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Harm's Way

Tragic Responsibility and the Novel Form

Sandra Macpherson's groundbreaking study of the rise of the novel connects its form to developments in liability law across the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. In particular, Macpherson argues for a connection to legal principles of strict liability that hold persons accountable for harms inflicted upon others in the absence of intention, consent, direct action, or foreknowledge. In convincing polemical readings of Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, she shows that these laws share with the novel the view that the state of a person's mind is irrelevant to the question of her responsibility for her actions. Macpherson urges readers to rethink the ancient consensus that the novel differs from tragedy in its elevation of character over plot. She concludes that the realist novel is ultimately a tragic form, committed to holding persons accountable for accidents of fate.

Macpherson's original insights continue to have a broad and lasting impact on the study of the novel.

About the Author

Sandra Macpherson is an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University.

Reviews

"Original, intelligent, fluent readings . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"A wholly original approach to the relation between law and literature, [Harm's Way] will change the way we think about and teach some of these canonical works of fiction."—Times Literary Supplement

"Macpherson bears down intensely on several hard-won and difficult abstractions, including cause, intention, and meaning. To the degree to which we are accustomed to thinking through our most important literary-theoretical categories via a history of the novel, Harm's Way is a must read."—Studies in English Literature

"Macpherson presents a feminist argument of profound integrity and conviction. Harm's Way compels us to appreciate form not as an aesthetic or structural category but as a guarantor of justice, a way of attributing responsibility that, by divesting liability of mitigating intention, preserves the 'purely material' facticity of women's harm."—Modern Philology

"This is a most thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It puts most other attempts to rewrite Rise of the Novel to shame."—Scriblerian

"It is at once disturbing, exhilarating, and challenging. Where it succeeds, it dazzles, and where it falls short, it still demands, and deserves, our careful attention."—AMS Press

"A thoughtful, innovative, and important study of eighteenth-century fiction."—Review of English Studies

"Harm's Way is a tremendous achievement that advances the fields of eighteenth-century studies and novel studies in remarkable and exciting ways."—Deidre Lynch, University of Toronto

"Two books have been written in the last decade that revise fundamentally our idea of fiction and its relation to civil society. Victoria Kahn's Wayward Contracts is one; this is the other. There have been many studies of the connection between law and literature, but none as finely calculated as Macpherson's for the eighteenth-century novel."—Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University

The Johns Hopkins University Press

9780801893841 : harms-way-macpherson
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256 Pages
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256 Pages
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