The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel

The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel

The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel

The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel

Synopsis

This interdisciplinary study of legal and literary narratives argues that the novel's particular power to represent the interior life of its characters both challenges the law's definitions of criminal responsibility and reaffirms them. By means of connecting major novelists with prominent jurists and legal historians of the era, it offers profound new ways of thinking about the Victorian period.

Excerpt

There is not much of a coherent plot in Oliver Twist, and what there is does not drive the novel. a child, soon to be orphan, is born to a destitute mother who dies shortly thereafter. the mistreated boy falls into the hands of criminals but is later saved by a gentleman who, we later discover, was a friend of the boy's wellish-to-do father, and Oliver is reclaimed by this man and his newly discovered aunt, an angel into whose life he has previously dropped (through a window). For the most part, the plot is propelled by the game of lost and found Dickens plays with Oliver, a device that moves Oliver back and forth from good hands to bad, and Dickens plays the game more than once. About halfway through the novel, Oliver drops out of our sight almost entirely (and happily since we don't really miss him), and Dickens attends to other characters, all criminal—Nancy, Fagin, Sikes, Monks—and their relations with and to the upstanding citizens in the book. a good deal of plot exposition happens in the space of a couple of chapters near the end of the novel in which Mr. Brownlow interrogates Monks, formerly Edward Leeford, Oliver's half-brother. Throughout, Dickens is able to launch attacks on the New Poor Law, on the summary justice of a bitterly (but not unamusingly) cruel magistracy, and various other issues of the day.

All of this is well and good, but much of our interest in Oliver Twist is in character, in who Nancy and Bill Sikes and Fagin are. But more than this, Dickens invites us to pay close attention to the dramatically realized relations between their character and their conduct. the novel's plot necessarily moves as a result of the actions of these figures, yet the movements of the plot sometimes feel like afterthoughts. While some readers of Oliver Twist may remain involved in the question of Oliver's origins and his rightful inheritance, one . . .

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