Tag Archives: books

Sara Ross

Book News: Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature by Anne Quéma

Law and Legitimacy cover

This past February, Professor Anne Quéma of Acadia University published the book Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature on University of Toronto Press. The abstract is as follows:

An interdisciplinary analysis of the ways in which symbolic acts create social norms, Power and Legitimacy is an important contribution to the growing body of scholarship on law and literature. Drawing on the theoretical insights of Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu, Anne Quéma demonstrates the effect of symbolic violence on the creation of social and political legitimacy.

Examining modern jurisprudence theory, statutory law, and the family within the modern Gothic novel, Quéma shows how the forms and effects of political power transform as one shifts from discourse to discourse. An impressive integration of the scholarship in these three fields, Power and Legitimacy is a thought-provoking analysis of the basis of power and the law.

You can read more about Quéma’s work at the U of T Press website here.

Sara Ross

Book News: Cassandra Sharp and Marett Leiboff (eds) Cultural Legal Studies: Law’s Popular Cultures and the Metamorphosis of Law (Routledge, 2015)

Law's Pop Cultures cover

A new book has been released on popular culture and the law entitled Cultural Legal Studies: Law’s Popular Cultures and the Metamorphosis of Law, edited by Dr. Cassandra Sharp and Dr. Marett Leiboff of the Faculty of Law at the University of Wollongong. An abstract can be found here:

What can law’s popular cultures do for law, as a constitutive and interrogative critical practice? This collection explores such a question through the lens of the ‘cultural legal studies’ movement, which proffers a new encounter with the ‘cultural turn’ in law and legal theory. Moving beyond the ‘law ands’ (literature, humanities, culture, film, visual and aesthetics) on which it is based, this book demonstrates how the techniques and practices of cultural legal studies can be used to metamorphose law and the legalities that underpin its popular imaginary. By drawing on three different modes of cultural legal studies – storytelling, technology and jurisprudence – the collection showcases the intersectional practices of cultural legal studies, and law in its popular cultural mode.

For more information, you can visit the book’s page at the Taylor & Francis website.

Kate Sutherland

Summer Reading: Legal Fiction

TopTenList

I made a rash promise earlier this week during the Dean’s Welcome Webcast to post a top ten list of legal fiction by way of a bit of suggested summer reading. I’m not exactly going to make good on that promise here as I’m highly resistant to the “top ten” part of the proposition. To truly come up with a top ten, I’d have to have an exhaustive knowledge of the field and, while I read a lot, I certainly haven’t read everything. Plenty of worthy books are bound to be left off my list simply because I haven’t yet read them. Further, I’m mindful that this is an inherently subjective exercise. The books I choose to highlight are those that appeal to my particular literary tastes and legal interests, not necessarily the best books by any objective criteria. So consider this list not a top ten, but simply a preliminary reading list of legal fiction that I found entertaining, insightful, or challenging (in the best cases, all three). Here they are, in order of publication, with (I hope) enough detail to pique your interest without giving too much away:

Bleak House (1853) by Charles Dickens: More than a century and a half after its initial publication, this novel centering on the seemingly interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is still distressingly relevant on issues related to legal ethics, legal obfuscation, and justice delayed as justice denied. It also contains some of the most memorable and entertaining lawyer characters in literature including the sinister Mr. Tulkinghorn, the odious Mr. Vholes, and (possibly my favourite) young Mr. Guppy who is utterly enamoured with the language of the law. It’s nearly a thousand pages long, but when I reached the end, I wished there was more of it. (Incidentally, if you like to listen rather than read, there’s a wonderful audio version available narrated by Robert Whitfield.)

The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka: Kafka stands alongside Shakespeare, Dickens, and Orwell as one of the authors most frequently referenced in legal decisions. And when judges or lawyers refer to proceedings or outcomes as Kafkaesque, they are likely thinking of The Trial, a novel in which the main character, Josef K., finds himself caught up in the nightmare of a trial on charges which are never specified via processes that he doesn’t understand.

Strong Poison (1930) by Dorothy Sayers: This is the installment in Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series in which Harriet Vane, one of my favourite characters in crime fiction, is introduced. Bohemian author Vane is on trial for the murder of her former lover, and Wimsey must solve the mystery of who killed him in order to prove her innocent and save her from the gallows.

Tragedy at Law (1942) by Cyril Hare: Hare wrote a series of mystery novels set in the legal world based on his own experiences as an English barrister and judge. In this one, regarded by many as his best, High Court judge Mr. Justice Barber first receives threatening letters, then is subjected to an attempt on his life while moving from town to town to preside over cases in the southern English circuit. Barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew sets out to discover who wants Barber dead before that person succeeds in the endeavour.

Tales of Manhattan (1967) by Louis Auchincloss: Auchincloss was an extraordinarily prolific writer as well as a practicing lawyer for seven decades, beginning in the 1940s until his death in 2010. In his fiction he depicted the world of New York high society and the Wall Street lawyers and bankers who served its interests. Gore Vidal wrote of him: “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs.” Tales of Manhattan includes a suite of stories which depicts a fictional New York law firm from multiple perspectives. These stories are very much of their time and place and thereby illuminate a particular historical moment in U.S. society and legal practice. But they also explore, as do many of Auchincloss’s works, tensions between legal ambition and creative aspirations in a way that may resonate for the would-be lawyer-writers among you.

The Legal Fiction of Lowell B. Komie (2005): This book unites Komie’s many law-themed stories that were originally dispersed throughout earlier collections published between 1983 and 1999. Like Auchincloss, Komie is at once an acclaimed fiction writer and a practicing attorney but his territory is Chicago and the legal world that he depicts in these stories is that of the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, the cast of law students, lawyers, and judges that he depicts is much more diverse. Legal practice has changed considerably in the intervening years, but many of the personal and professional conflicts that Komie’s characters face will still seem familiar to today’s lawyers and law students.

Alias Grace (1996) by Margaret Atwood: This Giller prize winner is my favourite of Margaret Atwood’s books. It’s a historical novel that is based on a notorious 19th century Canadian case in which a maid was convicted of the brutal murders of her employer and his housekeeper. Atwood’s rendition of the story takes the reader into the mind of the convicted murderer, now serving out a life sentence and claiming to have no memory of the crime. It also explores the question of her innocence or guilt through the eyes of a fictional doctor who is researching her case.

George & Rue (2005) by George Elliot Clarke: This novel is based on the story of two African Canadian brothers who were convicted of and executed for the murder of a taxi driver in the course of a robbery in New Brunswick in 1949. Clarke became intrigued by the story upon learning that he was related to the brothers and set out to imagine, through innovative use of the historical record, what led up to the commission of this crime.

The Round House (2012) by Louise Erdrich: Erdrich’s National Book Award winning novel tells the story of 13-year-old Joe’s quest for justice in the aftermath of an assault on his mother on their Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. The richness of the novel is nicely summed up in its National Book Award citation: “Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories.”

NW (2012) by Zadie Smith: In this novel, Smith paints a portrait of contemporary London through the eyes of a group of characters linked by the shared history of growing up in a housing estate in the city’s northwest. One of the key characters is barrister Natalie Blake who confronts sexism and racism in the legal profession, and struggles with the gulf between the world in which she grew up and the one she inhabits now to which law has, in part, provided a conduit. The picture that emerges of London, of the legal profession, and of Natalie is complex and challenging.

I could very easily add twenty more books to this list, but I said ten so I’ll stop there. But I also said preliminary, so I invite you to add your own favourites in the comments below, and also any reflections you may have on the books I’ve highlighted here. I would be very happy to come away with some new titles to add to my summer reading!

Kate Sutherland

IFLS Book Club: Zadie Smith’s N.W.

Kate Sutherland

Legal History: Shelley Gavigan Launches Hunger, Horses, and Government Men

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of my colleague Shelley Gavigan‘s new book Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905.

Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description:

Gavigan uses records of ordinary cases from the lower courts and insights from critical criminology and traditional legal history to interrogate state formation and criminal law in the Saskatchewan region of the North-West Territories between 1870 and 1905. By focusing on Aboriginal people’s participation in the courts rather than on narrow legal categories such as “the state” and “the accused,” Gavigan allows Aboriginal defendants, witnesses, and informants to emerge in vivid detail and tell the story in their own terms. Their experiences — captured in court files, police and penitentiary records, and newspaper accounts — reveal that the criminal law and the Indian Act operated in complex and contradictory ways.

At the launch, Justice James MacPherson introduced the book as one about the prairies, history and law by a woman who loves the prairies, history and law. He pronounced it a beautiful, literary, readable book, and praised Shelley as a master storyteller who had succeeded in bringing the men and women whose stories she’d uncovered in the archives vividly to life. Shelley spoke about connections between the past and the present, highlighting how the people and the issues she had encountered in her legal aid work as young lawyer in Saskatchewan in the 1970s had ultimately led her to this exploration of the relationship between Aboriginal people and criminal law on the Plains a century earlier.

I had the opportunity to hear Shelley speak about her research on a number of occasions during the writing of the book, and I credit her accounts of the pleasures and frustrations of archival research as a good part of the impetus behind the historical turn that my own research has recently taken. So you can imagine the eagerness with which I snapped up a copy of Hunger, Horses, and Government Men last night, and how keen I am to begin to read it.

For more information on the book, click here.

Kate Sutherland

Women Lawyers in Literature (in anticipation of the 1st meeting of the Law, Feminism, [short] Fiction reading group)

Lists of top or greatest or favourite fictional lawyers seem to appear at regular intervals, for example, the ABA Journal’s 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers Who Are Not Atticus Finch, or the Guardian’s Top 10 Lawyers in Fiction (selected by novelist Simon Lelic). Such lists generally feature few or no women lawyers, and those that make the cut tend to be drawn from films or television programs rather than books. For example, the two women included in the ABA’s list of 25 are Ally McBeal and Patty Hewes (of Damages). Where are the women lawyers of literature?

Certainly in seeking to identify the most noteworthy fictional female lawyers, one has a smaller pool from which to draw. In a 1994 article, “In Portia’s Footsteps: Women Lawyers in Literature,” Marion Dixon concluded that after Portia’s appearance in Shakespeare’s 1598 play Merchant of Venice, “there don’t appear to have been any fictional women lawyers in English literature until the 1980’s.” (And, of course, as Dixon notes, despite her name having become synonymous with women lawyers, Portia wasn’t actually a lawyer.) Surely the occasional one must have found her way into 20th century literature pre-1980, but I confess that no names spring immediately to mind. But as the number of women in the legal profession began to increase, so too did the ranks of fictional female lawyers.

The only two scholarly articles that I’ve found squarely on the topic of the representation of women lawyers in literature (as opposed to on television or in film)—the aforementioned piece by Dixon, and one by Kathryn Lee and Elizabeth Morgan titled “Legal Fictions and the Moral Imagination: Female Fictional Lawyers Encounter Professional Responsibility”—focus on crime fiction. The first examples that occurred to me also come from this genre: Alafair Burke’s series featuring Portland Deputy DA Samantha Kincaid, Linda Fairstein’s series featuring Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series featuring Reykjavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir.

Another of my favourite genres, the short story, has also proved rich territory in this connection. Thus when we decided to make women lawyers the theme of our first Law, Feminism, [short] Fiction discussion, there were many stories from which to choose. Ultimately we settled on three stories by three very different writers that offer a range of representations of women lawyers: “Weight,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Mother,” by Michele Martinez; and, “His Sister,” by Ruthann Robson.

Margaret Atwood is a towering literary figure who needs little introduction. Perhaps worth noting in this context though is the fact that her work has garnered much interest among legal scholars, in particular The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel that depicts a Christian fundamentalist society in which reproduction is entirely state-controlled, and Alias Grace, a historical novel based on an 1843 murder case. But our focus next week will be her short story “Weight,” first published in her 1991 collection Wilderness Tips, which has at its centre two women, the narrator and her friend Molly, who attended law school at a time when women students were still an embattled minority, and bonded over shared feminist values and aspirations, but whose career paths and lives have diverged dramatically by the time the story begins.

Michele Martinez, formerly a federal prosecutor, is the author of a series of legal thrillers featuring Manhattan federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas. Vargas is also the protagonist of “The Mother,” a short story published in a 2009 anthology, in which she is forced to rethink an apparent legal victory after being confronted by the mother of a young man whom she is prosecuting for murder.

Ruthann Robson is a professor at CUNY School of Law as well as a fiction writer. She is an extraordinarily prolific writer in both realms, as well as an innovative one whose work might sometimes be characterized as falling somewhere in between the two. Her short stories and novels are peopled by a number of intriguing law student, law professor, and lawyer characters. “His Sister,” from her 2000 collection The Struggle for Happiness, focuses on Jolene Fields, director of the Criminal Defense Resource Center. As a law student, Fields had loved research and hated mooting, and finds herself now “amazed at the privilege of being able to ‘do’ criminal defense work and never walk into a courtroom.” But the story ultimately reveals her rather more complicated relationship to criminal law and with the criminal defense attorneys for whom she does research.

Osgoode folk who would like to join in a discussion of these three stories next week can find details about the meeting time and place on the IFLS blog.

Whether or not you’re able to join the discussion in person, I would be most grateful for any help you can provide in the comments below in my quest to compile a more comprehensive list of women lawyers in literature. In addition to those mentioned above there is Ruth Puttermesser from Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers; Judge Josie Jo Ford from children’s classic The Westing Game; an array of compelling women law students, lawyers, and judges in Lowell B. Komie’s short stories; criminal lawyer Cass Jameson from Carolyn Wheat’s mystery series; the lawyers of all-female firm Rosato & Associates featured in Lisa Scottoline’s series of legal thrillers; and, barristers Selena Jardine and Julia Larwood from Sarah Caudwell’s series of legal whodunnits. Who else?

Kate Sutherland

Take-Homes from the Museum of London’s Dickens Exhibition: An App & a Facsimile Manuscript

I’m immersed in Dickens these days, completing a draft of the chapter devoted to his 1844 copyright case in my book about writers’ lawsuits, and am consequently paying even more attention than I might otherwise have done to news of publications, exhibitions, and events related to the 200th anniversary of his birth.

This week, all the buzz is about Dickens and London, an exhibition opening today at the Museum of London which “recreat[es] the atmosphere of Victorian London through sound and projections,” thereby taking visitors “on a haunting journey to discover the city that inspired [Dickens’] writings.” On display are “paintings, photographs, costumes, and objects” including rarely seen hand-written manuscripts of Bleak House, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations. See the Telegraph, the Guardian, and BBC News for tantalizing previews.

But what is the Dickens fan who dwells far outside of London to do, besides book a flight immediately? Happily, there are a few elements of the exhibition that can be enjoyed at home.

First, there is Dickens: Dark London, an app for iPads and iPhones. Described as “an interactive graphic novel” based on Dickens’ late night walks about the city as described in Sketches by Boz, it includes narration by actor Mark Strong, and marvelously atmospheric drawings by illustrator David Foldvari. Also included is an 1860s map of the terrain overlaid with a current one for the viewer to navigate, as well as other interactive features. The first edition focuses on Seven Dials, with more material due to be added in subsequent editions each month through June 2012, echoing the serial publication by which most of Dickens’ work initially appeared. (NYT, Reuters)

Second, a facsimile edition of the original hand-written manuscript of Great Expectations is due to be published this month by Cambridge University Press. Crammed with crossings-out and scribbled-in additions, it enables a glimpse into Dickens’ creative process. See a detailed description and a slide show of some of its pages in the Guardian. For the frisson of seeing Dickens’ words in his own handwriting firsthand, a visit to the exhibition to see the original is still in order. But what luxury to be able to acquire a facsimile of it to study in leisure at home.

So, if a trip to London is not currently in the cards, a trip to the app store and/or the bookstore may provide some consolation.

Kate Sutherland

New on my Bookshelf: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

I’m a big fan of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant comics, and am most pleased to have acquired a copy of her new book, published this Fall by Drawn & Quarterly.

It was Beaton’s comics poking fun at exalted literary figures such as the Brontë sisters that first caught my eye:

And I was further drawn in when I found that Beaton also appears to share my preoccupation with crime fiction classics such as Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes. See, for example, a few samples from a series that she did riffing on the covers of Nancy Drew novels:

And this one, in which she has a bit of fun with TV/movie portrayals of Holmes sidekick Watson:

If that’s not enough to pique the interest of legal readers, you’ll also find in Beaton’s oeuvre a plethora of comics devoted to history, some with a legal dimension (see this deft summation of the genesis of Oscar Wilde’s legal troubles), and many with a Canadian focus (for example, here on Confederation). Indeed, my colleague Sonia Lawrence tells me that she has contemplated using Beaton’s comics in her constitutional law class.

For more information about Kate Beaton and her book, you can find recent interviews on CBC and in the Paris Review, and enthusiastic reviews in the National Post and Quill & Quire.

Kate Sutherland

New on my Bookshelf: The Ecstasy of Influence: nonfictions, etc. by Jonathan Lethem

The Ecstasy of Influence is a voluminous collection of Jonathan Lethem’s nonfiction, much of it previously published in scattered locations, some of it new. He covers a diverse range of subjects–a quick scan of the table of contents indicates that he touches on comics, postmodernism, used bookshops, Philip K. Dick, The Godfather, Bob Dylan, book tours, Shirley Jackson, Brooklyn, and more. There’s plenty here to interest fans of Lethem’s fiction, and bookish types generally.

But perhaps most likely to capture the attention of those of us interested in law and the arts is the section headed “Plagiarisms” that includes the title piece, an essay about plagiarism in which nearly every sentence is lifted from another writer (originally published in Harper’s Magazine in 2007); a follow-up piece reflecting on the stir that essay created; and other broad mediations on influence, appropriation, originality, and creativity.

For a bit of a preview of Lethem’s views on these and other literary matters, click here to read a recent interview with him conducted by Laura Miller for Salon. And I’m assuming that if you’re sufficiently interested in my bookshelves to read this post, you’ll also enjoy a peek at Lethem’s library. For that, click here to see fabulous photos of writers’ personal libraries, including Lethem’s, from Leah Price’s Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, excerpted today in The New Yorker.

Of course, now I feel compelled to order Price’s book as well…

Kate Sutherland

New on my Bookshelf: Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

I confess that there are a number of classics in the law and literature canon that I’ve not yet read, and I’ve resolved to fill in some of those gaps, beginning with Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville. The number of law journal articles that reference the story, and the frequency with which it turns up on the syllabi of law and literature courses would be reason enough to begin there. But I have a more specific interest as well. I’ve been plotting an article about Louis Auchincloss’s short stories, many of which are set in Wall Street law firms, and, given that Melville’s Bartleby is subtitled “A Story of Wall Street,” it seems an antecedent that I ought to explore.

But even if I hadn’t already resolved to read Bartleby, a couple of recent mentions highlighting the continuing relevance of this mid-nineteenth century work would doubtless have piqued my interest. The first is in a thought-provoking essay by Hannah Gersen at The Millions in which she links Bartleby’s “peculiar form of rebellion” to the Occupy Wall Street protests, ultimately concluding: “If Occupy Wall Street has any goal, it should be to have the same effect that great literature has—to unsettle.” The second is a reference in a Forbes column by Victoria Pynchon in which she parallels Bartleby’s situation with the contemporary plight of legal secretaries. (Thanks to Sonia Lawrence who led me to the latter with an @OsgoodeIFLS tweet.)

The edition of Bartleby the Scrivener that I bought, pictured above, is an instalment in Melville House Publishing’s marvellous Art of the Novella series. They’re lovely small books that feel good in the hand, and the selection of titles is broad enough to appeal to any discerning reader. I note as well that there are others besides Bartleby that are likely be of interest to those who like a bit of law with their literature, including, for example: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Ian Dreiblatt), The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain, and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I already boast a few Melville House novellas in my collection, and I covet many more!

I will report here in due course on how I fare with Bartleby, and on if and how it connects with my Auchincloss reading.