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On trial: Restorative justice in the Godwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelley family fictions.

Fenno, Colleen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) Dissertation. Marquette University.

William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary and Percy Shelley wrote during an era of democratic possibility and intense legal and penal reforms, when changes to criminal justice procedures were adopted that would have far reaching consequences, even for contemporary practices. Their fictions – Caleb Williams (1794), Maria: Or the Wrongs of Woman (1798), Frankenstein (1818), Falkner (1837), and The Cenci (1818) – raise questions and seek answers to questions at the heart of these reforms: What happens to individuals falsely accused of a crime without the resources to defend themselves? What happens to victims of crimes associated with guilt or shame or who suffer from crimes unacknowledged by the justice system? If direct testimony doesn’t guarantee truth, then what good is it? Should criminal procedures seek retribution, deterrence, reform, rehabilitation, or perhaps restoration?

Proceeding chronologically through their texts, my project considers the ways that this literary family addressed these questions. I use the contemporary notion of restorative justice as my frame, attempting to place their works within their own historical eras as well as reflect on how they underscore issues that may be pertinent and pressing – though different – today. Uniquely colliding with both an era of criminal justice reform and an age of democratic revolution, I argue their fictions advocate for individuals disenfranchised from the justice system and imagine alternative models of justice. They imagine criminal procedures that prioritize the victim’s, the accused’s, and the community’s participation in often complex and convoluted truth-seeking processes. They envision outcomes that attempt to repair harm through dialogue, accountability, and consideration of social disparities, rather than merely punishing offenders or deterring individuals from committing future crimes. I suggest, finally, that motivated by a similar desire for equitable, participatory, and restorative conditions, their fictions offer strategies for imagining justice that are both historically progressive and currently relevant. (author’s abstract)


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