Monday, January 10, 2011

Anglo-American Literature & Law




Marshall, Bridget M. Maeshall
The transatlantic gothic novel and the law, 1790-1860
Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT
2010, 214 pp.
ISBN: 9780754669951


Tracing the use of legal themes in the gothic novel, Bridget M. Marshall shows these devices reflect an outpouring of anxiety about the nature of justice. On both sides of the Atlantic, novelists like William Godwin, Mary Shelley, Charles Brockden Brown, and Hannah Crafts question the foundations of the Anglo-American justice system through their portrayals of criminal and judicial procedures and their use of found documents and legal forms as key plot devices. As gothic villains, from Walpole's Manfred to Godwin's Tyrrell to Stoker's Dracula, manipulate the law and legal system to expand their power, readers are confronted with a legal system that is not merely ineffective at stopping villains but actually enables them to inflict ever greater harm on their victims. By invoking actual laws like the Black Act in England or the Fugitive Slave Act in America, gothic novels connect the fantastic horrors that constitute their primary appeal with much more shocking examples of terror and injustice. Finally, the gothic novel's preoccupation with injustice is just one element of many that connects the genre to slave narratives and to the horrors of American slavery.

Contents:
Introduction: legal tangles and Gothic trappings
Things are not as they should be: the legal system in William Godwin's Caleb
Questioning the evidence of bodies and texts in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Reading unreadable texts and bodies: Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly
Slave narrative and the Gothic novel: Hannah Craft's The Bondwoman's Narrative
Closin arguments
Bibliography
Index.

Bridget M. Marshall is assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA.
De la misma A. vid. también, "Narrative justice: The gothic and the law in Anglo-America, 1790--1860" (January 1, 2004). Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst. Paper AAI3152727. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3152727
Abstract
In nineteenth-century Britain and America, the form of the gothic novel, popularly known for its use of supernatural horror, elaborate framing narratives, and stereotypical villain-versus-maiden characters and plots, frequently wrestled with ethical dilemmas arising from uncertainty about the nature of justice. Gothic novels engage with legal issues and forms in both their plots and formal structures, revealing trans-Atlantic nineteenth-century social anxiety about the nature of justice. Gothic novels feature repeated incidents of innocents who are wrongfully imprisoned, punished, and otherwise victimized by the villain through the power of a callous, incompetent, or sham court, revealing authors' and audiences' concerns about the legitimacy and status of the justice system. In their elaborate meta-textual form, often involving confessions, legal documents, testimonies, and items put forward as "evidence" directly for the reader, gothic novels set up a forum with a possibility for a new kind of justice. Far from being merely the realm of the supernatural, or a masochistic fantasy, the gothic provides an imaginary world where authors and audiences experience the horrors of injustice from a safe distance and contemplate a more perfect means to justice. The only source of true justice in these novels is not the legal judiciary system, but the narrative (or poetic) justice provided by the author and/or reader through the narrative's frame. British and American gothic novels, as well as American slave narratives that rely on gothic conventions, engage our interest in fictional, terrorizing, horrifying stories in part to bring us to a consideration of more important, non-fictional situations in the real world, particularly around issues of social justice. The novels included in this study--William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799), and Hannah Crafts' The Bondwoman's Narrative (c.a. 1855-1861)--engage with the flaws of the legal system, portraying the real horrors of contemporary institutional injustices. The gothic's focus on the dark aspects of the human experience allowed an imaginary space for readers and writers to contemplate the possibility for justice in the real world.

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