Letters before the Law, 1640–1789

Friday, October 3, 2008–Saturday, October 4, 2008
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Jayne Lewis, University of California, Irvine and Ann Jessie Van Sant, University of California, Irvine


This conference will highlight a period characterized not just by dramatic change in both English law and English imaginative literature, but also by a uniquely intimate—indeed mutually constitutive—relationship between the two. This conference brings together a number of scholars working at the forefront of today’s law and literature movement to look at how radical transformations in the jurisprudential landscape between the English Civil Wars and the French Revolution intertwine with such significant transformations in the world of letters as the institution of a popular print culture, the reformulation of authorship and reading practice, and the rise of new genres, particularly the novel. Numerous emergent or transitional concepts—from equity, contract, and copyright to property, inheritance, and criminal liability—mediate the relationship between law and letters in the period. Working within and across, participants will investigate the extent to which legal categories are in fact embedded in various literary forms even as they consider how far the English legal writing of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries may itself be subjected to literary and rhetorical analysis. At the heart of this conference thus lies a question that is also at the center of Blackstone’s pivotal Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-9): What does it mean that the law was encountered for the first time as a written, and specifically English, object of historical knowledge even as it retained its dynamic valence in the practical terms of legislation on the one side and case law on the other? How in turn did these dramatic reconceptions of what law is and does interact with equally dramatic reconceptions of what literature is and does?

Law and Representation
Moderator: Ann Jessie Van Sant, University of California, Irvine

Wolfram Schmidgen, Washington University, St. Louis
“The Law of Illegitimacy”

Amy Louise Erickson, University of Cambridge
“Questions of Identity in Eighteenth-Century London”

Writing and Speaking the Law
Moderator: Jonathan Grossman, University of California, Los Angeles

James Sharpe, University of York
“New Ways of Writing Crime: Violent Offenses and Newspaper Reporting in Northern England in the Later Eighteenth Century”

Susan Staves, Brandeis University
“Cruel Punishment: Speaking from the Scaffold vs. Speaking from the Bench”

Martin A. Kayman, Cardiff University
“‘Graced as thou art with all the power of words:’ Lord Mansfield and ‘the glorious uncertainty of the law’”

Law and the Limits of Expression
“Moderator: Jayne Lewis, University of California, Irvine

Debora Shuger, University of California, Los Angeles
“The Prison Diaries of William Laud”

Elliott Visconsi, Yale University
“The Limits of Toleration: Dryden’s Civil Religion”

Victoria Silver, University of California, Irvine
“‘Neither person nor cause shall improper me:’ Milton and Defamation”

Law, Crime, and the Novel
Moderator: Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles

Sandra Macpherson, Ohio State University
“Murder and the Rise of the Novel”

Judy M. Cornett, University of Tennessee College of Law
“Knowing Women: Epistemology in Eighteenth-Century Law and the Novel”