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Victorian Fiction and the "What If?" Theory: Heritage and Inheritance in Daniel Deronda
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2012 (English)In: Partial Answers, ISSN 1565-3668, Vol. 10, no 1, 29-47 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The laws and the literature of a society both express and influence the attitudes and norms of its members. The law, however, has a conservative function, while literature can work to change opinions and, in the longer run, legal systems. This essay argues that legal discourse possesses an inherent narrative potential, giving rise to fictional stories that serve to investigate and expose the effects of particular laws. Like many other novels, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda seems to construct its plot on the basis of the reiterated question “But what if…?” exploring social and moral implications of inheritance law, in particular the principle of primogeniture. The two major strands of Eliot’s double plot, with Gwendolen Harleth and Daniel Deronda as the protagonists, together with the subplots involving a series of minor characters, embody four areas concerned with this theme: gambling; the duties that come with heritage; illegitimacy; and the conditions of women associated with a system based on privileging a male heir. By pressing the aesthetic effect of thematic recurrence as well as an element of readerly unease into the service of the ethical, this novel makes a powerful statement on the subject of inheritance. It may have contributed to social and political change, and counteracted the preserving effect of the law.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 10, no 1, 29-47 p.
National Category
Languages and Literature
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-76728ISI: 000299711700003OAI: diva2:527341
1Available from: 2012-05-20 Created: 2012-05-16 Last updated: 2012-05-20Bibliographically approved

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Wajngot, Marion Helfer
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