Spring 2013 Undergraduate English Courses
350:391 Legal Fictions and Narrative Forms: The Early Novel and the Rule of Law
02 MTH3 CAC 55818 HERSHINOW CCA-202
02-Legal Fictions and Narrative Forms: The Early Novel and the Rule of Law
Prostitutes, murderers, lawyers, and judges populate the early British novel. This course will examine the rise of the novel form alongside the emergence of the legal profession in eighteenth century Britain, while at the same time providing an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of law and literature. We will examine how the novel as a genre coalesces around characters that are placed in risky situations and the legal narratives that develop around them (forms such as testimony, confession, and the arguing of a case). This will require a focus on individual laws (such as the 1662 Poor Relief Act and the 1753 Hardwicke Marriage Act), on the psychologies of guilt and innocence, and on the formal literary challenges of representing transgression and justice. How might a consideration of legal questions complicate our understanding of the novel’s aims?
We will begin with, and return to, debates in legal theory (by scholars such as Ronald Dworkin and Richard Posner) about what the study of legal texts can gain from strategies of literary interpretation. While the course will focus primarily on eighteenth-century novels (by Defoe, Fielding, Goldsmith, and Godwin), it will conclude with a consideration of the literary representation of the problem of torture in Waiting for the Barbarians, by J.M. Coetzee, Nobel-winning novelist and scholar of eighteenth-century literature. Along the way, we will also consider critical interpretations of several of our major texts, paying special attention to the ways critics address the primary text’s engagement with law and the legal system. Student responsibilities will include attendance and active participation; short in-class writing assignments and reading quizzes; two critical essays (5-7 pages); and a final revision of one of those essays (12-15 pages).