Introduction.« In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South, 1830-1900. Edited by Carol Bleser. New York 1991: xxii-xxiii)


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