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Jacob Fredrickson

PhD candidate in History, University of Birmingham

Crimes of Passion: The force and feeling of heterosexual relationships in early twentieth century Britain

My project uses Crimes of Passion - and the enduring popular interest people take in them -  to think critically about the relationship between what we recognise as "heterosexuality" and the things we have historically taken for granted as "normal".

A crime of passion has historically been associated with a violent crime attributed to significant emotional distress triggered by sexual or romantic ill-fortune. This includes, jealousy, rage, sadness, depression and infatuation. Historically, the crime of passion has been a frame of representation that romanticises violence, often  implying that violence is the natural or necessary corollary to intense passion and sexual desire. This project seeks to challenge this representational logic, drawing attention to how violence, or the threat of violence, has been crucial in conceptualising and understanding sexual practices and relationships between men and women over the last one hundred years.

This project explores the significance of such crimes to sexual practices, sexualities and everyday romance in the first half of the twentieth century. It pays particular attention to the ‘cultural throw’ of such crimes, analysing newspaper articles, first-hand accounts, sensational life stories, novels, short stories, and other cultural texts that were the primary means through which the crime of passion was constituted in British popular culture. It examines how crimes of these sort became a privileged site to discuss sexual manners and mores, and one of the primary ways appropriate gendered behaviour in relationships was examined, discussed and debated.

From personal testimony in legal proceedings, to letters and diaries submitted as evidence or reflecting on notable trials, the crime of passion archive provides the historian the rare opportunity to assess how gendered social codes were lived, negotiated and resisted on the plane of the everyday. Exploring the emotive force of crimes of passion and their significance for ordinary people, this project rethinks how sexual subjectivities formed, paying attention to the messy, everyday experiences of desire, love and passion.

it is my hypothesis that the crime of passion is a vital, and under-researched heuristic in critically examining heterosexuality and heterosexual sensibilities. Building on the work of recent queer theory, it attempts to destabilise heterosexuality’s claim to be a universal signifier of opposite-sex sexual practices. Rather I stress that ‘heterosexuality’ – a category of social organisation that shapes identity (and imbues privilege) in explicit reference to sexual acts and emotional attachments to the opposite sex – is a remarkably recent historical product.

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Professor Matt Houlbrook, University of Birmingham

Dr Chris Moores, University of Birmingham


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Postgraduate Research Scholar, Centre for Modern British Studies, University of Birmingham, 2017.


Other Research Interests:

I am interested in the history of Modern Britain in its broadest sense, with a particular interest in the history of sexuality and selfhood. I am particularly interested in how this intersects with the history of emotion, the senses and everyday life. 




Twitter: @JacobTfred



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