Mittwoch, 25. April 2018

Why Do So Many Judges Cite Jane Austen in Legal Decisions? / Matthew H. Birkhold in: Electric Literature Apr 24, 2018

In February 1998, Kimberly Hricko murdered her husband after beginning an affair with Brad Winkler. Kimberly fell for Brad, according to Judge William Horne of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, at a party where Brad “appeared at the edge of the crowd, like Darcy in Pride and Prejudice … an enigmatic new figure.” Apart from his initial appearance, Brad did not resemble Jane Austen’s beloved character: he aggressively pursued a married woman, something the honor-bound Lord of Pemberly would never have done. He was not particularly wealthy. And, most damning, Brad was described as “sweet.” The comparison with Darcy does nothing to shed light on Brad — but it wasn’t meant to. Rather, the judicial opinion cites Pride and Prejudice to portray Kimberly as a woman wrapped up in a dangerous fantasy. 
As Judge Horne’s operose prose nicely demonstrates, judicial opinions are themselves works of literature with rich hypertextual potential. Most obviously, these texts cite the legal opinions that came before them, what we know as “precedent.” But the judges who pen these decisions also draw on their own literary experiences as they write the law. The authors they most frequently cite are predictable: the likes of Shakespeare, Kafka, and Melville, writers who explicitly tackle legal themes and whose works are enshrined in the Western canon. Unsurprisingly, female authors are largely ignored in legal decisions. All of the references to Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Amy Tan, and Margaret Atwood combined come nowhere close to the number of direct citations to Charles Dickens, not to mention uncited allusions to the best and worst of times. But a few women have broken through. Apart from J.K. Rowling, who appears in a number of judicial decisions because of her own litigiousness, the most-cited female authors include Harper Lee, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. Only the last, though, is cited not only for one work but across her entire oeuvre. .... [mehr]

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