Character, Evidence, and Advocacy: Representing Reality in Nineteenth-Century Law and Literature

Jen Nicholson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

364 Downloads (Pure)


The 1836 Prisoners’ Counsel Act afforded all prisoners the right to full legal representation. Thereafter, the focus of felony trial proceedings shifted from the accused’s character to the forensic scrutiny of evidence by advocates for both sides. This thesis examines the ways in which novels which focused on the presentation and revelation of character remained committed to a character-focused model of representation and how, conversely, writers of sensation and detective fiction began to appropriate the adversarial-evidentiary representational practices which flourished in criminal courts post-1836, and endorsed them as an alternative and more effective means of representing reality. In this way the thesis presents a new analysis of how methods of representation employed in the courtroom impacted on nineteenth-century literary representational practices. Particular focus is given to work by Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Ellen Wood, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Previous studies have either focused on how nineteenth-century law and literature competed to create accurate representations of reality, or have examined how the distinction between testimonial and circumstantial evidence presented literature with alternative models of representation. By contrast, this thesis argues that the competition over the matter of representation occurred within both law and literature rather than simply between them, and that the two opposing models of representation offered to literature by the law were not based on a distinction between opposing types of evidence, but rather on a distinction between character-focused and evidentiary-reasoning models of representation. In its reconsideration of how courtroom representations interacted with and influenced nineteenth-century literary representational practices, this thesis offers new readings of some of the most enduringly popular nineteenth-century texts, and constitutes the first examination of the extent to which the introduction of the Prisoners’ Counsel Act helped shape the form and style of nineteenth-century sensation and detective narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gilmartin, Sophie, Supervisor
  • Roberts, Adam, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 22 Jan 2014


  • Sensation Fiction
  • Detective Fiction
  • Nineteenth Century
  • courtroom representations
  • Advocacy
  • Realist novel
  • nineteenth-century novel
  • law and literature

Cite this