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Nicole Rafter

Few texts have had so melodramatic a publication career as Lombrosos La donna

delinquente (Lombroso and Ferrero 1893). The theatrical stops and starts of its publication history doomed it for years to misunderstanding and scorn, although this
same rollercoastering trajectory eventually led to the works rescue, restorations of
its reputation, and happy endings. In the twists and turns of its publication history,
La donna delinquente reflects, more than any of Lombrosos other works, his own
career, which was also characterized by sudden reversals and extremes in public and
scientific opinion. More generally, it reflects changing attitudes toward the place of
women and studies of women in society.
La donna delinquente exists in four versions, each reflecting quite different social
circumstances but together tracing a melodramatic arc replete with stock characters
(a villain with a knife, a damsel in distress, and sisterly saviors) and a hammy plotline. Its original authors hoped to expose the female criminal as a true monster,
more terrible than any male counterpart (Lombroso and Ferrero 2004, 185, 183).
Its first English translation (Lombroso and Ferrero 1895) flayed the text, excising
every hint of sex or sexuality and reshaping the book to fit a Victorian morality.
A new, if partial, English translation (Lombroso and Ferrero 2004) rescued the text
from its mutilated state; and a recent Italian version (Lombroso and Ferrero 2009)
restored the complete original, making it once again accessible in its pristine state.
From mutilation through rescue to restoration, La donna delinquente has traversed
the plotline of a gothic romance.
In what follows, I describe the first version of La donna delinquente (1893) as
a text, examine the cultural circumstances in which Lombroso produced it, and
assess its impact in Italy. Next, I turn to the chopped-up English translation, The
Female Offender (1895), describing ways in which it differed as a text, the cultural
circumstances in which it appeared, and its cultural impact in England and the
United States. In the third section, I go through the same steps for Criminal Woman
(2004), also speaking about my odd experience of participating in the restoration of


Nicole Rafter

this classic text. The final section describes the new edition of 2009, commenting
on its significance.1

La donna delinquente (1893)

Luomo delinquente or Criminal Man (Lombroso 1876), the book in which Lombroso
first put forth his theory of the atavistic born criminal, was 17 years old when he
started working on La donna delinquente. Although Lombroso had revised Luomo
delinquente several times, critics continued to attack it. Some complained that he
had not used a control group; thus he decided to test his born-criminal theory on a
new group2 women and to compare female offenders with normal women.
Lombroso invited Gugliemo Ferrero, a 19-year-old law student, to assist him with
the book and, with characteristic generosity, credited Ferrero with co-authorship.
The books full title is La donna delinquente, la prostituta, e la donna normale.
The original text of La donna delinquente (1893) consists of 640 pages organized
into four parts with a total of 31 chapters, plus illustrations and a preface in which
Lombroso speaks anxiously about the hostile reception he anticipates for this study.
One of the chapters is titled Sexual Sensitivity (Lesbianism and Sexual Psychopathy), and elsewhere, too, Lombroso spends a good deal of time discussing female
sexuality and sexual deviance. (My reasons for mentioning this will become clear in
a moment.) The book was apparently reprinted in Italian twice, in 1894 and 1903,
before being reissued in 1913 in a new edition by his daughter Gina LombrosoFerrero.3 A 1915 edition (perhaps identical with that of 1913) was reissued in 1923
and 1927. Until very recently, when the original was fully reprinted, it was almost
impossible to get a clear idea of its scope and nature. Working in the United States
on the translation of 2004, Mary Gibson and I found it difficult even to obtain a
microfilmed copy of the first edition.
In what ways was La donna delinquente shaped by the cultural circumstances in
which it was written? It shows the impact of a number of nineteenth-century trends
and enthusiasms: one was the growing prestige of science, especially Darwinism;
another was a reaction against Enlightenment legal theories, premised as they
were on the assumption of free will; yet another was the nineteenth-century
fondness for consumer-oriented displays (Benjamin 1999), a predilection reflected
in Lombrosos spread-sheet photographs of criminal women and graphs of their
anomalies. I will focus here on three influences that seem to me to have been particularly important: the movement for female emancipation; the birth of sexology;
and the public debate in Italy over prostitution.
Lombroso and Ferrero produced La donna delinquente during a period when
Italian feminists, paralleling first-wave feminism in the US and UK, were starting to
establish formal organizations. Activists in the womens movement were demanding
access to education, entrance to the professions, equality within the family, and the
right to vote. Lombroso, who was politically liberal and a friend of the feminist
Anna Kuliscioff, did not oppose all changes in womens legal status. But he was
profoundly troubled by the prospect of a fundamental restructuring of gender roles,

La Donna Delinquente


as shown by his allocation of the first major section of La donna delinquente to

proofs of the inferiority of even normal women. Lombroso argued that women are
doomed by evolution to be inferior to men emotionally, intellectually, morally,
and physically. By ridiculing intellectual women as masculine and by insisting on
maternity as the natural and sole goal of all women, he scientifically affirmed the
wisdom of traditional gender roles and undercut efforts for female emancipation.
While the womens movement was unsettling the outer world, it was also working mischief in Lombrosos own home. At the time he embarked on La donna
delinquente, Lombrosos two daughters, Paola and Gina, were both approaching the
age of 20 and growing more independent. Moreover, while he was working on the
book, Anna Kuliscioff spent a great deal of time with Lombrosos family, dining
with them almost nightly and slipping the girls a copy of J. S. Mills The Subjection
of Women (Dolza 1990). Arguments within the family over womens roles, together
with the womens movement that Kuliscioff represented, probably inspired passages
in La donna delinquente where he speaks of educated women with annoyance and
even trepidation. The books biological proofs of female inferiority were part of
a reaction against transformations in womens status (Gibson 1982; Gibson 1990;
Horn 1995).
The advent of sexology, another aspect of the cultural context in which Lombroso worked, also leaves its mark on the pages of La donna delinquente. Although he
was never as focused or systematic in his study of human sexuality as Richard von
Krafft-Ebing, whose work he greatly admired, Lombroso was nonetheless a transitional figure between Victorian prudery and the celebrations of sexual freedom
that came to characterize sexology in the early twentieth century. Lombroso shared
many views with earlier nineteenth-century moralists. In keeping with the bourgeois ideology of separate spheres for men and women, he points to the mobility of
sperm and immobility of the egg to justify male public activity and female domestic passivity. Claiming that primitive women, including born criminals and born
prostitutes, are characterized by an unbridled and masculine sex drive, he heralds
monogamy and the sexual modesty of bourgeois women as valuable products of
evolution. And he proudly reports that white European women no longer desire
sexual intercourse except for procreation, the defining act of womanhood.
Yet Lombroso resembled contemporary sexologists in his curiosity about a variety of sexual practices and his interest in cataloguing them. La donna delinquente
devotes sections to adultery, frigidity, lesbianism, masturbation, and premarital sex.
In a long section on the history of prostitution, Lombroso enumerates its many
purposes in the past: to celebrate the gods, to entertain guests, and, in the case
of Greek and Renaissance courtesans, to unite beauty and learning. Two chapters
analyze the causes and characteristics of contemporary prostitution. Even though
Lombroso is sometimes prurient and always anxious to reinforce female chastity or
monogamy, his approach contrasts with his contemporaries silence about sexuality.
A third influential aspect of the cultural context in which Lombroso worked
was the Italian debate over whether prostitution should be prohibited or regulated.
Rapid growth of the Italian population had caused mass migration to the cities of


Nicole Rafter

both North and South, swelling the ranks of the so-called dangerous classes. A central figure in the iconography of the dangerous classes was the prostitute, a woman
seemingly no longer bound by family or morality. To middle-class observers, the
hordes of homeless and unemployed women on urban streets were indistinguishable
from prostitutes (Gibson 1986/1999). Actual prostitutes, blamed for the spread of
venereal disease, were placed under police supervision and required to live in stateregulated brothels. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Lombroso
found the prostitute even more threatening and atavistic than the criminal woman.
Indeed, a central thesis of La donna delinquente is that prostitution is closer than
criminality to womans primitive behavior (Lombroso and Ferrero 2004, 149).
What sort of an impact did La donna delinquente have in Italy? Recent criminologists have sometimes dismissed Lombroso as a ridiculous figure whose writings had
little impact on larger policy debates, but in fact he was the leader of a large group
of lawyers, physicians, and psychiatrists who constituted the so-called Positivist or
Italian School of criminology, and whose theory of the born criminal dominated
debates on criminal justice through the fascist period (Gibson 2002). Moreover,
Lombroso wrote for the popular press as well as professional journals. He and his
followers were social activists, eager to influence legislation and public policy.
Mary Gibson (2004) argues that La donna delinquente had a significant impact on a
range of Italian women, including prostitutes, criminal women, normal women,
and lesbians. By maintaining that prostitution is the female equivalent of male
crime, Lombroso both criminalized prostitution and sexualized female criminality. Raising the specter of the atavistic born prostitute, his book helped perpetuate
the Italian governments policy of restricting prostitutes to licensed brothels. His
positions contributed to the defeat of the feminist abolitionist movement, which
had worked to free prostitutes from state control.
La donna delinquente also reinforced the belief that all female behavior, including
female criminal behavior, is governed by womens sexual organs. For generations to
come, not only prostitution but also womens offenses like murder and even theft
were analyzed in sexual terms. In prisons in the US and Europe, Lombrosos arguments strengthened the emphasis on moral rather than economic training for female
offenders. And they undergirded the view that even normal women lose their
self-control during menstruation, pregnancy, nursing, and menopause a sequence
that leaves little time for female self-governance. Only lesbians may have been in
some ways shielded by Lombrosos book, and that only because he classified them
as a subset of prostitutes, thus helping to keep them invisible. Gibson writes (2004,
By subsuming lesbianism under prostitution, Lombroso may have diverted
attention away from lesbian behavior and life outside of brothels and prisons, thus minimizing any moral panic about the possibility of normal society
being affected by this vice. In this way lesbians in Italy may have remained
unnoticed and in some sense freer because of the displacement of anxiety on
to prostitutes.

La Donna Delinquente


The female offender (1895)

The Female Offender (1895), excerpted from La donna delinquente and translated by
someone who remains unidentified, runs to 313 pages, about half the length of
the original. Nowhere does it indicate that it is only a partial translation; readers could not have known that they were reading excerpts from a much longer
Nor, of course, could readers have understood how the English version related to
the Italian original. Organized into 18 chapters, The Female Offender covers roughly
the same ground as Parts III and IV of La donna delinquente. It omits Lombrosos
preface, all of Part I on The Normal Woman, all of Part II on Female Criminology, and, in Part IV, chapters on Sexual Sensitivity, The Born Prostitute, and
The Occasional Prostitute. Because the material on Normal Woman had been
cut, no one could realize no one could possibly realize that to reach his conclusions about criminal women, Lombroso had in fact used a control group of
normal women. Without notice, The Female Offender also omits shorter passages
on breasts and genitals, menstruation, sexual precocity, fecundity, female eroticism, and virility. Again without notice, The Female Offender shifts the final chapter
of La donna delinquente (1893), Hysterical Offenders, to an earlier position in
the book.
Taken together, these omissions and switches mutilate the original, hacking it in
two and pruning its text. The editions major drawback, however, is that it simplifies
Lombrosos arguments, making it impossible for readers to grasp the complexity of
his thought.
Where it does cover the original, The Female Offender translates Lombroso literally but listlessly into sanitized and sometimes confusing English prose. Lombrosos
original hastily written like most of his work presents many problems of
interpretation; instead of confronting these problems, the translator of The Female
Offender (who evidently had no criminological background) reproduces them, for
example by translating an Italian pronoun of ambiguous reference into an equally
ambiguous English pronoun. Worse yet, The Female Offender drains even short
phrases of sexual content. In a passage describing a woman referred to as M.R.,
for instance, it reports that she resisted the profligate designs of her father (Lombroso and Ferrero 1895, 198). But the original clearly states that M.R. resisted
her father, who wanted to rape her (stuprarla) (Lombroso and Ferrero 1893,
474). As a result, The Female Offender is a pedestrian, bowdlerized, and sometimes
incomprehensible text.
Originally published by the Unwin company in London and Appleton in New
York, The Female Offender replaced Lombrosos own preface with an introduction
by W. Douglas Morrison, an English cleric; it has almost nothing to do with the
book. This English edition was reprinted 14 times between 1897 and 1980, after
which a New Mexico press brought out a new and expanded edition (Lombroso
1983) which was actually one-third the length of the Appleton original. More


Nicole Rafter

Watercolor of a woman suffering from hypertrichosis (end of the nineteenth century)


Source: Archivio storico del Museo di Antropologia criminale Cesare Lombroso dellUniversit di
Torino (Italia).

In what ways was The Female Offender shaped by the cultural circumstances in
which it was written? Two seem particularly relevant: the Anglo-American worlds
thirst for scientific explanations of crime and its attitudes toward sexuality.
In England and the United States in the early 1890s, a shift away from free will
accounts of criminal behavior and toward positivist explanations created a demand
for scientific criminology. Some proto-Lombrosian work had been produced in
England (Maudsley 1874; Thomson 1870; also see Davie 2005) and in the United
States (Dugdale 1877; also see Rafter 1997). Articles on Lombrosos work were
turning up in the popular press, and readers hunger was further stimulated by the
1890 publication of Havelock Elliss The Criminal, the first English-language book
on criminal anthropology. However, men and women who read only English as
yet had no access to a full-length book by Lombroso, nor would they until 1911
(Lombroso 1911; Lombroso-Ferrero 1911). The desire for something substantive
by Lombroso himself about the criminal may, ironically, have led to the cuts in The

La Donna Delinquente


Female Offender. The publishers may have simply decided that material on normal
women and prostitution would be far less interesting to English and American
readers at this point in time than the hardcore, criminal-anthropological material
on anomalies and atavisms.
Moreover, the translator and publishers seem to have been exceedingly anxious
to avoid mentioning either normal or deviant sexuality. Krafft-Ebings Psychopathia
Sexualis was not published in English until 1892, and Havelock Elliss first book on
human sexuality, Man and Woman, did not appear till 1894. The reading public in
England and America, whatever they might have been doing in private, were perhaps not yet ready for Lombrosos anecdotes of nymphomania and Sapphic prison
orgies. If the publishers deemed the books sexual content too racy for this audience, they may simply have decided to excise it. From todays perspective, however,
this was close to the literary equivalent of genital mutilation.
As for The Female Offenders cultural impact in England and the United States,4
no other book has ever rivaled its influence on thinking about women and crime.
Lombroso bequeathed four interrelated (albeit sometimes contradictory) concepts
to subsequent understandings of female criminality. The first concerned the nature
of female crime, which according to Lombroso is fundamentally biological in
origin. While he was not the first to equate female deviance with sexuality,
he powerfully reinforced the association by confirming it scientifically. The
effects reverberated throughout Anglo-American criminal justice systems: psychiatrists explained female crime such as shoplifting in terms of sublimated sexuality
(OBrien 1983), and in many jurisdictions girls arrested for delinquency were automatically given vaginal exams to determine their virginity (Chesney-Lind 1973).
(These effects, of course, flowed less from Lombroso than from the ancient equation of female deviance with sexuality on which he drew; it was he, however, who
seemed to prove that the equation was right.) Related to Lombrosos emphasis on
the biological nature of female criminality is the notion that female criminals are less
evolved than both male criminals and law-abiding women, an idea that throughout the twentieth century reinforced infantilizing programs in womens prisons
treatment and disciplinary measures that treated inmates as errant children (Rafter
A second major part of Lombrosos legacy to the Anglo-American world is
the idea that criminal women are more masculine than law-abiding women. This
concept reemerged with considerable fanfare with the publication of Freda Adlers
Sisters in Crime (1975), a work arguing that womens crime rates are on the rise
because women (especially women of color) are becoming more like men. Closely
related to the masculinity thesis is the criminological tendency to conceptualize
female criminality as what Frances Heidensohn (1996, 114) calls a beauty contest,
in which the prize of being deemed reformable is awarded to the most feminine
(meaning, among other things, Caucasian) offenders.
A third facet of Lombrosos legacy in English-speaking countries is the idea that
not only criminal women but also normal women are inherently deviant, bundles
of pathology that can at any moment explode into criminality. This pathologization


Nicole Rafter

of ordinary womanhood authorized physicians and other normalizers to intervene

more frequently and deeply in womens lives than in those of men. Additionally, it
made female sexuality automatically suspect.
Fourth and finally, in English-speaking countries Lombrosos work on the female
offender helped define normality itself as, in part, the absence of criminal tendencies (see also Horn 1995). This standard has been applied to male behavior as
well, but there remained alternative ways of thinking about male deviance (heroic
rebellion, for example, or the sowing of wild oats). Female lawbreaking, on the
other hand, almost always ran the risk in England and the United States of being
labeled abnormal and hence pathological. This put law-abiding women, too, in
peril, for any woman who threatened the status quo could be deemed abnormal.
In many respects, The Female Offenders legacy in English-speaking countries paralleled the impact of La donna delinquente on Italian thinking about womens nature
and female criminality. But in Anglo-American countries, much more so than
in Italy, Lombroso eventually became a whipping-boy for feminist criminologists.
Dorie Klein (1973), Carol Smart (1976), and others used Lombrosos pronouncements on women to expose the sexist biases in criminology in general. In Italy, the
reaction against Lombroso was more muted, but this had less to do with differences
between the two texts than with international differences in the womens movement and in the goals of criminology itself (Rafter and Heidensohn, eds. 1995;
Pitch 1995). Moreover, Italians had reason to be proud of Lombroso, a man whose
work was respected worldwide (e.g. Rafter 2010).

Criminal woman (2004)

The purpose of the new translation of Criminal Woman (2004), as of its companion
volume Criminal Man (Lombroso 2006), was twofold: to provide, for the first time,
an adequate English translation of one of Lombrosos major criminological works
and to lay foundations for an emerging new generation of Lombroso scholarship.
The new editions aimed at facilitating Lombroso scholarship in fields as diverse as
anthropology, art history, criminology, and rhetoric; Italian and European history;
the history of science, medicine, and psychiatry; law and legal history; and studies
of gender, race, and ethnicity.5 Mary Gibson and I were especially anxious to produce books that our students college graduates and undergraduates would find
readable and interesting. Our introduction to Criminal Woman (Rafter and Gibson
2004) examines in depth one of the issues Ive looked at briefly here: the impact
of Lombrosos work on subsequent theory and practice in the area of women and
crime in the English-speaking world. However, Gibson and I were less interested in
trying to answer questions than in providing materials for others to use in answering
long-standing questions about Lombrosos work and formulating new ones.
To select material for inclusion in the new edition (Lombroso and Ferrero 2004),
we developed three guidelines. First, we aimed at completely translating Lombrosos
theoretical arguments and adhering to the order in which he presented them. Second, we aimed at clearly representing his scientific procedures, including his use

La Donna Delinquente


of tables, illustrations, and citations. Third, we needed to reduce the size of the
1893 original to make the new edition readable and affordable. Indeed, our contract with Duke University Press specified that we would submit a manuscript no
longer than 97,000 words; this meant that we had to squeeze the original 640 pages
of La donna delinquente into a book of 300 pages while at the same time adding our
substantial Editors Introduction, appendices comparing our edition with the two
previous volumes, notes explaining difficult passages in Lombrosos text, a glossary, and references all this while also remaining true to the first two guidelines.
About half of the new edition is given over to previously untranslated material from
La donna delinquente, while the other half consists of a compressed and retranslated
version of the material covered by The Female Offender.
Reducing La donna delinquente (1893) to a manageable size while retaining the
original Parts and chapter structure involved cutting pages, paragraphs, and within
single sentences words that seemed unnecessary. We eliminated two sorts of
material: repetitions and examples. Lombroso seems to have been untroubled by
repetitions and indeed, he often presents material over and over again, approaching
it from new angles or combining it in new ways with other topics. We did away
with most of his overlaps. We also eliminated many of the examples Lombroso
presents in support of his positions. To Lombroso as a scientist, a wealth of examples was important because it signified a wealth of scientific evidence for his theory.
The sheer quantity of evidence mattered less to us, however. From todays point
of view, moreover, the science of Lombrosos examples is often dubious or even
ludicrous. (Some of his contemporaries shared this opinion.) Our policy for each of
Lombrosos new points was to translate one or two of the more vivid or clarifying
examples but to omit the rest.
Our cuts created two translation effects meaning changes that flowed from
our translation policies. First, they minimize Lombrosos long-windedness and clarify sentences that, in the original, were tangled or obscure. In this respect, our
translation somewhat distorts the original; it is, if I might say so, easier to read.
Second, by cutting some of the books outlandish examples, our translation may,
ironically, make the text seem more rational and scientific than it in fact was. In this
respect, too, our cuts may slightly improve Lombrosos original.
Lombroso wrote in formal, scholarly Italian, using medical and scientific
terms that are today obsolete. To twenty-first-century Italians whom we used
as consultants, Lombrosos language is old-fashioned, difficult, and at times even
incomprehensible. However, its datedness is in part an effect of the passage of time.
To his educated contemporaries, Lombrosos language would have seemed appropriately learned, and among non-scientists, his obscure terminology might actually
have had a credentialing effect, increasing his credibility.
Because one of our goals was to make Lombrosos work accessible, we translated
obscure words into more familiar terms. We also tried to relax his prose style a
bit, making it slightly more colloquial. Our rule-of-thumb was to write for our
audience, not his. On the other hand, we did not aim at fully colloquial English. We


Nicole Rafter

attempted to make his prose comprehensible to modern readers while preserving

some of its formality.
In working on this translation, we occasionally flinched at reproducing
Lombrosos gaffs and missteps his sloppy use of statistics, uncritical examples,
unsophisticated generalizations, internal contradictions in the text, and overall
incoherence. Our temptation here was akin to what translation theorists call ennoblement the temptation, confronted most often by poetry translators, to make
translated material more flowery or elevated than it was originally. But if our
temptation was similar to that of ennoblers, it was certainly not the same: few translators can have had to cope as we did with outright foolishness on the part of the
In our view, Lombrosos work is historically valuable despite its scientific and
logical naivet. In fact, it is valuable partly because it so clearly reveals scientific and
scientistic vulnerabilities, making them available for study. For better or worse, one
outstanding quality of Lombrosos work is its magnificent tangle of brilliance and
nonsense, the way it combines what a recent biographer calls Lombrosos encyclopedic ambition, his characteristically extreme mental adventuresomeness, and
his titanic failures (Guarnieri 2000: 14). Our key concern was to produce a full
(if abbreviated) and accurate translation, a concern that led us to explicitly resolve
to include the warts. We still flinched, but having recognized the temptation to
hide Lombrosos faults, we were better able to resist it.
Mary Gibson and I have been asked why we decided to undertake new translations of Lombrosos work. We did so because as criminological historians, we
found it impossible to get along without them. Separately, while doing research
on nineteenth-century criminology, we had often been frustrated by our inability to trace the development of Lombrosos ideas over time due to the lack of
materials. La donna delinquente (1893) was all but inaccessible in the Italian original, and we suspected that the 1895 English translation was misleading.6 We were
also frustrated by apparent misstatements about Lombroso that appeared in standard
criminological texts. We saw an opportunity to rescue a text that had been mutilated in translation, and we took it. Had we realized at the start that the project
would take eleven years, we might never have begun; but we were able to work
individually on other projects as well during that time (we took turns translating, editing, preparing indices, and so on), and the Lombroso translations have
indeed enabled us to write much more authoritatively about the development of
nineteenth-century criminology.
The process of translating La donna delinquente and writing hundreds of explanatory footnotes was long and sometimes tedious, but it was also pleasurable. Much of
my pleasure came from working with Mary Gibson, from whom I learned a great
deal about the history of Italian women, Italian criminology, and the Italian language. Another part of the pleasure came from my odd sense of colleagueship with
Lombroso himself. Although I disagreed with him at almost every turn, I enjoyed
the intimacy I inevitably acquired with his thought processes. I got to know the
structure of his ideation and his intellectual habits, including his tendency to go

La Donna Delinquente


limp and vague when he sensed that he was approaching a logical contradiction.
Lombroso cared passionately about his work, and he would have loved knowing
that this book is still of interest over a century after he produced it although he
would have been astonished that those who produced it as a new scholarly text
were women.

La donna delinquente (2009)

Completing the cycle from rescue to restoration, in 2009 a small Italian press called
et al. republished the complete original of Lombroso and Ferreros work under the
original title: La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale. Initiative for this
new edition came from an Italian feminist scholar, Ombretta Ingrasci, who had read
and reviewed the 2004 English translation for History Workshop Journal (Ingrasci
2006). Ingrascis interest had begun with her research on mafia women, a topic
covered in Lombroso and Ferreros 1893 study. She wanted to make Lombrosos
original available to Italian scholars and also to contribute new material to the
Italian debate on the female question during the male chauvinist Berlusconi era
(Ingrasci 2011). Ingrasci found it very difficult to find a copy of the Italian original in good enough condition to be reproduced but finally located a copy in the
Biblioteca di Cremona.
Ingrasci contacted Mary Gibson and myself, along with Duke University Press,
to see if we would agree to prefacing the new work with an Italian translation of
our introduction to the 2004 edition (Rafter and Gibson 2004). She was anxious
not to republish the work without a critical, analytical introduction, for otherwise
she would risk the appearance of merely celebrating Lombroso (Ingrasci 2011).
Gibson and I gladly agreed to her request, and Gibson somewhat revised our introduction to locate the new edition in the context of, first, Italian criminology and its
almost complete indifference to issues of sex and gender and, second, the growing
international interest in Lombrosos oeuvre. The new edition appeared in time for
a 2009 international Lombroso conference commemorating the centennial of his
death. At last, scholars around the world had access to La donna delinquentes original

Does the melodrama end here? La donna delinquentes publication history leaves
it safely out of harms way, but that history is already unfolding beyond the tale told
here. In 2010, Nabu Press a company that specializes in reprinting books with
expired copyrights7 issued a reprint of The Female Offender (1895). Subsequently
Mary Gibson and I heard from Professor Kyung Jae Lee of the Korean Institute of
Criminology, who in 2010 had published a Korean translation of our Criminal Man
(2006); now he was asking permission to translate our Criminal Woman (2004) as a
companion volume. Soon, then, there will be a Korean translation of our English
translation of Lombroso and Ferreros Italian original! While the publishing history


Nicole Rafter

of La donna delinquente will no longer resemble a melodrama, it clearly has sequels

to come.

Thanks to Ombretta Ingrasci for information on the publication history of the 2009
Italian edition of La donna delinquente; to Michael McCullough of Duke University
Press for information on sales of the 2004 edition of Criminal Woman; and to Mary
Gibson for updates on her 2004 article and for all she has taught me over the years
about Italian social history.

1 This article expands and updates Rafter 2011, an article written in 2003 (although not
published till much later) and thus in need of updating with several important new
publication events.
2 Even in the first (1876) edition of Luomo delinquente, Lombroso included data on criminal
women as well as criminal men a truly innovative step, considering that most US and
UK criminologists did not follow suite for over a century. However, not until La donna
delinquente (1893) did Lombroso attempt an extended comparison of female with male
criminals. La donna delinquente also makes three-way comparisons among female criminals,
prostitutes, and normal women.
3 It is difficult to get clear information on the various early editions and reprints of Lombrosos work. The information given here came from a combination of sources: The
National Union Catalog, the Library of Congresss WorldCat listing, and, especially,
Renzo Villas study (1985) of Il deviante e i suoi segni.
4 Much of what I say here applies to Anglophone Canada and Australia as well.
5 According to data from Duke University Press (McCullough 2011), Criminal Woman
(2004) has been adopted as a text in such diverse courses as Sociology of Gender, Detective
Fiction, Womens History, and Modern Spectacles.
6 It was even more difficult to do research on Luomo delinquente, which went through
five Italian editions, the last of them four volumes long (Lombroso 1876, 1878, 1884,
1889, 18961897). No one knew how the two partial English translations of Luomo
delinquente (Lombroso 1911; Lombroso-Ferrero 1911) related to Lombrosos originals or
which edition they derived from. How could we hope to make intelligent generalizations
about a body of work so large, confusing, and inaccessible? The answer was obvious, if
daunting: we couldnt unless we translated it ourselves.
7 See _Nabu_Press (downloaded July
24, 2011).

Adler, F. (1975) Sisters in Crime. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Benjamin, W. (1999) The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press; translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin.
Chesney-Lind, M. (1973) Judicial Enforcement of the Female Sex Role: The Family Court
and the Female Delinquent, Issues in Criminology 8 (2): 5169.

La Donna Delinquente


Davie, N. (2005) Tracing the Criminal: The Rise of Scientific Criminology in Britain, 18601918.
Oxford, UK: Bardwell.
Dolza, D. (1990) Essere figlie di Lombroso: Due donne intellettuali tra 800 e 900. Milan: Franco
Dugdale, R. L. (1877) The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity; also
Further Studies of Criminals. New York: G. P. Putnams Sons.
Ellis, H. (1890) The Criminal. London: Walter Scott.
Ellis, H. (1894) Man and Woman: A Study of Human Secondary Sexual Characters. London:
Gibson, M. (1982) The Female Offender and the Italian School of Criminal Anthropology,
Journal of European Studies 12: 15565.
Gibson, M. (1990) On the Insensitivity of Women: Science and the Woman Question in
Liberal Italy, 18901910, Journal of Womens History 2 (2): 1141.
Gibson, M. (1986/1999) Prostitution and the State in Italy, 18601915. Columbus, OH: Ohio
State University Press.
Gibson, M. (2002) Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Italian Origins of Biological
Criminology. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Gibson, M. (2004) Labeling Women Deviant: Heterosexual Women, Prostitutes, and Lesbians in Early Criminological Discourse, Gender and the Private Sphere in Italy, ed. Perry
Willson. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Gibson, M. and Rafter. N. (2009) Introduzione to C. Lombroso and G. Ferrero, La donna
delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale. Turin: et al.
Guarnieri, L. (2000) Latlante criminale: vita scriteriata di Cesare Lombroso. Milan: Mondadori.
Heidensohn, F. (1985/1996) Women and Crime. London: MacMillan Press.
Horn, D. G. (1995) This Norm Which Is Not One: Reading the Female Body in Lombrosos Anthropology, in J. Terry and J. Urla (eds) Deviant Bodies. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press, Chapter 4 (pp. 10928).
Ingrasci, O. (2006) Anomalous Females: Cesare Lombroso and Guglielmo Ferrero,
Criminal Woman, the Prostitute and the Normal Woman, History Workshop Journal 61: 2647.
Ingrasci, O. (2011) Email communication of August 27, 2011, to Nicole Rafter, about the
origins of the 2009 Italian edition of La donna delinquente.
Klein, D. (1973) The Etiology of Female Crime, Issues in Criminology 8 (2): 330.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von. (1892) Psychopathia Sexualis. Philadelphia: F A. Davis Co.
Lombroso, C. (1876) Luomo delinquente studiato in rapporto alla antropologia, alla medicina legale
ed alle discipline carcerarie. Milan: Hoepli.
Lombroso, C. (1878) Luomo delinquente in rapporto allantropologia, giurisprudenza e alle discipline
carcerarie. Turin: Bocca.
Lombroso, C. (1884) Luomo delinquente in rapporto allantropologia, giurisprudenza ed alle
discipline carcerarie. Delinquente-nato e pazzo morale. Turin: Bocca.
Lombroso, C. (1889) Luomo delinquente in rapporto allantropologia, alla giurisprudenza ed alle
discipline carcerarie. 2 vols. Turin: Bocca.
Lombroso, C. (18961897) Luomo delinquente in rapporto allantropologia, alla giurisprudenza ed
alle discipline carcerarie. 4 vols., including Latlante, Turin: Bocca.
Lombroso, C. (1911) Crime: Its Causes and Remedies. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
Lombroso, C. (1983) Basic Characteristics of Women Criminals. New and expanded edition.
Albuquerque: The Foundation for Classical Reprints.
Lombroso, C. (2006) Criminal Man. Translated and with a new introduction by M. Gibson
and N. H. Rafter. Duke University Press.


Nicole Rafter

Lombroso, C. and Ferrero, G. (1893) La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale.

Turin: Roux.
Lombroso, C. and Ferrero, W. (1895) The Female Offender. With an introduction by W. D.
Morrison. London: Unwin; New York: Appleton.
Lombroso, C. and Ferrero, G. (2004) Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman.
Translated and edited by N. H. Rafter and M. Gibson. Durham, NC: Duke University
Lombroso, C. and Ferrero, G. (2009) La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale.
Prefazione di M. Gibson e N. H. Rafter. Turin: et al.
Lombroso-Ferrero, G. (1911) Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso,
Briefly Summarised by his Daughter Gina Lombroso-Ferrero. New York and London: G. P.
Putnams Sons.
McCullough, M. 20 July 2011. Email communication to Nicole Rafter from Duke
University Press re sales of Criminal Woman (2004).
Maudsley, H. (1874) Responsibility in Mental Disease. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
OBrien, P (1983) The Kleptomania Diagnosis, Journal of Social History 17: 6577.
Pitch, T. (1995) Feminist Politics, Crime, Law and Order in Italy, in N. H. Rafter and
F. Heidensohn, eds. International Feminist Perspectives in Criminology: Engendering a Discipline.
Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, Chapter 5 (pp. 86106).
Rafter, N. H. (1990) Partial Justice: Women, Prisons, and Social Control. 2d ed. New Brunswick,
NJ: Transaction.
Rafter, N. H. (1997) Creating Born Criminals. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press.
Rafter, N. H. (2010). Lombrosos Reception in the United States. in D. Downes,
D. Hobbs, and T. Newburn (eds) The Eternal Recurrence of Crime and Control. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, pp. 115.
Rafter, N. H. and Gibson, M. 2004. Editors Introduction. in C. Lombroso and G. Ferrero,
Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Norman Woman. Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, pp. 333.
Rafter, N. H. and F. Heidensohn (eds.) (1995) Introduction to International Feminist Perspectives in Criminology: Engendering a Discipline. Buckingham, UK: Open University
Rafter, N. (2011) Lombrosos La Donna Delinquente: its Strange Journeys in Italy, England and the USA, Including Scenes of Mutilation and Salvation, in D. Melossi, M. Sozzo,
and R. Sparks (eds.) Travels of the Criminal Question: Cultural Embeddedness and Diffusion.
Oxford: Hart Publishing, pp. 14760.
Smart, C. (1976) Women, Crime, and Criminology: A Feminist Critique. London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Thomson, J. B. (1870) The Psychology of Criminals, Journal of Mental Science 17: 32150.
Villa, R. (1985) Il deviante e i suoi segni: Lombroso e la nascita delantropologia criminale. Milano:
Franco Angeli.

Mariana Valverde

The paper that follows is not the one I set out to write. When I heard Nicole Rafter
talk about her new translation of Lombrosos La donna delinquente, and was told that
this would include the sexological chapter that had been left out of the old translation, I thought I could put the proto-lesbians in Lombrosos text in the context
of the history of sexual discourses and thus make a contribution to the collective
On first reading, it seemed that this task would be relatively simple. The word
lesbian, used both as a noun denoting a type of person and as an adjective specifying an erotic activity, appears several times in the chapter in question. It even
appears in the title of the chapter Sexual sensitivity (lesbianism and sexual psychopathy). However, it quickly became apparent that Lombrosos text cannot be
firmly located within any one of the established sexual knowledge paradigms and,
more importantly, it cannot be properly understood as either a mix of X and Y
or a transition from X to Y.
The peculiar relation that Lombrosos text has to the genealogy of scientific
knowledge of human variation requires discussion, even in a short paper, because
without such a discussion it is impossible to make sense out of the text. Thus,
I will comment on Lombrosos knowledge practices generally before going on to a
substantive (and philological) discussion of his treatment of female-female eroticism.
The paper will conclude with a historiographical reflection that calls for a decentering of crime in favor of approaches that pay close attention to the actual
dynamics of knowledge formation within the human sciences.

Junkyard epistemology
Lombrosos notorious lack of rigor and consistency is at one level hardly unusual or
surprising, given what we know about the knowledge practices found throughout


Mariana Valverde

the whole array of late nineteenth century knowledges of vice, crime, disease, and
degeneration (Pick 1989; Russett 1989; Showalter 1990; Garland 1985; Valverde
1991, 1992, 1998, chapters 2 and 3). Whether in the more extreme version popularized by the Max Nordau version (Nordau 1895) or in its attenuated and
reasonable Havelock Ellis version, the degeneration paradigm treated human variation as simultaneously cultural, psychic, and bodily, with writers showing what we
would today describe as a cavalier lack of concern for drawing the line between
nature and culture (Latour 1993). In addition, the cause-effect relation was often
thought of as very fluid.
But while arguing about the relative weight of various factors, men and women
of science agreed (more often implicitly than explicitly) on what had to be eliminated from scientific discourse.1 Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis and Freud disagreed
on many key substantive points: but none of them regarded folk sayings and
proverbs as evidence on a par with physiological and behavioral observations,
as Lombroso did.
Havelock Ellis is worth mentioning here by way of contrast, since he did a great
deal to popularize Lombroso in the English-speaking world, and he presents many of
his own observations (on criminality at any rate, not so much on sexuality) as drawing
upon Lombrosos pioneering project (Ellis 1901). Now, Elliss work (especially that
on criminality) happily mixes physiological and anatomical observations with psychological interpretations of life histories and inner feelings. But while content to not
draw much of a line between nature and culture, the physical and the psychic, the
inherited and the acquired, he certainly drew a sharp line between science and other
forms of knowledge. In discussing criminality he attempts to verify and authenticate
the facts he is borrowing from Lombroso, in standard scientific manner. And when
discussing sexual inversion (Ellis and Symonds 1897), he relies almost exclusively on
case histories collected by physicians and scientists (by contrast with Lombroso, who is
happy to use biographical information about people who are long dead gleaned from
popular histories and orally transmitted stories).
Remarking that Lombroso does not use scientific methods for collecting and
evaluating data, however, does not help us to understand what is going on. Instead
of criticizing Lombroso for what he did not do it is more useful to explain just
what he is doing. What he does is that instead of using the filter of science, which
scrutinizes evidence carefully and allows only certified facts into the knowledge
process, Lombroso works in the manner of a junk dealer, by pawing through a
heterogeneous collection of knowledge claims that includes popular folklore, legal
texts, anthropological measurement charts, psychological case histories, observations made by doctors in prisons and brothels, photographs of Russian prison
inmates, concepts taken from the latest psychiatry, methods borrowed from the
phrenology of the 1840s, and the letters of Madame de Stael. Old bits of used
knowledge are thus gathered and recycled by an author who claims to be speaking with the voice of science, but who in his writing practice exhibits a child-like
passion for collecting odd bits of broken knowledge objects and idiosyncratically
arranging them in interesting shapes.

Lombrosos criminal woman


The specific dynamics of Lombrosos knowledge production are evident even in the
title of chapter on sexual deviance Sexual sensitivity (lesbianism and psychopathy).
First of all, if we are in the 1890s, why is sexual sensitivity, a purely physiological entity
or indicator, given such prominence? This object of inquiry is reminiscent of but not
in fact measurable with the algometer that Lombroso elsewhere advocates as a tool
for measuring pain sensitivity. But however it is measured, how can this entity shed
any light on womens libidinal object choice or on womens gender/sexual identity?2
One response would be to state that the fascination with the surfaces of the body shows
that Lombroso is stuck in the past, that he is really an anthropometric enthusiast.
But if he were really a physical anthropologist, why the second half of the chapter
title? Why shift, without a pause, from the physiological register favored at the time
that Lombroso went to medical school (1850s) to the much newer register of psychic
identities and degenerate families which the term sexual psychopathy, taken directly
from Krafft-Ebing, suggests?
There is no real answer to this question there cannot be an answer, in fact,
since the question was not one that Lombroso would have asked. As Rafter and
Gibson point out in their introduction, in one of his very few reflexive comments
Lombroso first critiques his own previous love of anthropometric measurements,
then claims that it was not him but others who abused this approach, and lastly
(illogically) concludes that anthropometry is a (or perhaps the?) scientific method.
Rafter and Gibson (2004, 13) conclude that what began as self-criticism becomes
self-congratulation. Scientists are institutionally obliged to think that new research
should be used to critique earlier theories: thus, if encountering new data, they have
to either change the theory or show that their new findings are at bottom consistent
with previous theories. Remarkably, Lombroso simply ignores this imperative. He
finds it quite possible to both disagree with his own earlier work and to totally
agree with it, at the same time.
If we presuppose the traditional evolutionary model of the human sciences
that recent work in the history of science has taught us to question (Poovey
1998; Foucault 1971, 1980; Latour 1993), we would explain Lombrosos contradictions as symptoms of a transitional phase, the transition from descriptive
natural history approaches (including physical anthropology) to twentieth-century
bio-psychological sciences of human variation. But if we dont presuppose an evolutionary model of the human sciences, we can consider the hypothesis that the
peculiarly Lombrosian textual move that Rafter and Gibson sensitively describe
as produced by conflicting impulses ambition, scientific integrity, exasperation
with critics, inertia, a sense of superiority, and simple annoyance at the need to
acknowledge past mistakes (Rafter and Gibson 2004, 13) performs not an evolutionary transition but rather an almost postmodern anything-goes eclecticism,
within which inquiries into the provenance of the bits of knowledge one uses are
simply not deemed worthwhile.
One curious element of the chapter title is the use of the parenthesis: Sexual sensitivity (lesbianism and psychopathy). In keeping with postmodern rhetorical practice,
the parenthesis is not used grammatically: lesbianism and psychopathy (linked by a


Mariana Valverde

mere and rather than by a logical connection) do not here combine to form either
a subordinate clause or a digression from a main argument about physiological sensitivity, which are the two main grammatical uses of the parenthesis. Skin sensitivity is
merely the first topic covered in the chapter; it is not the main theme. Thus, the parenthesis does not serve to organize the text logically and hierarchically: on the contrary,
it simply juxtaposes paradigms, research methods, and governing rationalities without logically linking them. Indeed, the postmodern slash (not yet invented) would
have suited Lombrosos rhetorical practice wonderfully: the ontological ambiguity
that postmodern texts intentionally produce by the use of the slash is exactly the effect
that Lombrosos misleading parenthesis actually produces.
Eclecticism is hardly unusual, of course, even in scientific texts: but it would be
difficult to find a scientific writer who so openly, almost joyously embraces eclecticism, without any guilt. Havelock Elliss measured reading of Lombroso is telling in
this regard: as we shall see shortly, Elliss restrained, above-the-fray stance a stance
totally in keeping with the academic habitus of today stands in sharp contrast
to Lombrosos obvious delight in prowling the junkyard of the human sciences,
collecting every bit that strikes his fancy, and using not the scientific method but
bricolage to create new texts that are clearly, without apology, made up mainly of
recycled stuff.
We now (finally) get to the third term of the chapter title, namely lesbianism.

Sapphists, tribades, masculine women, Urnings, and

their relations
On first seeing the word lesbianism in the title, anyone familiar with the history
of female sexuality would think it peculiar that Lombroso, in so many ways stuck
in the natural-history paradigm of the 1840s, should be so far ahead of his time
as to use the word lesbian (Chauncey 1989; Faderman 1981; Doan 2001). In
the 1890s, medical and scientific texts were much more likely to use the words
congenital invert or homosexual to refer to the persons with the sex/gender
deviant identity, while using terms such as unnatural vice or tribadism to refer
to the erotic practices.
But this apparent leap forward in time, something like the opposite of atavism,
in Lombrosos text is due only to the translators choice to use todays term (lesbian)
instead of sticking to Lombrosos usage. The glossary at the back of the book
informs us that neither lesbians as a group of women nor lesbianism as an activity are actually much discussed. Most of the time, when the English text has
lesbianism, the original has tribadism. (Indeed, one of Lombrosos publications
has tribadismo in its title.)3
The glossary also informs us that occasionally Lombroso uses an equally archaic
but not particularly scientific term, sapphism. This is very rarely found in the
nineteenth-century medical discussions of tribadism; it appears to have been
more common in the erotic novels (mainly in French) that sexologists sometimes
used and sometimes denounced.4

Lombrosos criminal woman


And as if this semantic instability were not confusing enough, Lombroso also
uses the term Urning, invented in the 1860s (before the word homosexual
was coined) by the first gay scientific writer, Karl Henrich Ulrichs. Ulrichs term
variously translated into English as Uranian or Urning which is arguably
more relevant to the genealogy of gender identity than to that of sexual orientation, was no longer in wide use in the 1890s. By that time, homosexual and
invert were the most common scientific terms used to describe the type of person, while perversion, homosexuality, sodomy, unnatural vice, tribadism, and (less
often) lesbianism were used to denote the activity within scientific discourses.
A brief comparison of Lombrosos discussion with two influential texts on the
same subject by important contemporaries will suffice to give a sense of Lombrosos
distinction in the field of knowledges of female sexuality. The first point of comparison will be the great sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, often regarded as
the key author of the modern homosexual identity. In Psychopathia sexualis (whose
1892 edition Lombroso cites at length in Criminal Woman), Krafft-Ebing famously
endeavors to separate those people who engage in same-sex erotic vice for specific
reasons (such as being deprived of heterosexual contact in prisons or being seduced
by others) from the true inverts, the congenital or born inverts whose nature it
is to seek individuals of the same sex for erotic satisfaction (Krafft-Ebing 1965).
What would soon come to be called homosexual desire is called antipathic sexual
instinct or contrary sexual instinct. And what would soon become homosexuality as an act is here called perversion (as distinct from the identity, which is
Krafft-Ebings text is important for Lombrosos work on female deviance because
several of Lombrosos case histories are taken directly from Psychopathia sexualis.
Now, the evidence regarding female sexual perversion that gets through KrafftEbings scientific filter consists almost wholly of individual case histories, either in
the form of written autobiographies or in the form of medical case histories related
by authoritative physicians. Both of these kinds of data are woefully scarce in respect
to women, Krafft-Ebing complains, in part because womens intimate friendships
seem to flourish without being scrutinized, and in part because women, much to
Krafft-Ebings dismay, do not confide in their (male) doctors. In addition, because
sex among women is not illegal (in Germany as in England), court records are not
generated. Thus, Science in its present stage has but few data to fall back on, so far
as the occurrence of the homosexual instinct in woman is concerned as compared
with man (Krafft-Ebing 1965, 262).
In a knowledge move repeated later by Otto Pollak in his well-known theory
of the dark figure of female crime, Krafft-Ebing uses this scarcity of accounts as
a datum to conclude that the absence of good data does not mean women are less
likely than men to suffer from congenital inversion: it simply means there is a dark
figure of female homosexuality:
I have though long experience gained the impression that inverted sexuality
occurs in woman as frequently as in man. But the chaster education of the girl


Mariana Valverde

deprives the sexual instinct of its predominant character [i.e. genital expression]. . . . All of these circumstances work in her favour, often serve to correct
abnormal inclinations and tastes, and force her into the ways of normal sexual intercourse. We may, however, safely assume that many cases of frigidity
or anaphrodisia in married women are rooted in undeveloped or suppressed
antipathic sexual instinct.
(Krafft-Ebing 1965, 2623)
Krafft-Ebing did not argue that one can always separate women who have had
erotic relations with other women into two distinct groups, the occasionally perverse and the congenitally inverted or homosexual. He included social and cultural
factors in his analysis, showing that the sharp analytical line between perversion and
inversion is more analytical than empirical. One of the several stories of gender and
sex inversion that he collected (an autobiographical one) contains a passage that
describes the relation between inversion and perversion in terms consistent with
his theory:
I was born a girl, but a misdirected education forced my fiery imagination
early into the wrong direction. . . . The reading of French novels and lascivious
companions taught me all the tricks of perverse erotics, and the latent impulse
became a conscious perversity. Nature has made a mistake in the choice of my
sexuality and I must do a life-long penance for it, for the moral power to suffer
the unavoidable with dignity is lost.
(Krafft-Ebing 1965, 277)
Described as a highly cultured lady who loved sports and wore masculine
clothes, this writer reads her deviance sociologically; but she simultaneously spreads
the blame in two other directions: nature for having implanted the perverse
impulse, and herself, for having lacked the willpower to resist this abnormal
While admitting that in any one persons life congenital degeneracy, education,
opportunity, and willpower were all intertwined, Krafft-Ebing still maintained a
very sharp analytical separation between the born invert and the casual or weakwilled pervert, and to that extent greatly contributed to the formation of the
modern homosexual identity (here including the lesbian identity). The extent of
his influence is a matter of much debate, with historians of sexuality today being
rather skeptical of the empirical accuracy of Foucaults well-known account of the
transition from the act-based governance of sex performed by the criminal law and
by religious codes to modern knowledges of identity (Foucault 1980); but taking
sides in this debate is unnecessary here.
It is very clear that Lombroso had available to him, in Krafft-Ebings work, a
scientific model that carefully organized and explained not only sexual behavior
but also inner feelings about identity: but he did not choose to adopt this model.
He plunders Krafft-Ebings text, recycles a few good stories, and, more creatively,

Lombrosos criminal woman


he re-formats data found in that book to construct a chart that tabulates all the
sexual deviations (including fetishism, sadism, and so forth) attributed to particular
women throughout the whole of Krafft-Ebings volume.
Now, you will recall that Krafft-Ebing had complained about the scarcity of data
on womens perversions. He did not present his small collection of stories as quantitatively significant data. Lombroso, however, counts up instances of female sexual
perversion in Krafft-Ebings text and, forgetting the rather large gap between
Krafft-Ebings second-hand anecdotes and real life, he draws the conclusion that
sexual vices are in fact rarer among women than among men. He does not mention
Krafft-Ebings thesis about the dark figure of female sexual vice.
This maneuver is just one example of Lombrosos deliberately perverse use of
scientific data a feature of Lombrosos text that many subsequent social scientists
have denounced, but which I would here like to consider not as a negative (lack
of scientific rigor) but rather as a positive choice, as effecting an epistemology that
I have earlier described as postmodern. Let me justify the postmodern label a
little more.
Postmodern architecture is characterized by the simultaneous use of motifs and
esthetic codes from diverse historical periods, a wilful juxtaposition of classical and
modernist elements without syntheses or even transitions. Similarly, we have seen
that Lombrosos evident interest in the content of the latest psychological science
(Krafft-Ebings concept of the congenital invert, for example) in no way implies
a commitment to the scientific method and the scientific habitus. In particular,
the born invert instantiated in the cases, mainly borrowed from Krafft-Ebing,
featuring masculine women with an erotic interest in other women makes a rather
fleeing appearance in Lombrosos text. But most of the space devoted to femalefemale eroticism in the relevant ten pages or so of the current translation features
not modern lesbians or even late nineteenth-century inverts or Urnings but rather
two entities of much older provenance. These are tribade and tribadism. A few
words about the history of this now forgotten word are necessary before turning to
Lombrosos own use of it.
The tribade, in ancient Greek culture, was the woman who challenged the
hierarchy thought to be inherent in sex as such by assuming the masculine position
in her erotic life. She did not possess anything like a distinct sexual identity; her
rebellion was a social and political one, the same as that of a male slave daring to
take the active role in sexual encounters. But with the rediscovery of ancient Greek
texts in the Renaissance, the word tribade became available to describe femalefemale eroticism, now seen not so much as a challenge to hierarchy as such but
rather to gender roles (Laqueur 1990).
Tribade and tribadism seem to have been used in French sources much
more than in English sources, and not just in the French erotic novels constantly
denounced by English scientists.6 Whether Lombrosos preference for these terms
is due to his reading of French sources or to an autonomous Italian philological
development I cannot tell, but the French connection, whether determinative or
not, is certainly present.


Mariana Valverde

In the chapter under discussion, German sexology is treated with much respect,
but pride of place goes to a wonderful book never translated into English
produced in the 1830s by the indefatigable public health doctor A.J.B. ParentDuchatelet, who, after gaining public renown with his rational plan for the sewers
of Paris, turned his attention to what he called moral sewage, namely, prostitution.
Parent-Duchatelet painstakingly collected information about 5,000 prostitutes,
mainly from police, prison officials, philanthropic ladies, and the medical authorities who tested women and gave out licenses. Most of what Lombroso says about
prostitutes penchant for tribadism is taken from this massive book. However,
Lombroso uses Parent-Duchatelets data to arrive at the opposite conclusion as he
did with Krafft-Ebings data on female sexual perversion.
Parent-Duchatelet is a careful scientist of the 1830s, that is, in the natural history
mold: thus, one of his key concerns is to compare subspecies of prostitutes. He
shows that Paris prostitutes who come from the provinces are demographically
distinct from native-born women, and he performs careful calculations that show
that the average age at which women enter the trade differs by geography and by
social and family condition. But Paris prostitutes being divided mainly into official
brothel workers, on the one hand, and filles libres or freelancers, on the other,
his investigation of female-female eroticism has as its key research question whether
tribadism is more prevalent in brothels or among freelancers (Parent-Duchatelet
1857, vol. I, 1602).
Tribades as a group and tribadism as a practice are not sharply differentiated,
incidentally; living in a time just before degeneration and well before psychology,
for him all illicit sex is a matter of vice, habit, and customs. Vice is visible; vice
can be described, and its incidence mapped onto the streets of the city. In the early
Victorian paradigm of vicious customs the paradigm that gave us Henry Mayhews
compendium of London slum characters eroticism appears not as the truth about
the self (Foucault 1980) but rather as but one part of the social-moral life of the
underclasses. Asking if a particular relationship is evidence of homosexual behavior
or of homosexual identity would not make sense. The discourse of the vices and
habits of the urban nomads and exotic slum dwellers deconstructs (or ignores) the
binary opposition of act vs. identity that became so crucial in the 1890s.
Parent-Duchatelet states that the vast amount of information he has about
brothel life information based on the constant inspections carried out by his own
Bureau of Public Hygiene suggests tribadism is relatively rare. The only form
of tribadism one regularly finds in brothels, he states (giving numerous examples),
consists in fictive marriages, often between the madam of a brothel and a younger
woman. These relations take place mainly in middle age or old age and are mainly
about love and support. Insofar as a sexual activity is concerned, Parent-Duchatelet
tells us that sex between women, rare among young brothel workers, is by contrast
very common among freelance prostitutes. Why? Because they are the ones that
go to prison (since they are liable to prison terms, not for prostitution itself, of
course, but for operating without a license). Prisons are the breeding grounds of
that historically specific form of eroticism that is tribadism.

Lombrosos criminal woman


Havelock Elliss work on criminality repeats some of the Parent-Duchatelet findings (significantly using the by then anachronistic word tribade in doing so). And
yet, Ellis is known to us mainly as the most important sexologist in the English
speaking world, and specifically as the English-speaking writer who provided perhaps the most comprehensive description of female sexual inversion (Chauncey
1989, 91; see also Bland 1995, 2567). Even more rigorously than Krafft-Ebing,
Ellis turned away from the quasi-anthropological documentation of vicious or
criminal behavior in the slums in order to pursue the study of inner sexual identity (mainly among the educated). And unlike Krafft-Ebing, he had an evident
sympathy for those individuals he encountered (mainly in his friendship circles,
significantly, rather than in asylums or even in private medical practice) who said
that they had been born different, born inverts.
Elliss work on sexual inversion is primarily concerned with the Oscar Wilde
type and its female equivalent; in it we read about the inner moral struggles of
educated men and women who fought with their demons and had their whole
sense of self rendered criminal by the law (Ellis and Symonds 1897). To that extent
it is an excellent example of modern sexology. But it is absolutely crucial to the
effect that this work had on later sexology and later sex radicalism,7 I argue, that
Ellis suddenly states that he will not discuss the information he has about same-sex
erotic behavior in prisons. Now, the scientifically careful Ellis would be the last
person one would expect to discard a whole field that had in the past produced
much data on deviance of every kind, including tribadism. But thats exactly
what he does:
In prisons and lunatic asylums in Europe, homosexual practices flourish among
the women fully as much, it may probably be said, as among the men. There
is indeed some reason for supposing that these phenomena are here even more
decisively marked than among men. Such manifestations are often very morbid, and doubtless often very vicious: I have no light to throw upon them and I do
not propose to consider them.
(Ellis and Symonds 1897, 82; emphasis added)
Why does Ellis refuse to even consider a sizeable collection of data which he
had himself used in his work on criminals?
In this paragraph we can see a key switch point in the genealogy of European
knowledges of deviance. At the time Ellis might not have known just why it felt
wrong to include prison perversion tales in his work on inversion. But with the
benefit of hindsight we can see that Elliss exclusionary move foreshadows what
would happen in the course of the following two or three decades. From the 1910s
and 1920s onward, expert knowledge of prisons and of working class deviance
generally would take a diverging path, and result in the formation of the criminology of the 1930s and 1940s, the criminology of the Gluecks Five Hundred
Delinquent Women. Such works (as Rafter and Gibson point out in the introduction)
are curiously out of step with the advances of twentieth-century sexology and


Mariana Valverde

In the mid-twentieth century, women offenders continued to be examined

by a criminological gaze concerned with menstruation (and tattoos, another
hobby horse of physical anthropology). But educated masculine women with a
taste for lesbianism (the ladies who in Lombrosos text are thrown in, pell-mell,
with the prison inmates), disappear from criminological discourse. Correspondingly, scientific and sex-radical knowledges of born inverts proceeded as if Vita
Sackville-West, Gertrude Stein, and Radclyffe Hall exemplified the lesbian identity
as such rather than a particular kind of upper-class lifestyle.
The educated invert who can write her or his own story in eloquent prose, and
who, while always afraid of being blackmailed (see McLaren 2002), does not feel
like a criminal and is rarely treated as a criminal is nowhere to be found in Elliss
Lombroso-influenced discussion of criminality. Elliss criminal women include
Parent-Duchatelet and Lombrosos tribades, but not the middle- and upper-class
proto-lesbians of Elliss own pioneering work on sexual inversion.
Female-female eroticism among uneducated women in prisons (and among
prostitutes) was left for future criminologists to investigate. There seemed to be
absolutely nothing in common between possibly perverse women of the lower
classes, on the one hand, and the Gertrude Stein-type lesbians who traveled in literary and artistic circles. This largely class-based break in the history of knowleges
of female deviance would have long-lasting consequences on both sexology and

Knowledges of sexuality and the history of criminology

The history of criminology has been written as a more or less self-contained story
in which one theory of crime replaces another. This method (which reads into
the past the highly specialized division of academic labor that we have today) is
firmly rejected in David Garlands important Punishment and Welfare (Garland 1985).
Garland locates the rise of criminology in is actual context, that is, a time in which
eugenic projects to improve the race, psychological projects to identify and treat
mental illness, and political experiments with social welfare and social security,
which were not then very distinct from one another, in turn surrounded and shaped
the emerging discourses and practices regarding crime and criminals. Eugenics,
criminal justice reforms regarding habitual offenders and inebriates, and early social
welfare measures are properly seen as branches of a single tree a tree that I would
like to label with the admittedly ambiguous double title, social defense/social
One important branch of the social defense/social hygiene project, and one that
is barely mentioned in Garlands ambitious work, is that concerned with the study
and management of sexualities and sexual desires. This branch is not made up of
sexology only. Todays scholarship tends to suggest that contrary to Foucaults
presentation of sexology as the modern discourse on sexuality, sexology was
only one and not always the most important element in a knowledge network in
which claims about sexual desire and sexual identity (and the often undifferentiated

Lombrosos criminal woman


question of gender identity) preoccupied many people and institutions not primarily concerned with sex. This is as true in regard to lesbianism as in regard to
homosexuality. Laura Doans groundbreaking book shows that claims about femalefemale eroticism were deployed in the England of the First World War to discredit
the self-appointed womens police force led by Mary Allen; to attempt to sink a
1920 Criminal Law Amendment Act mainly concerned with child abuse; to further a right-wing campaign against German sympathizers including Mrs Asquith;
and to ridicule (straight) womens fashion experiments (Doan 2001). If governing
urban order, colonial order, gender relations, and personal character can be done
through alcohol (Valverde 1998, 2000), so too the importance of sexual discourses as a dimension of contemporary politics lies in the fact that much has been
governed through sexuality.
I could now end with a ringing call, in the traditional feminist rhetorical style
that begins the last paragraph of the article with the phrase, We must . . .; for
example, criminologists must begin to take the history of sexuality into account.
But it is my hope that I do not need to climb on any soapbox. It is my hope that
by locating Lombrosos comments on tribades and sapphists in the context of the
history of sexual discourses, the paper itself has persuaded you that including the
history of sexuality within the purview of criminological research and teaching will
not only add to our education but will change the way we understand discourses
of crime and deviance.

1 When I say women of science I do not mean only the first generation of women physicians; I include intellectuals like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams, and Beatrice
Webb, who were not medical or natural scientists but used scientific paradigms and (in
Webbs case especially) scientific research methods. For more on first-wave feminism and
scientific knowledges of sexuality and race, see Valverde 1992 and Valverde 2000.
2 The discourses on the contemporary lesbian identity (envisaged as largely psychic and
largely unrelated to physiology) that emerged in the late 1920s in England and France and
somewhat earlier in Germany rarely mention physiological factors at all, but when they
do the interest is more in heredity or internal processes that would later come to be called
hormonal. Measuring the skins sensitivity to pain or pleasure would not have been seen
as relevant to understanding lesbianism in this modern sense. [cites Doan, Faderman,
DEmilio and Freedman . . .]
3 The late nineteenth century Larousse Grande Dictionnaire Universel defines tribade as
femme dont le clitoris a pris un dveloppement exagr et qui abuse de son sexe, a
definition that highlights anatomy, not psychic identity. Tribadism is then defined as
habitudes vicieuses des tribades, a definition very much in keeping with Lombrosos
ambiguous usage. The modern OED does not capture this genealogy at all. Giving
sixteenth-century France as the site of the modern (non-Greek) invention of the term,
it defines a tribade as a woman who engages in sexual activity with other women;
a Lesbian. Two citations are given, the first from Ben Jonson (1601), Light Venus . . .
with thy tribade trine, invents new sports, a quote that does not shed much light on
the anatomy vs. psychic identity debate, and the second a quote from Havelock Elliss


Mariana Valverde

work on criminality. In the quoted passage, discussing the prevalence of tattoos among
convicts, Ellis states that such emblems are common among pederasts and tribades. It is
impossible to determine whether Ellis chose somewhat obscure Greek words instead of
homosexual and lesbian in order to avoid obscenity charges and/or to exclude readers without a classical education (elsewhere in the same text Ellis gives long racy quotes
from Lombrosos collection of prison graffiti in Italian only, explicitly to exclude all but
the highly educated readers) or whether he is simply using Lombrosos own antiquated
usage because that was the book in front of him as he penned those words.
In his chapter Sexual inversion in women, Havelock Ellis has a very long footnote
which begins with Diderots well-known racy novel La religieuse, in which unnatural vices
in convents are described so as to fuel anticlericalism, and ends with the fin-de-siecle
degenerate writings of Swinburne, Guy de Maupassant, Zola, Lamartine, and Verlaine
(Ellis and Symonds 1897, 78, n1). This arguably literary tradition is said to have spawned
a large number of novels, which I have not read, and some of which are said to touch the
question with considerably less affectation of propriety. As is well known, Elliss attempt
to be scientifically inclusive and mention all representations of female sexual inversion,
while still maintaining English propriety by claiming that his reading of French erotic
writing was limited to works of higher rank, failed: Elliss work (said in the first edition
to be co-authored with Elliss recently deceased friend John Addington Symonds) was
prosecuted as obscene and its distribution was halted, despite Elliss careful precautions
(e.g. prior publication in medico-legal journals of most of the chapters in the book).
This may have been the story that Radclyffe Hall had in mind when she has the heroine
of her famous 1928 lesbian novel The well of loneliness, Stephen Gordon (who had been
encouraged to dress and act as a boy by a foolish but scientifically learned father) shown as
going into her fathers library, taking Krafft-Ebings volume from the shelf, and suddenly
(in a flash of lightning, as Lombroso would say) seeing her inner truth, her sexual identity,
in black and white. On Halls use of Krafft-Ebing see Doan 2001.
The most thorough study of lesbian life in the mid-twentieth century, based on numerous
oral histories and paying close attention to language issues, does not find tribade or
tribadism being used by women themselves or by authorities talking about lesbians.
The authors themselves occasionally use tribadism as a neutral academic synonym for
what their informants called dyking (Kennedy and Davis 1993).
The impact of Elliss work on sexual inversion in England itself was somewhat delayed,
due to the prosecution of the first edition, but hundreds of self-described inverts of both
sexes who read in the newspapers about the prosecution wrote to Ellis (Bland 1995, 262)
and may well have sought out the somewhat later US edition.

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