Equitable Constructions: Literature, Law, and the Invention of English Public Life


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Junior Faculty Fellow named award


An obsession with the origins of law haunts later Stuart England. After years of violence and orthodoxy, a generation of writers turns to literature as the most commanding instrument for introducing equity into public life. Equity is the method of judgment that honors the spirit of the law as intended by its framers, and in Restoration England it is the core of a new theory of fiction intended to address the broadest possible audience. Imagining an English public capable of complex moral judgment, literary writers ask their audience to evaluate the original intent of laws, states, and nations. I argue that the literary investment of subjects with equitable judgment prepares a climate in which the rights-bearing individual may become the normative ideal of English citizenship.