English 566: Trouble in the Republic of Letters: Law and Literature


Professor C. L. Lindsay (lindsay@co-star.org)

Professor Michael Gamer (mgamer@english.upenn.edu)

Class meets: 139 Fisher-Bennett Hall, Tuesday 6:00 pm - 8:40 pm

Professor Lindsay's and Gamer's office: 218 Fisher-Bennett Hall, ph: (215) 898-7341

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 4:30-5:30 pm, and by appointment

Course Listserv Address: engl566-640-06a@lists.upenn.edu




This seminar is an introductory survey of the relationship between two of our most powerful forms of social discourse, literature and the law. The two share conspicuous similarities: a tendency to represent, interpret, and criticize flesh-and-blood interactions; a reliance on story-telling; a fondness for precedent, evidence, and testimony. Yet the two are perhaps even more frequently in conflict with one another, particularly over questions fundamental to both -- such as how language works, what constitutes evidence and truth, and what kinds of advocacy and representation are desirable or harmful.

              We'll begin by considering their relationship through one of their most powerful shared fictions, the republic of letters. We'll examine its historical basis in Classical Greece and in the Enlightenment, but will quickly move on to consider how this fictional space underwrites our sense both of an independent judiciary and what we most often call "the public sphere" or "the court of public opinion." Along the way we'll explore the law-making qualities of literature (its tendency to posit artificial forms onto lived experience even as it insists that those forms have value) and the literariness of the law (its ability to turn fictions into enforceable realities and its fondness for resolving conflict). What do we expect of our laws or our literature? How does each manage to stay alive for posterity?  What kinds of interpretive approaches should govern both? How might literature and law be said to regulate one another? Assigned work will be two briefs, an annotated bibliography, and an essay of around ten pages.



Texts: Available at Penn Book Center, 34th and Sansom Streets, (215) 222-7600


Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814; Broadview Press, ISBN 1551110989)

Richard Brautigan, Revenge of the Lawn, The Abortion, So the Wind Won't Throw It All Away (1970; Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0395706742)

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1861; Penguin, ISBN 0140437312)

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (1793; Penguin, ISBN 0140434852)

Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis, trans. Don Taylor (Methuen, 2005; ISBN 0413774635).

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1954; Vintage, ISBN 0679723161).

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Cambridge UP, ISBN 0521294010)

Course Calendar


Unit 1:                 Republics


Jan 10:                   First day of class. Over the winter holidays, read the The Iliad on-line (text at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext00/iliad10.txt; we'll concentrate on Books 1-4, and 20, but it's a good story. Do print these five books out and bring them to class.

Jan 17:                  Nations of Individuals: Read Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" (at www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html); Book I of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762; available on line at http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/r/rousseau/jean_jacques/r864s); The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights (available at www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html) and C. L. Lindsay, "Chapter One: Your Constitution" (coursepack); and the 2004 Draft Iraqi Constitution (pdf at news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/24_08_05_constit.pdf).

Jan 24:                  Public Spheres: Read Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis; David Hume, "Of Tragedy" (on-line at www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/hume.tragedy); John and Anna L. Aikin, "An Enquiry into those Kinds of Distress Which Excite Agreeable Sensations" (coursepack); and Edmund Burke, "Of the Effects of Tragedy" (at http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/burkesublime.html, Section XV).


Unit II:                Slavery and Servitude


Jan 31:                   Commodities: Read Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative.

Feb 7:                    Properties: Read the Decision of the Dred Scot Case (coursepack); Herman Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener" (available on line at www.gutenberg.org/etext/11231) and the essay by Joan Dayan (not in coursepack; we will provide it to you). Writing Assignment #1 due.

Feb 14:                  Servitudes: Read Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, first two volumes.

Feb 21:                 Finish Mansfield Park (volume 3). Read "Sharp and Mansfield: Slavery in the Courts" (coursepack) and "Slave or Free?, available on line at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/rights/slave_free.htm, which contains a link to information about the Mansfield Decision (Somerset v. Stewart), as well as the text of the opinion.


Unit III:             Women and the Rules


Feb 28:                 Coverture: Begin Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1861). Read "Chapter the Fifteenth: Of Husband and Wife" from Blackstone's Commentaries upon the Laws of England (available at www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/blackstone/bk1ch15.htm); and Lawrence Stone, "Money, Sex, and Murder in Eighteenth-Century England" (coursepack).

Mar 7:                   Spring Break; continue reading Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1861).

Mar 14:                 Marriage and "Identity Theft": Finish discussing The Woman in White. Annotated Bibliography Due.

Mar 21:                 Romancing Roe v. Wade: Read Richard Brautigan, The Abortion: An Historical Romance of 1966, and Roe v. Wade, available on line at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=410&invol=113); be sure to read the dissenting opinions as well as the majority opinion.

Mar 28:                 Contract and Genre: Read Charles Perrault, "Blue-beard" (available on line at www.math.grinnell.edu/~simpsone/Ft) and "Beauty and the Beast (available on line at www.pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html); read Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Tiger's Bride" (coursepack). Then, read Carole Pateman, "Preface" and "Contracting In" (coursepack) and Elise Bruhl, "Motherhood and Contract: Always Crashing in the Same Car" (coursepack).


Unit IV:              Trouble in the Republic of Letters


Apr 4:                     Read and William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, and Plato's Phaedrus, available on line at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext99//phdrs10.txt

Apr 11.                  Read the handout on censorship, and begin Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1954). Also, read the Boston Globe article in the coursepack, entitled "The Seduction. At 50, Nabokov's 'Lolita' still seduces -- and disturbs."

Apr 18:                 Finish Lolita. Ending the course, answer questions about papers.


May 1st (Monday): Final papers due.



Assigned Work for the Course:


Attendance and Participation:

This class will conduct itself as a seminar, as a group of people sharing mutual interests who meet regularly to pursue those interests. Our class thus will be discussion-based, and our class meetings will only work if you come prepared and ready to engage with one another. Discussion will thus be a required and evaluated aspect of the course, and you will have considerable freedom propose questions and agendas from week to week. Obviously, with this freedom comes responsibility. On the one hand, as a class, we must agree to honor each other's tangents, and respect what each other thinks is important; on the other hand, it is every seminar member's responsibility to be succinct, and not to waste others' time by riding a personal hobby-horse. Most importantly, it means responding to one another rather than talking at one another.


Writing Assignment #1: Legal Brief (15%)

Due February 7th, this assignment will ask you to sift through a legal opinion and boil it down to its essence. We're having you read the Decision of the Dred Scot Case. As Decisions are the final step of a long legal process whose job it is to sift through fact and fiction and persuasive and unpersuasive arguments, we would like you to take a step back and brief each side of the case. Each of your two briefs should have the following: (1) facts of the case; (2) legal discussion of the facts. (Note that it is perfectly possible for your two different sides to have two different sets of "facts" in their briefs). Maximum length: No more than 6 double-spaced pages, organized as follows: Page 1: Facts of Defense; Pages 2-3: Discussion of Defense; Page 4: Facts of Prosecution; Pages 5-6: Discussion of Prosecution.


Writing Assignment #2: Annotated Bibliography Assignment (35%)

Due March 14th, this assignment is designed to teach you the rudiments of researching the immediate context of a literary text. We wish you to use the library's resources to find out what there is to know about three aspects of a text on the syllabus: (1) its production history, by which we mean the actual writing of the book (manuscripts, etc.) and its publication and printings during the author's lifetime; (2) its contemporary reception, by which we mean the immediate response to the text by reviewers, peers and personal acquaintances, and family; and (3) its recent critical history, meaning scholarly and popular articles written in the last 10-20 years. You can usually find out about (1) by examining the "Note on the Text" in most modern editions, and by looking through existing biographies of the author and his or her correspondence. For (2), editions and biographies will again help you; but in the case of older 18th- and 19th-century books, you may want to look in literary reviews held by the Penn Library's Department of Special Collections, located on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library. For (3), we advise you to look on Library Databases like the MLA Bibliography, the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, and Literature Online. You can find all of these via the Library website at http://www.library.upenn.edu/cgi-bin/res/sr.cgi?community=26&resourcetype=1.

Your finished assignment will contain three sections, one for each component (production, reception, critical). Each section should contain the following:

1. A short essay (10 to 750 words, depending on how much there is to say) summarizing the pertinent information regarding your findings for that section. What do we need to know about the production of Mansfield Park? Are there existing manuscripts? Do we know how much Austen sold the copyright for? How many editions in Austen's lifetime?

2. A Bibliography of pertinent sources. Each entry should contain full bibliographic information and a sentence annotated what the source contains and why you've included it.

Note: The essay regarding recent critical history (section 3) will likely be your longest. In it, you should map out what you see as the dominant recent critical discourses and explain how they relate to one another.


Writing Assignment #3: Final Project (50%).

                  Due May 1st, This assignment has two parts: a "legal" brief and an essay.

                  Part I (The Brief): You've already written a legal brief for the Dred Scott case. We'd now like you to do the same analysis of any literary work on the syllabus or closely associated with a work on the syllabus. For example, if you want to work on Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen or The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins or Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan, you may do so; please check with us first, however. You should follow the same guidelines that we've provided in Assignment #1.

                  Part II: The Essay: We'd then like you to write an essay of 8-10 pages exploring the tensions between legal and literary ways of seeing the world in your text. You should treat this as you would any paper; it should have an argument, analyze the text, and be supported by additional research from current critical articles.

                  Note: You may focus on the same work that you did for your Annotated Bibliography.