Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories

Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories

Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories

Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories

Synopsis

Issues of legal philosophy taught in jurisprudence courses have also been pondered by brilliant fiction writers. This anthology brings together 40 law-related short stories by writers from various times and places, including Boccaccio, Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Kafka, Cather, and Asimov. Divided into five parts - establishing laws, the judicial system, punishment, criminal matters, and civil matters - and additional subsections, the stories demonstrate how writers have dealt with topics such as equality, finding the truth, capital punishment, murder, and domestic relations. The section introductions draw upon philosophy, psychology, literature, and law to point to the jurisprudential issues, and also utilize pithy epigraphs for this purpose. Questions are raised, but not answered: the reader is left to reflect on the age-old legal and ethical concerns that continue to trouble and inspire us.

Excerpt

I feel more contented when I remember that I have two
professions, and not one. Medicine [Law] is my lawful wife
and literature my mistress. When I am bored with one I
spend the night with the other. Though this is irregular,
it is not monotonous, and besides neither loses anything
through my infidelity.
Letter from Anton Pavlovich
Chekhov to A. S. Suvorin
August 29, 1888

Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories came about as the direct result of two events: prior to attending law school I had taught literature at the State University of New York at Albany; and during my second semester of law school I chose a jurisprudence course to fulfill my first-year elective. As that jurisprudence course progressed, I found myself constantly reminded of literary works which I had read, some of which I had also taught--Robert Browning dramatic monologue The Ring and the Book; Kurt Vonnegut Jr. short story Harrison Bergeron; Jean Anouilh play Antigone; Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment. It occurred to me that the legal philosophy being taught in jurisprudence could be taught equally well through fiction. In order to determine how such a course might best be structured, I undertook a survey of 175 accredited law schools to determine whether or not such a course was already being offered in the law school curriculum. That survey resulted in a paper entitled Law and Literature: An Unnecessarily Suspect Class in the Liberal Arts Component of the Law School Curriculum, which was published by Valparaiso University Law Review in the winter of 1989.

In 1987, 38 of the 135 law schools that responded to my survey reported offering a course that utilized literature as the text. The law schools and/or the professors of the various courses reported the following reasons for the inclusion of their courses . . .

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