Victorian Instincts: Anthony Trollope and the Philosophy of Law



This essay attempts to chart one of the ways in which the philosophy of law informed the Victorian novel by situating two of Anthony Trollope’s later novels in the context of contemporary jurisprudential debates. Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds (1873) and John Caldigate (1879) push the discourse of legal hermeneutics to its epistemological limits and offer the concept of conscience as an alternative to that of intention. As such, Trollope is drawing on a popular understanding of the legal notion of equity, although he qualifies its influence by contrasting conscience to both instinct and knowingness. These concepts focus on ends only, which aligns them with natural law. Trollope’s representation of positive law does not offer a way out, since positive law seems to exercise a violence that can always be justified retrospectively. A solution to the problem of legal violence lies in the fact that Trollope embeds his conceptualization of conscience in the vocabulary of the sublime and perfection. These models resemble what Walter Benjamin has defined as divine violence and find formal expression in the rhythm that Trollope’s novels create between free indirect speech and narratorial intervention.