Identity, Crime and Legal Responsibility in Eighteenth-Century England


With their reputations or lives at stake, ordinary men and women in the Eighteenth Century presented their complex emotions and passions as grounds for acquittal or mitigation of punishment. To account for their criminal behaviour and to excuse it, they claimed a space between the coherent self and the insane self: the 'displaced' self. This language had complicated implications within the context of sensibility and the concern with the self that was so distinguishing a characteristic of the Eighteenth Century. English legal culture struggled not only to contain and to direct the 'ungovernable passions' but also to define the integrated, controlled, and controllable self: what scholars would later call the modern subject. The insights about self and subjectivity generated by this study contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state and look toward the impact of these developments on the formation of Britain as a nation. By combining social, cultural, and legal history this study reveals the subtleties of the relationship between emotion, responsibility, gender, class and citizenship in the Eighteenth Century and their concrete implications for real people.

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