Neighbourly Injuries: Proximity in Tort Law and Virginia Woolf’s Theory of Suffering
25 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2012 Last revised: 24 Nov 2014
Date Written: March 3, 2012
2012 marks the 80th anniversary of Donoghue v Stevenson, a case that is frequently cited as the starting-point for a genealogy of negligence. This genealogy starts with the figure of the neighbor, from which, as Jane Stapleton eloquently describes, a “golden thread” of vulnerability runs into the present (Stapleton 2004, 135). This essay examines the harms made visible and invisible through the neighbour figure, and compares the law’s framework to Virginia Woolf’s subtle re-imagining and theorisation of responsibility in her novel Mrs Dalloway (1925). I argue that Woolf critiques and supplements the law’s representations of suffering. Woolf was interested in interpreting harms using a framework of neighbourly responsibility, but was also critical of the kinds of proximities recognised by society. Woolf made new harms visible within a framework of proximity: in this way, we might think of Woolf’s work as theorizing a feminist aesthetic of justice, and as providing an alternate genealogy of responsibility to Donoghue v Stevenson.
Keywords: Donoghue v. Stevenson; Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, law and literature, feminist ethics, feminist aesthetics, middle-distance responsibility
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