MC’s Locklin-Sofer publishes book about 18th-century murder in France

MC’s Locklin-Sofer publishes book about 18th-century murder in France 

Nov. 12, 2019 

Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer, professor of history at Maryville College, has recently published Murder, Justice, and Harmony in an Eighteenth-Century French Village (Routledge, 2019).

The book, which is available in hardcover and e-book from Routledge as part of the “Routledge Research in Early Modern History” series, is a microhistory that tells of the murder of a woman in the 1700s in a remote part of France.

“In 1718, a young woman named Moricette Nayl fought with her brother’s mother-in-law and accidentally killed her,” according to the book description. “Ruled a homicide, the incident set in motion an investigation, a trial, Moricette's flight from justice, an execution in effigy and, ultimately, the pardon of the killer and her reintegration into the community.”

“Based on the detailed records of the court dossier, this microhistory reveals the social networks of a small town, the history of interpersonal violence, the complex criminal justice system at work, and the power of restoring harmony after a tragedy of this magnitude,” the description continues. “An enduring mystery is the reluctance of those closest to the crime to participate in the legal process. An explanation for their silence sheds light on the turmoil of the criminal justice system in France in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Neither independent feudal lords nor an elite tamed by an Absolutist king, the gentlemen overseeing justice in this place maintained a delicate balance between their personal power and the rule of law. The incident and its aftermath also reveal the bonds that make community possible, even in the face of senseless violence.”

While doing her dissertation research about 20 years ago, Locklin-Sofer came across a folder containing documents related to the case. The documents were unrelated to her dissertation, but she filed the folder away “because the case was haunting,” she said.

She kept coming back to it over the years, doing related conference papers and eventually writing the book during a recent sabbatical. Maryville College alumnus and design major Evan Gambill ’19 drew the maps for the book.

The research process included traveling to France – including a visit to the spot where the murder occurred.

“I traveled to France many times, for this and several smaller projects,” she said. “It was only once I decided to make it the focus of my book that I had to go back and photograph every document in the dossier, as well as travel to stand at the actual spot it happened. I also used parish registers, available online, to track births, deaths, marriages and godparents in order to make a social network analysis of the town.”

Locklin-Sofer used each step in the murder hearing to explore a different aspect of society, so each chapter includes background information on a range of issues, she said.

“It’s a good introduction to academic issues, but I’m a fan of historical true crime books and wanted to make sure it was accessible to a mainstream audience,” she said.

The professor said she could also see applications in the classroom.

“I’m planning a ‘History of Murder’ class for next year, and I could imagine assigning part of the book to my own students,” she said. “However, for such a class, I’d want to highlight research into local murders.”

Locklin-Sofer is a specialist in pre-modern Europe, especially France. Her areas of research include the history of women's roles in the family and the economy.  She is the author of Women’s Work and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Brittany (Ashgate, 2007). Her later work involved women’s property and inheritance rights, the social/emotional networks revealed in notarial contracts, and the status of children born out of wedlock in the 18th century.

She regularly teaches First-Year Seminars and Ancient World surveys; however, her favorite classes revolve around the themes of ancient Rome, medieval love, historical mock trials, witch hunts, and the Enlightenment. The history of gender and family roles is a recurring theme in all her classes.  

Locklin-Sofer to discuss book during Fireside Chat in January

Locklin-Sofer will be the featured speaker during the next “Fireside Chats with Faculty” event on Mon., Jan. 27 from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. at RT Lodge.

The partnership between Maryville College and RT Lodge includes initiatives designed to promote both entities to their respective clients and constituents.

Locklin-Sofer will lead a conversation centered around her areas of expertise and interests: Eighteenth-century law, women's and family history, and telling great stories. There is no cost to attend; however, only 25 spots are available, so reservations are required. To RSVP, please visit and complete the registration form.

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