restricted access 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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chapter five 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 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 of the public good. In keeping with this development, liberals and radicals interested in land reform increasingly made the argument that property rights in land could only be allotted by the state. Because of the precedent of the Irish land acts and agitation for land reform within Britain, this logic also seeped into discussions of copyright protection for intellectual property. Proponents for limited copyright reasoned that just as the state might have the right to reassign ownership of land for the public good, so too might the state have the right to limit individual property in copyright for the sake of a wider public domain. This idea of the public domain—a space in which the state intervenes in order to suspend the rules of private property—preoccupies the two authors I examine in this chapter. George Moore’s Drama in Muslin (1886) and George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways (1885) both imagine a space of ideas that can 168 The Dispossessed State belong to no one individual as a space of salvation for their two heroines. But the two also tell their stories against the backdrop of Irish agitation for land rights. In doing so, I argue, both authors respond to proposals of Home Rule made in the same years. Both Meredith and Moore came out explicitly in support of Home Rule, and their preoccupation with the public domain suggests one way they might imagine even that measure as a sacrifice without the threat of a real loss. After all, when an author gives up property in his or her ideas, the sacrifice is one that leads to a fuller community access, one from which even the author is not barred. Both Moore and Meredith imply that giving up Ireland to Home Rule simply will make Britain like an author out of copyright. Ireland will persist as a part of the intellectual ether of Britain, regardless of its immediate political configuration. By seeing Ireland as always in the British public domain, the authors envision Ireland’s connection to Britain as always presided over by the British state, a state that limits individual property rights in order to protect a public domain belonging to everyone. Land and Copyright Jordanna Bailkin, in her work on the early-twentieth-century development of the concept of cultural property, notes that the years 1870–1914 marked a radical unsettling of “ideas about the relationship between property and citizenship in Britain” (11). She points out as a symptom of this shake-up the founding of citizens’ groups devoted to redefining or reforming land law— the Liberty and Property Defence League (founded in 1882), the Free Land League (founded in 1885), the Land Law Reform League (founded in 1880), the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (founded in 1882), the Land Nationalization Society (founded in 1880), the English Land Restoration League (founded in 1883). For Bailkin’s purpose, the formation of these groups mark a crucial moment in art history. Their activism toward redefining property rights in land, she argues, contributed to an environment in which one could think of a nation claiming property rights in cultural objects originating within its borders. Lobbying for the preservation of commons, the creation of urban public spaces, the abolition of primogeniture, the creation of a central land registry, or the retrenchment of landlord duties, their land-based activism, as Bailkin suggests, created the preconditions for new conceptual approaches to culture as collective property. At Home in the Public Domain 169 The moment Bailkin identifies is one in which the concept of property was pulled in two directions in the United Kingdom. More strictly defined as entirely individual and freely alienable in English law, property in land under Irish law became more susceptible to dual interests and dual ownership. The United Kingdom had witnessed several legislative interventions that insisted on the absolute and individual nature of property rights. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 affirmed, even...


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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