The Stain of Illegitimacy: Gender, Law, and Trollopian Subversion

Martha C. Nussbaum

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI:
The Stain of Illegitimacy: Gender, Law, and Trollopian Subversion

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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)


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Illegitimacy is both legal disability and social stigma. In pre-Victorian and Victorian Britain, the two impediments were mutually reinforcing: legal exclusions imposed on “bastards” a debased social status, supporting and compounding varied forms of discrimination. And moral opprobrium directed at the child who is the fruit and evidence of a sinful sexual union was among the motivations for imposition of legal penalties. This chapter examines these social/legal stereotypes and their subversion in Anthony Trollope's novels through an analysis of Ralph the Heir (1872) and Dr. Thorne (1858), It argues that Trollope's primary contribution to law lies not in his ruminations on this or that statute, but rather in a more general critique of Victorian society that his treatment of illegitimacy suggests.

Keywords: illegitimate children; Victorian Britain; bastards; social status; legal exclusion; discrimination; Anthony Trollope

Chapter.  12594 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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