Wai Chee Dimock


The contemporary Law and Literature movement has revolved around a central question, the question of interpretation, offered not only as its analytic focus but also as its conjectural problematic: as a well-defined point of convergence between the two disciplines. In this essay I want to explore a different point of convergence, somewhat less well-defined, marked not by the overlapping concerns of legal and literary hermeneutics but by the interlocking relations of legal and literary history. This focus-on the historical and historically shifting relations between law and literature--opens up a different set of questions: questions about the alignment of institutions within a cultural order, about the evolving boundaries between adjacent domains, and about the possibility of residual formations supplementary to emergent ones. Focusing more specifically on the nineteenth-century novel, on its language of gender - a language not only robustly punitive on the subject of female virtue, but also robustly figurative in its ability to shadow forth the broadly prescriptive within the narrowly punitive - I analyze this signifying latitude both as a residual supplement to the contracting boundaries of the criminal law and as an index to the more general problems of polity and morality in the transition from classical republicanism to modern liberalism.