1st Edition

The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Law and Literature
Estate, Blood, and Body

ISBN 9781138261846
Published November 29, 2016 by Routledge
302 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

Cheryl Nixon's book is the first to connect the eighteenth-century fictional orphan and factual orphan, emphasizing the legal concepts of estate, blood, and body. Examining novels by authors such as Eliza Haywood, Tobias Smollett, and Elizabeth Inchbald, and referencing never-before analyzed case records, Nixon reconstructs the narratives of real orphans in the British parliamentary, equity, and common law courts and compares them to the narratives of fictional orphans. The orphan's uncertain economic, familial, and bodily status creates opportunities to "plot" his or her future according to new ideologies of the social individual. Nixon demonstrates that the orphan encourages both fact and fiction to re-imagine structures of estate (property and inheritance), blood (familial origins and marriage), and body (gender and class mobility). Whereas studies of the orphan typically emphasize the poor urban foundling, Nixon focuses on the orphaned heir or heiress and his or her need to be situated in a domestic space. Arguing that the eighteenth century constructs the "valued" orphan, Nixon shows how the wealthy orphan became associated with new understandings of the individual. New archival research encompassing print and manuscript records from Parliament, Chancery, Exchequer, and King's Bench demonstrate the law's interest in the propertied orphan. The novel uses this figure to question the formulaic structures of narrative sub-genres such as the picaresque and romance and ultimately encourage the hybridization of such plots. As Nixon traces the orphan's contribution to the developing novel and developing ideology of the individual, she shows how the orphan creates factual and fictional understandings of class, family, and gender.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: the valued orphan: law and literature; Part 1 Estate: The poor orphan: factual/fictional institutions and statutory law; The propertied orphan: public/private papers and Parliamentary Acts. Part 2 Blood: The male orphan plot: fictionalizing the family in Annesley v. Anglesey; The female orphan plot: rewriting and rereading the family in Palmer v. Palmer. Part 3 Body: The confined orphan: ravishing guardians and the heiress' marriage plot; The mobile orphan: charitable bodies and the gentleman's picaresque; Conclusion: the valued individual: estate, blood, and body; Bibliography; Index.

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Cheryl Nixon is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her publications on eighteenth-century literature, law, and the family include Novel Definitions: An Anthology of Commentary on the Novel, 1688-1815.


'Combining original research with thorough and highly nuanced analysis, this is the first full-length scholarly study specifically to address not only fictional representations of the orphan in the eighteenth-century novel, but the lived experiences of individuals who came to be recognised legally, institutionally and culturally as ’orphaned’ in this period. This illuminating interdisciplinary study will be of considerable value to students and scholars of eighteenth-century literature, social history and law.' Sue Chaplin, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK ’Nixon’s study is a valuable addition to recent work on the family in eighteenth-century Britain. It is interdisciplinary in scope, known novels as well as the cases of real-life orphans. Its thesis is well argued and well supported...’ New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century 'Berenguier has written an informative and readable book which makes a useful contribution to our growing knowledge of the ’woman question’ in the eighteenth century.' Journal of Childhood in the Past '... Nixon offers an important contribution in her consideration of those who remain central to the socio-economic axis despite their orphan status. Nixon’s work significantly enhances our understanding of eighteenth[-Century] culture and society adding a valuable dimension to the study of the orphan figure.' Children’s Books History Society Newsletter