The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Law and Literature: Estate, Blood, and Body, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Law and Literature

Estate, Blood, and Body, 1st Edition

By Cheryl L. Nixon


302 pages

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Paperback: 9781138261846
pub: 2016-11-15
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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.


'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

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.

About the Author

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.

About the Series

Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present

Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present

This series recognizes and supports innovative work on the child and on literature for children and adolescents that informs teaching and engages with current and emerging debates in the field. Proposals are welcome for interdisciplinary and comparative studies by humanities scholars working in a variety of fields, including literature; book history, periodicals history, and print culture and the sociology of texts; theater, film, musicology, and performance studies; history, including the history of education; gender studies; art history and visual culture; cultural studies; and religion.

Topics might include, among other possibilities, how concepts and representations of the child have changed in response to adult concerns; postcolonial and transnational perspectives; "domestic imperialism" and the acculturation of the young within and across class and ethnic lines; the commercialization of childhood and children's bodies; views of young people as consumers and/or originators of culture; the child and religious discourse; children's and adolescents' self-representations; and adults' recollections of childhood.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature