'by force and against her will': Rape in law and literature, 1700-1765

McDonnell, Danielle (2016) 'by force and against her will': Rape in law and literature, 1700-1765. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This thesis examines the relationship between fictional depictions of rape and legal and social realities between 1700 and 1765, and argues that these contexts are essential to reconstruct contemporary understandings of rape in this period. Rape was presented differently in legislation, legal texts, trials and literature, reflecting the varied ideas of what constituted a rape. The research begins by asking why the statutory definition of rape was inconsistent with legal practice, and how clear the legal conventions of rape were in contemporary society. This leads to a series of case studies investigating why Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett and Samuel Richardson were interested in rape, how their depictions of rape relate to legal realities and were informed by their own legal knowledge, and what form of interpretation the authors invite. The geographical focus on London is occasioned by the selection of trials, largely heard at the Old Bailey, and texts published in London, but acknowledges the wider national readership for the texts and trials, which were often reported in the press and/or published. The historical parameters reflect the decline in standardized legal education and increased reliance on legal texts from 1700, and the lack of a significant contemporary legal treatise to guide interpretations of statutory and common law until the publication of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769).

This study contributes to existing scholarship on rape in the eighteenth century. Criticism in this area has begun to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to this subject. This thesis combines legal and non-legal sources to inform its analysis, suggesting that critical approaches need to use a wider range of sources to reconstruct the context in which contemporary portrayals of rape were situated. Part two of this thesis offers new readings of canonical works, showing how Pope, Defoe, Richardson, Smollett and Fielding engaged with wider contextual legal discourse in their works, and explores their reasons for doing so. These case studies assert the importance of legal and social contexts, offer new ways of interpreting rape in literature, and show that literary authors negotiated and presented ideas of rape in a variety of ways in their texts, influencing public perceptions of the nature and illegality of such acts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M200 Law by Topic
Q200 Comparative Literary studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Becky Skoyles
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2018 11:19
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2022 15:30
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/36207

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