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Atonement and Self-Sacrifice in Nineteenth-Century Narrative

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: March 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107507609

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  • Jan-Melissa Schramm explores the conflicted attitude of the Victorian novel to sacrifice, and the act of substitution on which it depends. The Christian idea of redemption celebrated the suffering of the innocent: to embrace a life of metaphorical self-sacrifice was to follow in the footsteps of Christ's literal Passion. Moreover, the ethical agenda of fiction relied on the expansion of sympathy which imaginative substitution was seen to encourage. But Victorian criminal law sought to calibrate punishment and culpability as it repudiated archaic models of sacrifice that scapegoated the innocent. The tension between these models is registered creatively in the fiction of novelists such as Dickens, Gaskell and Eliot, at a time when acts of Chartist protest, national sacrifices made during the Crimean War, and the extension of the franchise combined to call into question what it means for one man to 'stand for', and perhaps even 'die for', another.

    • The fiction of the mid-Victorian period is placed in a new relation to legal and theological debate
    • Victorian theology is explored alongside novels and a variety of legal texts
    • Readers can see how literature of the time, such as the work of Dickens, affected the law-making of the period
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Schramm's work is a significant work for Victorian scholars and all who wish to understand more clearly the political, legal and theological ferment of the nineteenth century and how that is reflected in attitudes to sacrifice and substitution in the Victorian novel.' Peter Stiles, The Glass

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107507609
    • length: 310 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.42kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: (unmerited) suffering and the uses of adversity in Victorian public discourse
    1. 'It is expedient that one man should die for the people': sympathy and substitution on the scaffold
    2. 'Fortune takes the place of guilt': narrative reversals and the literary afterlives of Eugene Aram
    3. 'Standing for' the people: Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and professional oratory in 1848
    4. Sacrifice and the sufferings of the substitute: Dickens and the atonement controversy of the 1850s
    5. Substitution and imposture: George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and fictions of usurpation
    Conclusion: innocence, sacrifice, and wrongful accusation in Victorian fiction.

  • Author

    Jan-Melissa Schramm, University of Cambridge
    Jan-Melissa Schramm is a Fellow in English at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge and an affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches Victorian literature. She worked as a lawyer before undertaking doctoral research in English. She is the author of Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Literature, and Theology (Cambridge, 2000), as well as a number of articles and book chapters on representations of the law in the works of Dickens and Eliot, Victorian satire and first-person narration.

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