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Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England

Beyond the Law

Stories of transgression–Gilgamesh, Prometheus, Oedipus, Eve—may be integral to every culture's narrative imaginings of its own origins, but such stories assumed different meanings with the burgeoning interest in modern histories of crime and punishment in the later decades of the seventeenth century. In Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England, Hal Gladfelder shows how the trial report, providence book, criminal biography, and gallows speech came into new commercial prominence and brought into focus what was most disturbing, and most exciting, about contemporary experience. These narratives of violence, theft, disruptive sexuality, and rebellion compelled their readers to sort through fragmentary or contested evidence, anticipating the openness to discordant meanings and discrepant points of view which characterizes the later fictions of Defoe and Fielding.

Beginning with the various genres of crime narrative, Gladfelder maps a complex network of discourses that collectively embodied the range of responses to the transgressive at the turn of the eighteenth century. In the book's second and third parts, he demonstrates how the discourses of criminality became enmeshed with emerging novelistic conceptions of character and narrative form. With special attention to Colonel Jack, Moll Flanders, and Roxana, Gladfelder argues that Defoe's narratives concentrate on the forces that shape identity, especially under conditions of outlawry, social dislocation, and urban poverty. He next considers Fielding's double career as author and magistrate, analyzing the interaction between his fiction and such texts as the aggressively polemical Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase in Robbers and his eyewitness accounts of the sensational Canning and Penlez cases. Finally, Gladfelder turns to Godwin's Caleb Williams, Wollstonecraft's Maria, and Inchbald's Nature and Art to reveal the degree to which criminal narrative, by the end of the eighteenth century, had become a necessary vehicle for articulating fundamental cultural anxieties and longings. Crime narratives, he argues, vividly embody the struggles of individuals to define their place in the suddenly unfamiliar world of modernity.

About the Author

Hal Gladfelder is an assistant professor of English at the University of Rochester.


"It is clearly written and considers texts over a wide historical range."—Lincoln Faller, Albion

"Gladfelder carries through his project in a series of incisive against-the-grain readings."—Victoria Myers, Wordsworth Circle

"Gladfelder has done an excellent job of scholarship. This book will make a mark as one of the most complete books on the relation between criminality and the novel. It is also a very good re-reading of the standard works in the field."—Lennard J. Davis, University of Illinois at Chicago

"An essential analysis of the criminal narratives that became part of the 18th-century English reader's experiences and their influence upon the novels that we continue to read."—Jan Stahl, East-Central Intelligencer

"Smart, thorough, and provocative . . . A unique and valuable contribution to the studies of crime literature and the eighteenth-century novel."—Robert Dryden, Eighteenth Century: Current Bibliography

"This is a fresh and stimulating, often original, deeply intelligent, and almost completely persuasive study."—John J. Richetti, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

9780801875656 : criminality-and-narrative-in-eighteenth-century-england-gladfelder
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296 Pages
$62.00 USD

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