Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel

Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel

Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel

Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel

Synopsis

This interdisciplinary volume of contributed essays focuses on issues of gender in the British novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly Hardy and Trollope. Approaching the topic from a variety of backgrounds, the contributors reinvigorate the law-and-literature movementby displaying a range of ways in which literature and law can illuminate one another and in which the conversation between them can illuminate deeper human issues with which both disciplines are concerned. Their chapters shed light on a range of gender-related issues, from inheritance to money-lending to illegitimacy, but also make an important methodological contribution by displaying (and discussing) a range of methodological perspectives that exemplify the breadth and range of this discipline,which links history, gender studies, philosophy, literary studies, and law.

Excerpt

Diane P. Wood

ONE MIGHT AS well ask the question “Why read?” as to ask why in particular anyone interested in gender and the law should know the rich array of British novels produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Literature is the antidote to parochialism. It expands horizons of all kinds: temporal, social, economic, and gender-based. And this is vitally important not just for personal development (important though that is) but also for the broader social need for just laws and effective institutions through which those laws are enforced. The assertion that better laws, or better judicial decision making, will result if lawmakers and judges would only go back and read Victorian novels may seem a bit extravagant. But there is more to the point than meets the eye, at least for anyone who has abandoned the theories about Natural Law and Brooding Omnipresences that prevailed before the Legal Realism movement of the midtwentieth century took root. We have always known that legislators acted in ways that furthered either their own interests or those of their constituents. Judges, too, according to the Realists, ultimately decide cases on the basis of their personal preferences, not on the basis of an overarching natural law that transcends any given society or time. The more recent empirical work on judicial decision making also works from the premise that judges, as one author put it, “are motivated by a wide range of preferences, values, and commitments.”

To refer to “preferences, values, and commitments,” however, is just to ask the next question: Where do these states of mind come from? Naturally, there are the usual . . .

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