Neither Lye Nor Romance: Narrativity in the Old Bailey Sessions Papers
Cosner, Jr., Charles Kinian
ENGLISH “NEITHER LYE NOR ROMANCE”: NARRATIVITY IN THE OLD BAILEY SESSIONS PAPERS CHARLES KINIAN COSNER, JR. Dissertation under the direction of Professor John Halperin This study examines the ways in which the Old Bailey Sessions Papers operate as narrative and are given meaning through specific intertextual relationships with a variety of factual, fictional, and legal texts of the seventh and eighteenth centuries. The Sessions Papers are journalistic accounts of common felony trials (as set down and compiled by shorthand reporters), before there was any official report of such cases. The study shows ways in which the Sessions Papers can be read as literature and particular instances where legal reports are incorporated into literature itself. The Sessions Papers as “stories for sale” are situated in the context of what has been traditionally termed the rise of the eighteenth-century British novel. Specific literary texts and novels discussed in detail include John Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747-48), and Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751). Specific relationships of these texts to contemporary Sessions Papers are explored. This study contains an extensive analysis of the Sessions Papers from July 1742 of the murder trial of James Annesley and Joseph Redding for the homicide of Thomas Egglestone. Contemporary press coverage and other popular accounts dealing with the inheritance claim of James Annesley are examined to explicate the expectations of contemporary readers of the Sessions Reports. The incorporation of the trial narrative into Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle indicates ways in which these legal texts were (mis)read by contemporary novelists. Through an examination of the ways in which factual legal reportage and literary discourse share tropes and rhetorical strategies, the traditional boundary between “fact” and “fiction” is shown to be both fluid and amorphous. By showing the provisionality of these basic narrative classifications, the study challenges traditional assumptions concerning the rise of the novel in Britain.