Last wills and testaments create tensions between those who inherit and those who imagine that they should inherit. As Victorian, modern, and contemporary novels amply demonstrate, seldom is more energy expended than at the reading of a will. Whether inheritances bring disappointment or jubilation, they create a pattern for the telling of stories, stories that involve the transmission of legacies - cultural, political, and monetary - from one generation to the next. Troubled Legacies examines these narratives of inheritance in British and Irish fiction from 1800 to the present.
The essays in this collection set out to juxtapose legal and novelistic discourse. This reading of literature against law produces intriguing and often provocative assertions about the specific relationship between novels and inheritance. As the contributors argue, novels reinforce property law, an argument bolstered by the examples of women, workers, Jews, and Irishmen dispossessed of their rights and unable to claim their cultural inheritances. Troubled Legacies thoroughly examines the connection between narrative and claims to legal entitlement, a topic that has not, to date, been comprehensively broached in literary studies.
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Allan Hepburn is an associate professor in the Department of English at McGill University.