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Wounded Feelings: Litigating Emotions in Quebec, 1870-1950, Montreal, Quebec
Having our feelings hurt is something most people first encounter as very young children.
In Wounded Feelings, Eric Reiter traces that intimate experience – given a more adult shape in forms such as shame, disgrace, bodily intrusion, betrayal, grief, anger and fear – through Quebec’s court system from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
Marrying legal history to the history of emotions is innovative in and of itself: this is the first legal history of emotions in Canada.
As he examines the ways Quebeckers’ hurt feelings were articulated and judged in the public court system, Reiter highlights the role of individual emotions in shaping communal life, as well as the difficulties of accommodating emotion-based claims to existing legal language and concepts not devised for them.
By the end of his period he also exposes a telling shift (with implications for our own time) to legal claims articulated not in terms of injured feelings but rather of violated rights.
Reiter’s use of sources is strong and judicious; the arguments he draws from them are admirably cohesive. He delves deep into judicial case files, producing a study that richly evokes the emotional turmoil of plaintiffs and defendants in Quebec courts.
Yet this focus on the intimate details of his subjects’ lives is balanced by a careful attention to the broader social landscape of Quebec: representative cases are situated within the context of contemporary understandings of family, gender, class, language, race, and emotions themselves.
A beautifully written, thoughtful, and mature work, Wounded Feelings will have a powerful influence on future studies of Canadian society, culture, emotions, and jurisprudence.
The Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Scholarly Research is administered by the Canadian Historical Association.