On a fine summer’s day, 20-year-old Pierre Rivière took in hand a sharp farm implement known as a pruning hook and hacked to death his mother, 18-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother. Observed by a neighbor as he still clutched the bloody tool, Rivière told him, “I have just delivered my father from all his tribulations. I know that they will put me to death, but no matter,” before he calmly walked off. Rivière might sound like yet another nihilist psychotic born of 20th-century malaise, but the year was 1835. Described by witnesses as “an idiot in his village,” Rivière nevertheless produced a 40-page written “confession.” This confession forms the centerpiece of I, Pierre Rivière… along with other documents gathered together by editor Foucault, including medical and legal reports, transcripts of interrogations and statements by witnesses. In addition to these primary source materials, Foucault and several other historians comment on the murder and its aftermath in the final section of the book. These essays situate Rivière’s crime in a time when the medical and legal professions were first contending for status and power, thus creating the basis for beliefs about crime and insanity that continue with us in our own time.
Publisher: University of Nebraska
Paperback: 289 pages