Sublime Rascals
: Legal Narratives in Victorian Fiction

  • Joanne Simpson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The law holds up a mirror to society and reflects that society and its ongoing preoccupations. As such, the law is reflected in the literature of the age, and the way in which the literature is constructed directly reflects public interactions with the legal system. This thesis sets out to establish legal interpretation as a mode of literary interpretation, aimed at contextualising the opinions, and wider sociological background, of a work of literature within the context of the law of its period. This discussion examines the inherent role of the law in the construction of the narrative in the literature of the nineteenth century. From the approach to the operation of jurisprudence and legal application, to the prosecution of the poor, the criminological approach to moral panics and the use of the affirmative defence to mitigate women within society, this thesis explores the ways in which the authors of the period used the novel form as a way of challenging and critiquing the legal operating model of the world in which their characters found themselves. It determines that the authors of the period used the novel as a means of critiquing the nature of the role of the law within society, its impact upon the general public, and the reciprocity which exists between legal ideals and the society which manifests those ideals through thought and action.
Date of AwardMar 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJan Jedrzejewski (Supervisor) & Katherine Byrne (Supervisor)


  • Law
  • Legal
  • Jurisprudence
  • Dickens
  • Eliot
  • Collins
  • Conan Doyle
  • Gaskel
  • Bronte
  • Braddon
  • Crime
  • Punishment
  • Insanity
  • Poverty
  • Courts

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