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"Unspeakable crimes": Charles Brockden Brown’s Memoirs of Stephen Calvert and the Rights of the Accused

Edwards JD (2009) "Unspeakable crimes": Charles Brockden Brown’s Memoirs of Stephen Calvert and the Rights of the Accused. Law and Literature, 21 (2), pp. 214-233.

This article considers, from a contextual and poststructuralist perspective, due process in The Memoirs of Stephen Calvert by the early American novelist (and trained lawyer) Charles Brockden Brown. Brown’s writing, the article suggests, participates in the thematic and rhetorical interface between law and literature. For although his fiction is fragmentary and nightmarish, moving from gothic cities to treacherous frontiers, the narration of transgressions and the law remain constant tropes. Thus, lawyers, conmen, criminals, and doppelgangers appear and reappear in works such as Stephen Calvert. The article focuses on how Brown puts the principles of the rights of the accused on trial in this posthumously published novel, for characters are identified as criminals in clear violation of the Fifth Amendment, which requires an articulation of the charges that are brought against the accused. In this, Stephen Calvert poses considerable legal questions: How are charges articulated? How are they presented in narrative form? And what happens when crimes are said to be “unspeakable”? The interrogation of these questions is highly significant in a new nation that is said to uphold due process of law.

gothic; Charles Brockden Brown; due process; American fiction; eighteenth century; history and criticism

Law and Literature: Volume 21, Issue 2

Author(s)Edwards, Justin D.
Publication date31/12/2009
Publication date online19/12/2013
PublisherTaylor and Francis
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