This essay argues that Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit (1843) challenges the legal justifications underpinning Sergeant Talfourd's 1842 Copyright Extension Act. The novel does so by problematizing the logic of natural right, a logic adopted by proponents of copyright to defend further copyright extensions. Martin Chuzzlewit's narrator attacks natural right through his representations of inheritance, repeatedly demonstrating how heirs subvert and appropriate testators' natural rights, and thus proving natural right to be a subjective, and even fictional, construct that can be adopted in potentially unjust ways. By destabilizing the logic of natural right, the narrator exposes the ways in which promoters of copyright employed inheritance as a metaphorical tool that allowed them to rationalize copyright extensions, and, in so doing, he threatens the institutions of inheritance, copyright, and authorship. Such a radical critique of intellectual property places Martin Chuzzlewit's narrative voice in conflict with Dickens's political persona and Dickens's avowed political aims, ultimately harming Dickens's, and other authors', own interests. In accounting for the paradoxical logic of natural right, however, Martin Chuzzlewit's narrator offers the most nuanced account of the problems of intellectual property that emerged in mid-nineteenth-century Britain.
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Research Article| March 01 2008
Natural Authority in Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit and the Copyright Act of 1842
Nineteenth-Century Literature (2008) 62 (4): 435–464.
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Larisa T. Castillo; Natural Authority in Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit and the Copyright Act of 1842. Nineteenth-Century Literature 1 March 2008; 62 (4): 435–464. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2008.62.4.435
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