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The Dispossessed State

Narratives of Ownership in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland

Sara L. Maurer

Publication Year: 2012

Do indigenous peoples have an unassailable right to the land they have worked and lived on, or are those rights conferred and protected only when a powerful political authority exists? In the tradition of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, who vigorously debated the thorny concept of property rights, Sara L. Maurer here looks at the question as it applied to British ideas about Irish nationalism in the nineteenth century. This book connects the Victorian novel’s preoccupation with the landed estate to nineteenth-century debates about property, specifically as it played out in the English occupation of Ireland. Victorian writers were interested in the question of whether the Irish had rights to their land that could neither be bestowed nor taken away by England. In analyzing how these ideas were represented through a century of British and Irish fiction, journalism, and political theory, Maurer recovers the broad influence of Irish culture on the rest of the British isles. By focusing on the ownership of land, The Dispossessed State challenges current scholarly tendencies to talk about Victorian property solely as a commodity. Maurer brings together canonical British novelists—Maria Edgeworth, Anthony Trollope, George Moore, and George Meredith—with the writings of major British political theorists—John Stuart Mill, Henry Sumner Maine, and William Gladstone—to illustrate Ireland’s central role in the literary imagination of Britain in the nineteenth century. The book addresses three key questions in Victorian studies—property, the state, and national identity—and will interest scholars of the period as well as those in Irish studies, postcolonial theory, and gender studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

The ideas in this book were fostered at Indiana University, under the intelligent and generous guidance of Andrew H. Miller, Patrick Brantlinger, Deidre Lynch, and Janet Sorenson. There too, Purnima Bose and Eva Cherniavsky first sparked my interest in colonial and postcolonial issues in literature. And in teaching me to teach writing, Christine Farris and Kathy O. Smith taught me...

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pp. 1-18

The nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in thinking about property that was also a revolution in thinking about the state. The commonsense understanding of property at the opening of the century might be read in Thomas Macaulay’s 1833 argument for a coercive enforcement of order in Ireland: “[Mr. Macaulay] thought there was no situation in the life of a public man more painful...

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1. Disowning to Own: Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Fiction and the Illegitimacy of National Ownership

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pp. 19-54

Maria Edgeworth’s reputation has been tied persistently, if contradictorily, to property. Edgeworth is well known for declining to express a sense of ownership over her own writing. Her refusal stems in part from Edgeworth’s close collaboration with her father. He often assigned her topics and themes upon which to write and was heavily involved in editing her work. At least once, in...

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2. The Forbearance of the State: John Stuart Mill and the Promise of Irish Property

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pp. 55-88

Outside of a shared interest in thinking about property relations in Ireland, John Stuart Mill bears at least one other resemblance to Maria Edgeworth. Like Edgeworth he voiced doubts about the extent to which he might be seen as having produced his own writing. In his Autobiography (1873), Mill emphasizes the exceptional nature of his intellectual development, which leaves him unsure of...

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3. Native Property: Young Ireland and the Irish Land Acts in the Victorian Proprietary Landscape

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pp. 89-132

Both Mill and Edgeworth used the specificity of the Irish situation to imagine how property in Irish land might come to be a unifying rather than an atomizing force, a force that would bring people together even as it barred the state from its precincts. But they employed two competing narratives of property, whose radically different implications made the concept of property itself unstable in...

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4. The Wife of State: Ireland and England’s Vicarious Enjoyment in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Novels

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pp. 133-166

The famine that was so catastrophic for the Irish proved perversely fruitful for the aspiring social commentator—especially the aspiring social commentator on land ownership. Close to the same time when John Stuart Mill was propounding his theories about the need for peasant proprietorships in Ireland and when Young Ireland were articulating their demands for a national ownership of Ireland,...

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5. At Home in the Public Domain: George Moore’s Drama in Muslin, George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways, and the Intellectual Property of Union

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pp. 167-205

By the 1880s, British thinking about property had largely transitioned from an assumption that property was a right that existed prior to the law to an assumption that property rights were created and defined by law. Commentators on a wide range of issues showed an increasing acceptance of the idea that the state might create, reassign, or even entirely extinguish rights to property, in the name...

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pp. 206-210

In The Prime Minister, Sir Alured, the present baronet of “a handsome old family . . . whose forefathers had been baronets since baronets were first created” (113), solemnly instructs his nephew and heir, Everett Wharton, on protocol for allotting property to tenants: “‘I do like the farms to go from father to son, Everett. It’s the way that everything should go. Of course, there’s no...


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pp. 211-221

Works Cited

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pp. 223-235


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pp. 237-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781421404509
E-ISBN-10: 1421404508
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421403274
Print-ISBN-10: 1421403277

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 793012724
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Dispossessed State

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Property in literature.
  • Land tenure -- Government policy -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Land tenure -- Government policy -- Ireland -- History -- 19th century.
  • English fiction -- Irish authors -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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