The Letter and the Law, or How Caroline Norton (Re)Wrote Female Subjectivity

Nicole Fluhr, Southern Connecticut State University
Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 2009), 37-55

This essay focuses on a largely overlooked aspect of Caroline Norton’s work: her writing’s powerful, if indirect, critique of the social codes according to which women were read. Analyzing the use of letters as plot elements, this essay argues that Norton’s writing figures epistles as metonyms for women, first identifying and then exploding the ways in which letters and female subjects are characterized by a shared relation to the literal. Norton’s use of the epistolary mode is two-fold: she suggests that interpretations of women (whether as legal subjects, as social actors, or as fictional characters) need to become more sophisticated, nuanced, and figurative, breaking the hoary link between women and the body. Concomitantly, her work insists that women must learn to navigate the realm of discourse with increasing authority and competence. Only then can female subjects be seen to be constituted—and constitute themselves—not only by their bodies but also by words.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]