The “Accidental Murderer”: Jury Acquittal in Maupassant’s Crime Stories

In several of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories, juries acquit defendants who have admitted to committing heinous crimes in the heat of passion--infanticides, parricides, and other domestic homicides. How do we explain these acquittals--bizarre outcomes given that these are murder cases? This essay applies a law and literature perspective to read these stories in the light of debates then occurring in France about jury acquittals in cases where murders are committed by “accidental killers.” Explicitly or implicitly, Maupassant’s stories call upon the reader to assume the role as juror and examine whether “accidental killers” deserve exoneration.

Sara D. Schotland
Volume 42.3-4