Thursday, July 15, 2010

LAW IN LITERATURE: Victorian and Edwardian literature

Catherine O. Frank,

Law, literature, and the transmission of culture in England, 1837-1925

Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, 2010, 258 pp.

ISBN: 9780754698647

Focusing on the last will and testament as a legal, literary, and cultural document, Frank examines fiction of the Victorian and Edwardian eras alongside actual wills, legal manuals relating to their creation, case law regarding their administration, and contemporary accounts of “curious wills” in periodicals.

Her study begins with the Wills Act of 1837 and poses two basic questions: What picture of Victorian culture and personal subjectivity emerges from competing legal and literary narratives about the will, and how does the shift from realist to modernist representations of the will accentuate a growing divergence between law and literature?

Frank’s examination of works by Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, Samuel Butler, Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, and E.M. Forster reveals the shared rhetorical and cultural significance of the will in law and literature. Her study also highlights the competition between these discourses to structure a social order that emphasized self-determinism while at the same time viewing individuals in relationship to the broader community.

Her study contributes to our knowledge of the cultural significance of Victorian wills and creates intellectual bridges between the Victorian and Edwardian periods that will interest scholars from a variety of disciplines who are concerned with the laws, literature, and history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Part I

Writing the Will: Introduction: novel bequests

Writing the will: Victorian testators and legal culture

Writing the novel: Victorian testators and literary culture

Part II

Proving the Will: Victorian daughters and the burden of inheritance

Edwardian sons and the burden of inheritance redux.

Part III

Contesting the Will: Broken trusts: Cy Près, fiction and the limits of intention

Fictions of justice: testamentary intention and the illegitimate heir


Works cited


Cathrine O. Frank is associate professor of English at the University of New England, USA.

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