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Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

Part of Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories

  • Date Published: January 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521349581

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  • In early twentieth-century Russia, suicide became a public act and a social phenomenon of exceptional scale, a disquieting emblem of Russia's encounter with modernity. This book draws on an extensive range of sources, from judicial records to the popular press, to examine the forms, meanings, and regulation of suicide from the seventeenth century to 1914, placing developments into a pan-European context. It argues against narratives of secularization that read the history of suicide as a trajectory from sin to insanity, crime to social problem, and instead focuses upon the cultural politics of self-destruction. Suicide - the act, the body, the socio-medical problem - became the site on which diverse authorities were established and contested, not just the priest or the doctor but also the sovereign, the public, and the individual. This panoramic history of modern Russia, told through the prism of suicide, rethinks the interaction between cultural forms, individual agency, and systems of governance.

    • An innovative social and cultural history of suicide in Russia from medieval times to the Russian Revolution
    • Uses a wide array of sources including court cases, letters, diaries, novels in order to explore contemporary representations of suicide
    • A highly interdisciplinary work, connecting religion, medicine and psychiatry with histories of politics, social change and the self
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Review of the hardback: '… by placing Russian suicide in a pan-European context, she adds to the ongoing discussion of Russia and the west. In the process, she offers more innovative insights into Russia than I have read in years.' Louise McReynolds, Slavic Review

    Review of the hardback: 'This book is filled with interesting and important insights about Russian culture and society, about modernity in Russia and Europe, and about modern subjectivity. Its treatment of sources is penetrating and, at times, fascinating. The book stakes its own claim to its own peculiarity by treating the subject differently than previous treatments of self-killing from merely sociological, psychological, and literary perspectives, and in so doing firmly establishes itself as an important historical perspective on suicide and the body politic in Imperial Russia. It is worth the energy of a close reading.' John P. Farrell, Canadian Journal of History

    Review of the hardback: '… this is cultural history at its best and deserves a readership beyond Russian specialists. Indeed, a short review cannot do justice to its wide scope, rich material and multiple levels of argument. The historical study of suicide, in Morrissey's hands, both deepens and begins to chip away at our notions of the past.' Social History

    Review of the hardback: 'The breadth of this undertaking is admirable and Morrissey's thesis is a sound one that enriches the field of Russian History. She challenges accepted paradigms and periodizations and, in the process, demonstrates that modernity itself is a hugely fraught process …' Abby M. Schrader, The Russian Review

    Review of the hardback: 'This lucid and subtly textured book … should be read by all historians of modernity - medical, cultural, social, and political.' Dan Healey, Medical History

    Review of the hardback: 'Susan Morrissey's study of the Russian encounter with suicide from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century is an exemplary model of social-historical scholarship - extensively researched, situated in both comparative and particular historical contexts, interpretively wide-ranging.' Mark Steinberg, Journal of Social History

    Review of the hardback: '… an important contribution to the field, offering original and highly suggestive insights into the cultural and social significance of suicide in late Imperial Russia's autocratic regime.' Seer

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521349581
    • length: 402 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Acknowledgements
    Introduction
    Part I. Public Order and its Malcontents:
    1. Victims of their own will
    2. Virtue and vice in an age of enlightenment
    3. The regulation of suicide
    4. Punishing the body, cleansing the conscience
    5. Policing and paternalism
    6. Arbiters of the self: the suicide note
    Part II. Disease of the Century:
    7. Sciences of suicide
    8. Crime, disease, sin: disputed judgments
    9. A ray of light in the kingdom of darkness
    Part III. Political Theology and Moral Epidemics:
    10. Freedom, violence, and the sacred
    11. Children of the twentieth century
    Epilogue
    Selected bibliography.

  • Author

    Susan K. Morrissey, University College London

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