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Vagrant FiguresLaw, Literature, and the Origins of the Police$
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Sal Nicolazzo

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780300241310

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300241310.001.0001

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The Novel and the Sexuality of Vagrancy

The Novel and the Sexuality of Vagrancy

(p.72) Chapter Two The Novel and the Sexuality of Vagrancy
Vagrant Figures

Sal Nicolazzo

Yale University Press

This chapter examines the role of vagrancy law in regulating the affective, sexual, reproductive, and domestic lives of the English poor. It traces vagrancy's appearance at the margins of both the novel and the marriage plot across a series of texts, including Jane Barker's Patchwork Screen for the Ladies (1723), Sarah Scott's Millenium Hall (1762), and, most centrally, Henry Fielding's The Female Husband (1746). Fielding, as novelist, magistrate, and major eighteenth-century theorist of police, is at the center of the chapter, which reads his figuration of vagrancy as a kind of sexuality that disrupts labor-discipline, marriage, and legitimate inheritance. At the same time, Fielding's text and the archival records of policing that surround it reveal how one might take vagrancy as a category of analysis for transgender history, since the construction of the sexed body as metonym for juridical identity developed through a nexus of policing, surveillance, and transatlantic print culture for which vagrancy was a foundational legal category. Finally, through readings of Scott's Millenium Hall and Mary Saxby's posthumously published Memoirs of a Female Vagrant (1806), the chapter shows that literary histories of sexuality look profoundly different if one centers the parish rather than the family as the field of analysis.

Keywords:   vagrancy law, English poor, vagrancy, marriage plot, Henry Fielding, police, sexuality, transgender history, policing, transatlantic print culture

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