Crime and the Nation
Prison and Popular Fiction in Philadelphia. 1786-1800
By Peter Okun
Routledge – 2002 – 208 pages
Crime and the Nation explores the correlation between fiction writing and national identity in the late eighteenth century when these two enterprises went hand in hand. The 1780s and '90s witnessed a spirited public debate on crime and punishment that produced a new kind of fiction and a new kind of prison. The world's first penitentiary-style prison opened at Philadelphia in 1790. At the same time jurists, reformers and fiction writers found new uses for the criminal. Suddenly, he was fascinating, he was edifying to the community, he was worth displaying and reforming. In a young nation whose very origins were perceived as criminal, yet clearly necessary and ultimately redeemable, crime emerged as an essential-and controversial-component of national identity. Crime and the Nation explores the nature of that identity, and the origins of America's unique and enduring love affair with crime and crime fiction.
"The essays, many by reputable writers cover the lack of legal counsel, the paucity of healthcare, the racial overtones, the plight of women prisoners, the impact of the war on drugs, and the numerous other related subjects." -- Library Journal
"This is an analysis of the representations and discourses about crime and imprisonment in a small number of prison reform tracts and novels about crime and punishment, mostly from Philadelphia." -- Allen Steinberg, University of Iowa
"For those interested in the intersections found in popular fiction and penal reform, a provocative new direction has been plotted." -- The Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
Specializing in Literary History and the Early Modern Period, Peter T.M. Okun, holds a Ph.D. in Literature and teaches at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia. Dr. Okun's research interests include interdisciplinary approaches to literature, and range from prison reform and popular culture to psychology, law and literature.