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Before Borders

A Legal and Literary History of Naturalization

An ambitious revisionist history of naturalization as a creative mechanism for national expansion.

Before borders determined who belonged in a country and who did not, lawyers and judges devised a legal fiction called naturalization to bypass the idea of feudal allegiance and integrate new subjects into their nations. At the same time, writers of prose fiction were attempting to undo centuries of rules about who could—and who could not—be a subject of literature. In Before Borders, Stephanie DeGooyer reconstructs how prose and legal fictions came together in the eighteenth century to dramatically reimagine national belonging through naturalization. The bureaucratic procedure of naturalization today was once a radically fictional way to create new citizens and literary subjects.

Through early modern court proceedings, the philosophy of John Locke, and the novels of Daniel Defoe, Laurence Sterne, Maria Edgeworth, and Mary Shelley, DeGooyer follows how naturalization evolved in England against the backdrop of imperial expansion. Political and philosophical proponents of naturalization argued that granting foreigners full political and civil rights would not only attract newcomers but also better attach them to English soil. However, it would take a new literary form—the novel—to fully realize this liberal vision of immigration. Together, these experiments in law and literature laid the groundwork for an alternative vision of subjecthood in England and its territories.

Reading eighteenth-century legal and prose fiction, DeGooyer draws attention to an overlooked period of immigration history and compels readers to reconsider the creative potential of naturalization.

About the Author

Stephanie DeGooyer (CHAPEL HILL, NC) is assistant professor and Frank Borden Hanes and Barbara Lasater Hanes Fellow in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the coauthor of The Right to Have Rights.

Endorsements

"DeGooyer has a distinctive voice in making provocative and important arguments about nation and narrative in the long eighteenth century. Before Borders is a book of genuine brilliance."

- Jonathan Kramnick, Yale University, author of Paper Minds: Literature and the Ecology of Consciousness

"Before Borders achieves what the best criticism seeks to do: it enables us to see familiar works from a fresh perspective, making the results seem glaringly obvious after they have been pointed out. DeGooyer's treatment of legal history is sophisticated, and her new readings of Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein present a powerful analysis of debates over immigration and the staging of its logic in the eighteenth century."

- Simon Stern, University of Toronto, coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Law and Humanities

"Before Borders is a luminous and persuasive account of a forgotten dimension of legal history in which naturalization does not involve assimilation. DeGooyer has an enviable gift for historical narrative, and her revisionist account of the early novel as working analogously with naturalization law adds to the critical vocabulary of world literature."

- Deidre Shauna Lynch, Harvard University, author of Loving Literature: A Cultural History

"Before Borders tells a compelling story about the role of naturalization in English law and novels of the eighteenth century. DeGooyer's arguments lend support to the notion that the nationalist responses to today's refugee crisis are not inevitable given the longer arc of Anglo-American history."

- Bernadette Meyler, Stanford Law School, author of Theaters of Pardoning
Johns Hopkins University Press
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November 8, 2022
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November 8, 2022
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