Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature
(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)
Taught by Susan Sage Heinzelman
The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., University of Western Ontario
Great literature can be the means of understanding as well as
creating our world—by teaching and reinforcing society's laws,
articulating its values, and enforcing the social contracts that unite
us as a culture. What if literature itself generated our ideas and
feelings about justice, marriage and family, property, authority, race,
or gender? What if it enflamed our determination to pursue justice—or,
conversely, undermined our ability to detect injustice?
law in all its variations—from religious commandments to oral tradition
to codified statute—embraced its own narrative assumptions to the point
of absorbing purely literary conventions as a means of more forcefully
arguing its points in the legal arena?
And what if this dynamic relationship between written and unwritten
laws and literature is constantly evolving? How do law and literature
influence or reflect one other? And what lessons might we draw from
their symbiotic relationship?
Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature is a provocative
exploration of just such questions—an examination of the rhetorical and
philosophical connections that link these two disciplines.
Mine the Riches of a New Scholarly Field
Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, who has been honored many times for
her teaching skills, is also president of the Association for the Study
of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and she brings to these lectures
many years of thought and research into the roles of law and literature
in society and culture and their relationship to one another.
She is especially concerned to break down the stereotypical definitions
of these two disciplines: that literature is fictive and subjective,
that is, persuasive on a primarily emotional level understood as the
realm of the feminine, and that law is factual and objective, and thus
primarily persuasive in the intellectual realm traditionally ascribed
to the masculine.
Professor Heinzelman refers to the representation of culture, whether
legal or literary, through language, image, symbol systems, and action.
It is the intertwining of the stereotypical definitions that she
untangles in these lectures, showing how each has contributed to
creating our cultural beliefs and expectations "in similar ways—by
offering us ways of imagining ourselves—both at our best and at our
Professor Heinzelman's examination encompasses more than 3,000 years.
It begins with the Old Testament—in which literature was law—and takes
us through ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, England's experience of the
Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the 19th and 20th centuries.
Focusing on works of literature that hold law, implicit or explicit, as
a central theme—as well as on the overall relationship between law and
literature in society—she shows how that relationship gradually
transformed from the astoundingly intricate cross-connections between
law and literature still present during the time of Shakespeare, to a
point in the mid-18th century when the two disciplines separated more
clearly into the distinct realms we recognize today.
Fresh Insights into Great Works and Their Eras
As Professor Heinzelman guides you through these great works, she shows
how each reflects its times, and she offers fresh insights that can
illuminate even those with which you may already be familiar. For
In The Scarlet Letter , you'll see how a woman sentenced to a lifetime
of community shame sets aside societal dictates to create a new
standard of virtue for women.
In the 1917 short story, A Jury of Her Peers, you'll see how a reporter
covering a sensational turn-of-the-century murder trial would one day
reconfigure the events of the case into a play and a short story that
would dramatize the implications of all-male juries sitting in judgment
on female defendants.
And in Lolita, you'll see how a single literary work can challenge not
only a society's written jurisprudence, but its unwritten moral codes,
As presented by Professor Heinzelman, these and the other works
explored in this course each present their own challenges, forcing you
to re-evaluate the ways you read fiction, watch films and plays, or
take in legal arguments. Indeed, you may never do any of these things
the same way again
About Your Professor
Susan Sage Heinzelman, Ph.D., is associate professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has taught in both the English Department and the School of Law since receiving her doctorate from the University of Western Ontario in 1977. She specializes in 18th -century British literature; literary theory; and women, gender, and literature. The winner of many university teaching awards—most recently the President's Associates Teaching Award in 2003—Professor Heinzelman is also coeditor (with Zipporah Batshaw Wiseman) of Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism (1994) and is the author of many articles on the representation of women in law and literature.
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