Samuel Richardson and the Law
Peter Sabor and Betty A. Schellenberg, eds., Samuel Richardson in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 231-38 (ISBN: 9781107150126)
12 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2017 Last revised: 1 Nov 2017
Date Written: June 5, 2017
This chapter discusses the forensic mentality that pervades Samuel Richardson's novels, his correspondence, and his writings about fiction. Scholars have explored numerous doctrinal contexts in which Richardson's novels address legal issues including marriage, rape, inheritance, citizenship, copyright, and liability for accidents. This chapter extends that discussion by asking how his fiction, and his writings on fiction, engage with the logic of the case, understood both as an example that may set a precedent, and a specific instance that illustrates a general principle. Although Richardson held out both his characters and his novels as exemplifying general laws, when pressed about their exemplary status he repeatedly defended them by stressing their unique individuality, effectively undercutting his claims about their precedential significance. We see a similar pattern when he complained about the Dublin booksellers who reprinted his last novel, Sir Charles Grandison (1753), without authorization. Treating their conduct as an affront to "the Cause of Literature, in general," Richardson held out his own very unusual case (as someone who was both a successful novelist and a printer of his own novels) as exemplifying the harms of literary piracy.
Keywords: Samuel Richardson, fiction, law and literature, copyright
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