Erin L. Sheley, George Washington University Law School, on
Adultery, Criminality, and the Myth of English Sovereignty, forthcoming in Law, Culture and the Humanities 11 (2015).
This article argues that in Britain over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the understanding of adultery as a tort was complicated by an accompanying discourse of what I will call “quasi-criminality.” Specifically — while formally trivialized — adultery remained linked to a threat to British kingship. The tension between the weight of relevant monarchical history and the absence of contemporary criminal enforcement created a new cultural narrative about adultery which attempted, itself, to serve a penal function. Examining the development of this discourse alongside the relevant law illuminates the complex social process through which public and private wrongs become distinguished — or conflated.