In A Portrait of Lincoln’s Inn it is perceptively noted by the author (as well as by Anthony Trollope) that the “lawyer’s parlour-game is to find anachronisms and anomalies in how the law is treated in literature.” (p.82) The nature of my legal education at Warwick has also prompted me to indulge in such musings and to consider the intricate mytho-historical relationship between law and literature. So, as part of my ‘ramblings’ on this blog, I hope I will be excused if I occasionally meander towards sharing my views on law and literature.
While lawyers are usually portrayed as hard-nosed, cut-throat individuals, devoid of either compassion or ideals, the opposite is often true. This is especially true for Barristers or those who seek to be Barristers. Behind their inscrutable, professional façade, many a Barrister shelters their inner Bohemian: prone to bouts of eccentricity and profoundly idealistic. Why else would someone who is academically and professionally accomplished, eschew a more lucrative and (relatively) secure ‘job’ in a consultancy or solicitor’s firm, for the uncertainty of independent, self-employed practice? Few nowadays repeat the old, noble adages of the past; expressions of ‘ensuring justice’ or avoiding ‘the taint of money’ but many still get a thrill, an adrenaline rush from living brief to brief, like an actor lives from script to script. More than any other profession, I feel the vocation of a Barrister is most similar to that of an actor/actress as their careers are shaped and reputations forged by each brief/script they take on. They are expected to thrive under the limelight and any misstep, in the courtroom or on the stage, is potentially ruinous. I suppose that is one of the reasons why Barristers have an affinity to the literary, the theatrical and the dramatic. Flaubert might have expressed it best in Madame Bovary (1857): “There isn’t a bourgeois alive who in the ferment of his youth, if only for a day or for a minute, hasn’t thought himself capable of boundless passions and noble exploits. The sorriest little woman-chaser has dreamed of Oriental queens; in a corner of every notary’s heart lie the moldy remains of a poet.” Just such an emotion is conveyed in the following poem by J. Williams, where he lyrically laments the divergence of verse and the law and wistfully contemplates the ‘bold’ decision of some to side with the former.