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Stones of Law, Bricks of Shame

Stones of Law, Bricks of Shame: Narrating Imprisonment in the Victorian Age

  • Book Info
    Stones of Law, Bricks of Shame
    Book Description:

    Studying the ways in which writings on prisons were woven into the fabric of the period, the contributors to this volumen consider the ways in which these works affected inmates, the prison system, and the Victorian public.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8920-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
    Jan Alber
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    In nineteenth-century Britain, imprisonment was a matter with which few were unacquainted, either as the debtors’ prison many knew from personal experience, or the penal institution whose reform was a rather obsessive concern of quite a few respectable gentlemen, or the place of confinement so present in many Victorian novels (and poems). A discourse on imprisonment dominated the public sphere for decades – a discourse that manifested itself in both a great number of tracts on prison conditions and some of the most important literary works of the time. While previous studies of the history of imprisonment have largely concentrated on...

  5. 1 Victims or Vermin? Contradictions in Dickens’s Penal Philosophy
    (pp. 25-45)

    Charles Dickens wrote extensively about imprisonment and wrongdoing. Murder, misdeeds, and jails feature in all fourteen of his novels. Bloodshed lies at the heart of his unfinished fifteenth, which would have concluded in the condemned cell had Dickens lived to complete it. Travel to the United States with him in 1842 and follow a tourist trail that missed no opportunity to visit state and federal penitentiaries. A year abroad in Italy two years later documents similar interests. Dickens met men fighting for Italy’s independence and inspected prisons in France, Switzerland, and Italy. Even a public beheading in Rome made its...

  6. 2 New Prisons, New Criminals, New Masculinity: Dickens and Reade
    (pp. 46-69)

    The opening of Gissing’sThe Nether World, set some ten years earlier than its publication date of 1889, is in Clerkenwell Close, in London’s working-class Clerkenwell area. Gissing’s fascination with the prison shows his debt to Dickens. The image of madness staring from the gateway, as if sayinglasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrateto entrants to its netherworld, who are already, however, in the netherworld of London poverty, makes the prison motif dominant, productive of extremities of behaviour. The allegorical figure, a solitary face, the body cancelled out, is a reminder of the Michelangelesque statues of Melancholy and Raving Madness...

  7. 3 Facing a Mirror: Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug and the Politics of Imperial Self-Incrimination
    (pp. 70-88)

    Critics generally agree that Philip Meadows Taylor’s 1839Confessions of a Thug– the most popular and ideologically influential Anglo-Indian novel of the nineteenth century – constitutes a paradigmatic expression of liberal imperialism, a meditation upon the cultural, political, and psychological tensions between a Western self and an Indian Other. The former assistant superintendent of police in the Nizam in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Taylor presents his novel, which is based on his experience interrogating captured Thugs, as the jailhouse confession of Ameer Ali, a notorious north Indian Thug, who gives a vivid account of his life and the 719...

  8. 4 ‘Now, now, the door was down’: Dickens and Excarceration, 1841–2
    (pp. 89-111)

    By the time Charles Dickens published these lines in April 1850, it may have been true that he, like his country, had ‘nothing to do’ with the ‘old profligate Gaols.’ Yet nine years before, Dickens had issuedBarnaby Rudge, a novel animated by the destruction of the typically ‘profligate’ Newgate Prison in 1780. Equally, along with many other commentators on penal policy, Dickens knew that in the 1850s the ‘old abuses’ still existed despite reforms, alongside many new abuses caused by reforms. Dickens’s parentheses are therefore disingenuous: he seems to acknowledge and repress the awareness that while new prisons appeared...

  9. 5 Irish Prisoners and the Indictment of British Rule in the Writings of William Makepeace Thackeray and Anthony Trollope
    (pp. 112-133)

    In chapters 31–2 ofPendennis, Pen and his friend Warrington visit an Irish prisoner, the journalist Captain Charles Shandon, who has just completed the prospectus for a new journal. According to Shandon, thePall Mall Gazettewill be written by and for ‘the gentlemen of England’; in it, ‘the old laws and liberties of England’ will be defended by the descendants of those who signed ‘the deed which secured our liberties at Runnymede.’¹ Shandon is constructing a false pedigree for his journal, the principal contributor to which will be Shandon himself, not an English gentleman, but an Irishman familiar...

  10. 6 The Poetics of ‘Pattern Penitence’: ‘Pet Prisoners’ and Plagiarized Selves
    (pp. 134-153)

    In ‘Pet Prisoners,’ the leading article that appeared inHousehold Wordson 27 April 1850, Dickens resumed his polemic with the advocates and the practitioners of the so-called separate system of prison discipline, a polemic he began inAmerican Noteswith a poignant description of his visit to the Philadelphia Eastern Penitentiary in March 1842. In the article, Dickens rehearsed the arguments that were to reappear seven months later in chapter 61 of the final, November, instalment ofDavid Copperfield(1849–50). This chapter, in which David, on a prison tour, is shown two ‘interesting penitents’ who turn out to...

  11. 7 Prisoners and Prisons in Reform Tracts of the Mid-Century
    (pp. 154-170)

    Visiting a prison brings with it a troubled blend of emotions: sympathy mixed with understanding that sympathy can be too easy; the conditioned reflex of those who are fortunate in the presence of those who are unfortunate; the knowledge that some of those who are imprisoned would or could be dangerous company in a different setting; awareness that one has at least imagined doing things that could have meant living behind the bars and walls topped with razor wire that are the grim insignia of incarceration; a sense that, whatever the deprivations of prison, the regimen imposes an order and...

  12. 8 Great Expectations, Self-Narration, and the Power of the Prison
    (pp. 171-190)

    Of all Charles Dickens’s fictional returns to the prison, none is at once as seductive and enigmatic asGreat Expectations. No other Dickens novel is so dominated by prisons, though he wrote of them obsessively during thirty-four years as a novelist. From the opening scene on the marshes to Pip’s final return to Satis House, literal and figurative prisons brood over the novel, shaping its action, scarring Pip’s narrative, and makingGreat Expectationsinto a protracted account of the guilt engendered by the cell. YetGreat Expectationsis also the novel in which Dickens’s interest in the prison is least...

  13. 9 From ‘Dry Volumes of Facts and Figures’ to Stories of ‘Flesh and Blood’: The Prison Narratives of Frederick William Robinson
    (pp. 191-212)

    At the heart of this essay lies a methodological question: how do we write a history of non-elite people, and, more specifically, nineteenth-century female convicts? The embodied knowledge of women (and men for that matter) in nineteenth-century prisons remains largely unrecorded, due to a number of factors – illiteracy and the generally low cultural capital among prison inmates, who mainly came from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds; but also the cultural sanctioning of certain forms of (institutionalized) knowledge over others. Michel Foucault’sDiscipline and Punishfamously explores how institutional discourses produce criminal subjectivities, rather than how criminal subjects experience disciplinary mechanisms or how...

  14. 10 The Sensational Prison and the (Un) Hidden Hand of Punishment
    (pp. 213-232)

    The terms on which much recent work about prisons and prison writing is structured are, implicitly or explicitly, confined by Foucault’s analysis of the transformation from public to private punishments at the end of the eighteenth century, and his argument that this change is symptomatic of a transformation in dominant notions of subjectivity from the embodied to the docile subject. More specifically, this is a change from a notion of identity defined – and regulated or controlled – by its exterior relations to a heightened sense of a selfregulated interiority that is nonetheless created within a diffuse ideological matrix characterized by surveillance...

  15. 11 Prisons of Stone and Mind: Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima and In the Cage
    (pp. 233-255)

    Aptly described in Joseph Conrad’s phrase as the ‘historian of fine consciences,’¹ Henry James has heretofore been little associated with Victorian prisons and penitentiaries.² Therefore, James’s explicit exploration of carceral spaces and tropes inThe Princess Casamassima(1886) andIn the Cage(1898) represents an area of critical oversight that deserves investigation. Explicating imprisonment in these two works reveals larger preoccupations in James’s oeuvre, including an awareness of how mental sequestration can be caused by class divisions and social prejudices as well as by perceptual limitations.

    ThePrincess CasamassimaandIn the Cageinstance James’s political fiction. More explicitly than...

  16. 12 Epilogue: Female Confinement in Sarah Waters’s Neo-Victorian Fiction
    (pp. 256-278)

    The revival of things Victorian has become the subject of a substantial number of contemporary novels. Current practitioners of the neo-Victorian novel (also known as retro-Victorian or post-Victorian) include Matthew Kneale, Peter Ackroyd, A.S. Byatt, Graham Swift, and Sarah Waters, among many others.¹ To varying degrees, they are fascinated with the Victorian age and pay homage to Victorian ancestors in their historical narratives.² Whatever the reason that lies behind their interest in resurrecting the Victorian past, these contemporary fiction writers are using Victorian themes, personages, and literary texts to provide their novels with a credible Victorian texture; and in doing...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 279-282)
  18. Index
    (pp. 283-289)