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Speaking about Torture$
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Julie A. Carlson and Elisabeth Weber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823242245

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823242245.001.0001

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Romantic Poet Legislators: An End of Torture

Romantic Poet Legislators: An End of Torture

(p.221) Chapter 14 Romantic Poet Legislators: An End of Torture
Speaking about Torture

Julie A. Carlson

Fordham University Press

This chapter considers the resurgence of debates regarding the legitimacy of torture in the context of British Romantic-era affirmations of the centrality of imagination and the arts to social policy legislation. It examines anarchist philosopher and novelist William Godwin’s engagement in Book 7 of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) with Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (1764), the book long credited with galvanizing the movement to abolish torture in Enlightenment Europe. It then reads radical poet and son-in-law Percy Shelley’s family tragedy The Cenci (1819), the best literary treatment of torture in the period and one of the darkest plays on record as an endorsement of imaginative sympathy understood in a Shelleyan light: as actively seeking difference or “before unapprehended” connections between things. It delineates how Shelley’s poet legislators affect a culture’s ability to imagine difference differently so that one does not have to envision torture victims as one’s family members in order to provoke taking action against torture.

Keywords:   Poet legislator, Imagination, Sympathy, Simile, Non-violence, Cesare Beccaria, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci

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