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The Children Will Be "Subject to the Infamy of Their Deluded and Unfortunate Mother": Rhetoric of the Courtroom, A Gothic Fantasy and A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor

Marie Hockenhull Smith
Law and Literature
Vol. 18, No. 3 (Fall 2006), pp. 403-430
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Cardozo School of Law
DOI: 10.1525/lal.2006.18.3.403
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/lal.2006.18.3.403
Page Count: 28
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The Children Will Be "Subject to the Infamy of Their Deluded and Unfortunate Mother": Rhetoric of the Courtroom, A Gothic Fantasy and A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor
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Abstract

This article discusses an example of the mutual influence of law, culture and politics, within the modes of the gothic and the sublime. In the context of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century English laws of adultery and of child custody, suppression of the woman's interest was technically justified by the existence of certain formal requirements, or certain presumptions; the resulting environment corresponded to a key trope of the "gothic" novel. That suggests the closeness of the link between such laws, some of which really originated in gothic law, and the development of the literary gothic, generically fascinated by ancestry and fraught with anxiety about the family, sexuality, and power. The core of the argument is an analysis of two texts which relate to a specific example, the rhetoric of the "criminal conversation" adultery action. Charlotte Dacre's notorious novel of 1806, Zofloya, or the Moor, can be read as a reaction, which takes its rhetoric of social damage to a catastrophic extreme. The public letter of crim con "victim" Caroline Norton on the Infant and Child Custody Bill of 1839 attempts the opposite, to reconcile the law's atavism with enlightened ethics and to imagine a sublime resolution without catastrophe.

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