Justice Between the Covers
From labyrinthine and interminable cases through the court of Chancery to the black arts of lawyerly intervention in marriage, stolen inheritance, identity fraud, blackmail and open theft - classic fiction is a treasure trove of legal storytelling and legal history.
Here the law has been deployed as plot device, as social criticism, as ferocious satire or allegory or in fascinating close up - illuminating how law was actually practiced and experienced by all social classes at least as vividly as professional legal journals, newspapers or records of the day.
But did classic novels also help shape the law they represent? To what extent has our legal system been influenced by the transforming force of great fiction, its powerful depictions of the law and, ultimately, the justice system? Weaving together the literary and the legal, Helena Kennedy QC uses her lawyerly skill and a warm love of literature to show how fiction has had its own part to play in the unfolding story of law, not only the transformations brought about by campaigning literature of the Victorian era such as Dickens' 'Bleak House' (agitating for the reform of the English courts) but also in broader cultural terms: the law presented as a metaphysical, brooding and sometimes sinister presence, driven by as much by obscure and unending bureaucracy as by justice and equity (powerfully depicted by Franz Kafka)
But fiction has also championed the ideal of law and positive legal redress, and in contrast with the cynicism of Dickens and Kafka Helena traces the rise of the great 'Lawyer Hero' of American writing in the Civil Rights era, as novels like 'To Kill A Mockingbird' directly intervened in debates about desegregation and constitutional equality in early 1960s America,
This will be new and surprising territory for presenter and listener alike: Helena unravels these much loved works of fiction, exploring what they were trying to say about law and justice, the power of having a reading public and what they had in their transformative sights.
Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.