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date: 31 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores some legal and literary ramifications of “accident” in British law and society from the late eighteenth through the early twentieth century. This period saw changes in common law and legislation relating to accidents, including the emergence of negligence as a distinct tort and statutory provisions for employer liability and workplace compensation. The chapter turns on the institution of the deodand, a common-law rule that allowed inquest juries to assess liability for accidental deaths caused by non-humans. After such entities began to include industrial machines, the deodand was abolished by Parliament in 1846. Examining legal-historical cases and norms alongside literary-cultural representations, the chapter claims that the deodand’s disappearance, and concurrent transition to fault liability regimes, marked a loss in the understanding of accident. If the nineteenth-century emergence of modern accident law tended to simplify accidents into surrogates for human interaction, the deodand qua institution grasped how reckoning with accidents demands an alertness to human entanglement with non-human causality. Literary representations of vehicular accidents afford a glimpse of what was coming to be lost in this changing legal-cultural dispensation. From Thomas De Quincey to Thomas Hardy to E. M. Forster, the complex non-human, material, and affective dimensions of accident dissipate into the background, where they continue to supply narrative and formal motivation even as they leave human obligations and institutions in the light.

Keywords: British literature, accident law, negligence, liability, deodand, non-human, affect, Thomas De Quincey, Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster

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