Essays in Romanticism

Remembering Beatrice Remembering: Sexual Crime and Silence in Shelley's The Cenci

Essays in Romanticism (2015), 22, (1), 35–51.

Abstract

In The Cenci, Percy Shelley calls attention to the challenges of articulating and proving sexual crime. Placing The Cenci in the historical context of nineteenth-century legal language requirements for survivors, I contend that Beatrice's struggle with remembering and expressing her rape underscores the obstacles that nineteenth-century sexual crime survivors faced when attempting to achieve justice. If justice is measured in part by the level of truth achieved, Beatrice's silence and the partial truths her trial uncovers suggest problems with the conditions created to encourage disclosure in cases of rape. Furthermore, her refusal to admit to her part in her father's murder highlights how repressive processes fail to achieve accountability or provide healing. Taken to the play's most extreme suggestion, her actions outside of the justice system warn that victims may pursue their own drastic outcomes if they are denied adequate recognition and redress within criminal justice structures.

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Fenno, Colleen