Terri L. Snyder

Listening to Suicide in the Early Modern Anglo-American World

Listening to Suicide in the Early Modern Anglo-American World

In the early modern Anglo-American world, discussions of suicide could be found in a range of texts.  Literary, religious and philosophical texts debated the legalities, meanings, and significance of acts of self-murder.  Coincident with these debates – and over the course of the long eighteenth century -- stories of suicide were printed with increasing frequency in popular periodical literatures and newspapers.  Eventually, stories of self-murder and self-destructive behavior found their way into the emerging print culture of abolitionist tracts and texts and figured importantly in the published records of the British House of Commons seminal investigation into the transatlantic slave trade in 1791.

What did audiences make of these stories of suicide?  How did they listen to stories of suicide as the stories themselves changed over time?  In my paper, I propose to explore the meanings that these recurring stories of suicide held for their audiences in the Anglo-Atlantic world.  Although my proposed project steps outside the conference’s explicit focus on a text by the inclusion of periodical literature, doing so allows me to demonstrate the changing audience for suicide stories as well as the changing meanings that audiences ascribed to these stories over the course of the long eighteenth-century.  I argue that narratives of suicides found increasingly expanding audiences over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that audiences shifted from distantly listening to stories of self-murder to more closely identifying with and more critically scrutinizing the suicidal subject.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

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