Narrative Form and the Trial of Character in Early America
This chapter argues that the early American novel destabilized traditional republican conceptions of virtue and credibility through literary form. The shared epistemological forms and narrative structures of texts such as James Wilson's Lectures on Law and Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn show that legal theorists repeatedly rely upon the distinct realm of aesthetic judgment to decide the truth of legal and historical facts. Situating both the novel and the Anglo-American theories of evidence in relation to Enlightenment theories of natural language, the chapter claims that Brown's work is an exemplary of the migration of procedures for ascertaining historical facts from the sphere of law to that of the novel.
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