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'Fatalitas!' The Criminal Body in Belle Epoque Crime Serials: The Strange Case of Chéri-Bibi

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-209
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of European Popular Culture
Volume4
Issue number2
DOIs
PublishedOct 2013

King's Authors

Abstract

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century criminology and criminalistics were preoccupied with the criminal body, and Belle Epoque crime fiction refracts this concern through its focus on the body as a site of identity formation. This article examines this problematic through the optic of Gaston Leroux’s Chéri-Bibi serial. It argues that the text engages a number of different discourses of corporeality, reformulating the grotesque body of carnival (as theorized by Bakhtin) in the light of contemporary developments in criminology, where the followers of Lombroso saw criminality as physiologically determined, and surgery, where Alexis Carrel’s experiments in transplantation opened up the possibility of creating hybrid bodies, assembled out of bits and pieces of other bodies, and visceral organisms, bodies without brains. Leroux’s text constellates these different conceptions of corporeality to produce an image of the modern grotesque in the form of a body that is resistant to identification, a resistance that is profoundly ambivalent, for if it provokes anxieties surrounding the loss of identity, it also opens up endless narrative possibilities.

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