This chapter argues that in the late seventeenth century, vagrancy statutes are in formal conversation with the picaresque novel as both genres begin to circulate transatlantically. It contextualizes Richard Head's 1665 novel The English Rogue — widely regarded to be the first picaresque novel written in English — in the rapid expansion of the Atlantic trade in bound servants. The chapter then proposes a new way of understanding the genre of the picaresque and its relation to the law. Scholars of early modern picaresque and its affiliated genres have long noted that the literary figure of the “rogue and vagabond” circulated in popular print before it became a legal category. However, in the late seventeenth century, as vagrancy law became an increasingly important tool for the management of impoverished populations and the distribution of these populations' labor across empire, the chapter reads picaresque not for the singular figure of the rogue, but for the way the genre's narrative structure allows for the conceptualization of populations and geographies.
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