Tales from the German Underworld

Through the means of four powerful and extraordinary narratives from the nineteenth-century German underworld, this book deftly explores an intriguing array of questions about criminality, punishment, and social exclusion in modern German history. Drawing on hitherto unexplored legal documents and police files, Richard J. Evans recounts the epic adventures of an art teacher imprisoned for forging bank notes, then transported to Siberia with a gang of violent Prussian felons in 1802; the tragic sufferings of a drunken female vagrant whipped repeatedly by the authorities in Bremen in the 1820s and 30s; the comical and fantastic deceptions of a con man arrested in the 1860s for not paying his hotel bill; and the ironic career of a young woman who drifts into prostitution after bearing an illegitimate child and discovers the underworld to be much less cruel and immoral than the “respectable” society from which she has been rejected. Each of these narratives sheds light on German penal policy in the nineteenth century, when a regime of public and often symbolic physical punishment was transformed into one of silent, regimented incarceration. Using these fascinating cases as starting points for a wider consideration of crime and justice, Evans investigates the complexity of the relations between deviance and control, the ambiguities of criminality in modern German history, and the ways literary models influenced perceptions of—and behavior in—the criminal underworld.

April 1998
Yale University Press, New Haven and London
288 p., 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
25 b/w illus.
ISBN: 0300072244

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