Do 19th Century Writers Regard Criminals as 'Irredeemably Other'?

analytical Essay
2749 words
2749 words

`Nineteenth century writers are fascinated by criminals, but they are content to regard them as socially marginal, congenitally deviant and irredeemably other'. Is this true of the writers you have studied?

Nineteenth century writers have indeed portrayed their criminals as socially marginal, congenitally deviant and irredeemably other, though all of these characteristics are rarely ever used in one character. Many writers have tended to cast their more socially minor criminals in a more redemptive light; one consequence of being socially marginal is, more often than not, the character is less intelligent. French historian, literary critic and philosopher Michel Foucault equated knowledge with power; nineteenth century writers in turn associated that power with corruption. D.A. Miller writes in The Novel and the Police, " Though power thus encompasses everything in the world of the novel, it is never embraced by the novel itself. On the contrary, the novel systematically gives power an unfavorable press. What more than power, for instance, serves to distinguish bad characters from good?" (Miller p.31). Therefore it seems that those in the social mainstream tend to be both congenitally deviant and irredeemably other. However, it is worth noting that there are exceptions to this rule as will be illustrated later. Not everybody in the centre of society need be deviant and irredeemable.

This is not true of the character of Compeyson in Charles Dickens Great Expectations. Compeyson is in the hub of society, a gentleman, Magwitch describes him thus, "He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he'd been to a public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlef...

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...for Beginners. Writers and Readers Publishing inc, New York, 1993.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish The Birth of the Prison. Penguin Books Ltd, London, 1977.

Hardy of the D'Urbervilles. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1983

Miller, D.A., Thomas. Tess The Novel and the Police. University of California Press, London, 1948.

Critical Essays

Claridge, Laura. `Tess: A Less than Pure Woman Ambivalently Presented', New Casebooks: Tess of the d'Urbervilles Ed Peter Widdowson. The Macmillan Press Ltd. London, 1993. p.63-79

French, A.L. `Beating and Cringing: Great Expectations', New Casebooks Great Expectations Ed Roger D Sell. The Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1994. p 41- 59

Tambling, Jeremy. `Prison-Bound: Dickens and Foucault', New Casebooks Great Expectations Ed Roger D Sell. The Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1994. p123-142.

Word Count - 3776

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how magwitch is seen as irredeemably other by the society that shuns him. he does not change between the start and end of the novel, he still breaks the law, and is still violent.
  • Opines that dickens sympathetic treatment of magwitch is not entirely dissimilar to thomas hardy's treatment in tess of the d'urbervilles.
  • Analyzes how hardy redeems tess as dickens redeemed magwitch by portraying her as a 'pure woman' and villainizing alec d'urberville.
  • Analyzes how alec is portrayed as a stage-villain from the moment tess first encounters him. claridge sees this image as disrupted in the latter part of the novel after his conversion'
  • Analyzes how vautrin has no noticeable qualms regarding cold-blooded murder. however, he justifies himself in his own and perhaps even the readers eyes with ever-present sense of fairness.
  • Analyzes how vautrin's opinions make him deviant, but perhaps not congenitally so. he learns his outlook and opinions on the basis of others.
  • Concludes that criminals in the nineteenth century novel cannot be categorised into one or two specific types' since there are exceptions to every rule.
  • Explains balzac, honore de. le pere goriot, w.w. norton and co., 1994, ed. peter brooks, trans. burton raffel
  • Explains foucault, michel, discipline and punish the birth of the prison.
  • Explains miller, d.a., thomas. tess the novel and the police.
  • Argues that nineteenth-century writers are content to regard criminals as socially marginal, congenitally deviant, and irredeemably other.
  • Argues that tess's deviance is congenital. her d'urberville ancestors were both murdered and raped.
  • Analyzes how vautrin, eugene de rastignac's wily antagonist in le pere goriot, transcends many boundaries of society, honour and criminality.
  • Introduces claridge, laura, and french, a.l., in new casebooks: tess of the d'urbervilles ed peter widdowson.
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