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Women, Crime, and CharacterFrom Moll Flanders to Tess of the D'Urbervilles$
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Nicola Lacey

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199544363

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199544363.001.0001

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‘Don't go to murder my character’: criminal responsibility in the age of Moll Flanders

‘Don't go to murder my character’: criminal responsibility in the age of Moll Flanders

(p.1) CHAPTER I ‘Don't go to murder my character’: criminal responsibility in the age of Moll Flanders
Women, Crime, and Character

Nicola Lacey

Oxford University Press

The demise of Moll Flanders and her supersession in the annals of literary female criminality with less powerful figures like Tess of the D'Urbervilles is set up as a framework for unravelling a long-standing debate about changing patterns and understandings of female criminalisation from the early 18th to the late 19th Centuries. This chapter presents a view of 18th Century criminal justice as focused primarily on external markers of conduct and character, within a broad environment which was in transition between pre-modern and modern conceptions of selfhood. It hypothesises a gradual transition from character-based responsibility attribution to practices geared to the investigation of individual capacity and internal psychological states. It relates this transition to not merely the modernization of the criminal process but also broader social changes such as the development of a capitalist economy, urbanization, changing conceptions of selfhood and identity, and emerging problems and technologies of proof. A case is made for regarding the realist novel as a particularly useful form of contemporary evidence of these developments.

Keywords:   criminal responsibility, character, female criminality, realist novels, credibility, proof, identity

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