Law & Literature Pub Date : 2021-04-07 , DOI: 10.1080/1535685x.2021.1902636 Beth Cortese, Julie Hastrup-Markussen, Ross Deans Kristensen-McLachlan
Abstract, This article compares the agency of heiresses with that of male heirs in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels focused on inheritance to investigate whether heiresses faced more restrictions on their financial and personal freedom compared with other characters from the period due to their fortune. We test James Thompson’s claim that “inheritance is enabling or authorizing for male protagonists and disabling for female protagonists” using computational analysis of a corpus of twenty-nine novels and combine our results with close reading of the novels from our corpus. We found that the representation of heiresses’ and heirs’ agency varies according to genre. Heiresses had more agency than expected, this was especially the case for heiresses in gothic fiction. We noticed a decline in the agency of male heirs in the nineteenth century compared with the eighteenth century, while the agency of other character types such as unmoneyed characters appears to increase.