Last fall, the W&L Law School hosted its 20th-annual alumni seminar focusing on topics in law and literature. The program featured Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. On its initial publication in 1891, Hardy’s novel was greeted with hostile reviews for its scandalous portrayal of rape and its cynical view of English class structure. Clearly, Tess was ahead of its time. Also discomforting his contemporary readers were Hardy’s condemnation of the motivations of the men in relations with women and his indictment of civil and religious institutions designed to protect the innocent. In the 20th and now in the 21st century, Hardy’s radicalism has found more sympathetic readers. Teaching in the program were W&L Law professor Joan Shaughnessy and former colleague Dave Caudill, along with English professors Marc Conner and Edward Adams. The weekend program, running from late Friday afternoon through midday Saturday, again earned high praise from participants. The Law School co-sponsors the program each fall with the W&L Alumni College.
In its 21st year—the longest-running program of its kind in the country—the Law and Literature Seminar will turn to a prize-winning contemporary American novel, Snow Falling on Cedars. Within the framework of a courtroom drama, David Guterson’s novel explores a variety of themes: memory and guilt, racism, justice and betrayal, and small-town relationships. Set in the Puget Sound area of Washington during the 1950s, Snow Falling on Cedars follows the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American, accused of the murder of a neighbor in a small, close-knit fishing community. Complicating the case is the deep antipathy toward the Japanese that followed World War II—Miyamoto’s family, along with all citizens of Japanese extraction in the region, had been incarcerated in California internment camps during the war. The trial is narrated by the editor of the local newspaper, himself a wounded veteran of the Pacific War. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, the novel is praised by the New York Times Book Review as “finely wrought, flawlessly written.” The program will again be led by Dave Caudill and Marc Conner, with two guest faculty from W&L.
As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature—you don’t need to be an attorney to attend.