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The Estate, the Corpse, and the Letter: Posthumous Possession in Clarissa

From: ELH
Volume 74, Number 1, Spring 2007
pp. 117-143 | 10.1353/elh.2007.0006


Reading Clarissa as a philosophical ghost story, this essay focuses on three sites of contested ownership: the landed estate, the heroine's corpse, and the letters themselves. Each case allows Richardson to pursue the paradoxical notion of inalienable property, especially the inalienable property in the self, beyond the grave; and each case is the occasion for a struggle not just among living characters, but also between the living and the dead. Joining the corporation of the dead, Clarissa forges a ghostly and perpetual version of selfhood that, in its incorporeal and immortal nature, is allied with eighteenth-century notions of literary property.

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