April 26, 2018

Matthew H. Birkhold on Why Judges Cite Jane Austen

Via Electric Literature, this interesting meditation on why judges find Jane Austen so intriguing, and why, when they cite female authors at all, they cite her, as well as Harper Lee and Mary Shelley. Writes Matthew H. Birkhold, Ohio State University,
After reading every available opinion, I’ve come to a rather banal but beautiful conclusion: Jane Austen is cited as an authority on the complexity of life, particularly with regard to the intricacies of relationships. Alternatively, judges cite Austen as a shorthand for erudition and sophistication, to demarcate who is a part of high society (often, lawyers) and who is not (often, defendants), reflecting the novelist’s popular reception....Half of the published legal opinions that cite Jane Austen don’t engage with her work beyond the first line of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This approach relies on the Austen quotation to underscore the legal writer’s intellect and the certainty of his or her claim. For instance, in a medical malpractice case, the court denied the plaintiff’s cause of action because “it is a truth universally acknowledged that she who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”
More here.

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