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Criminality and the Common Law Imagination (1700-1900) Open Access

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This dissertation explores the relationship between the legal account of criminality and the cultural narratives sustaining it during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It considers how the singular importance of precedent to Anglo-American law resulted in an imagery of historical legitimacy that came to shape the cultural construction of criminality. At a theoretical level, the dissertation moves towards a model for how the cultural memory of crime and punishment contribute to the development and legitimizing of formal legal institutions. The dissertation takes up three case studies in which the common law understanding of some aspect of criminality was in flux during this period and examines how the cultural imagination may have interacted with individual representations to shape the official penological discourse. The first chapter takes up the construction of the criminal person, by examining how the nineteenth century cultural "construction" of childhood as a period of existence theoretically and morally distinct from adulthood impacted the development of a juvenile justice system. The second chapter turns to the question of how the relationship between adultery and English sovereignty in the historical imagination created a quasi-criminal legal discourse surrounding the act of adultery. Finally, the third chapter considers the development of the rules of evidence sufficient to establish criminality by examining literary "proofs" of rape and their relationship to actual trials.

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