Tag Archives: law

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes

Sign of Four (1890)

largely derived from Collins’ The Moonstone. Has  boat chase scene, Holmes solves the plot but does not get the treasure back…the futility of unraveling plot for the sake of plot, or perhaps just the opposite.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

Triangulates between Watson, Holmes and reader. Reader identification is crucial—the cards are always stacked against her, b/c of Watson’s withholding of information (not directly, but by the person writing Watson…or is it?) Holmes is a master reader, always finding reasons for everything. But at times the concept of plot is internally critiqued as a mere device, while plot is being used to tell the story.

Drug use as a substitute for the effects of narrative—Holmes is either plotting or shooting up.

  • A Scandal in Bohemia – use of the negative as a way to find result – beat by Irene Adler – the problem/threat of women remains paramount for Holmes.
  • Red-Headed League – Interesting stuff on the strangeness of life itself (as opposed to fiction), in a story that deals with biological traits – namely, red hair, which comes to represent ugly wierdness for Doyle.
  • Case of Identity – A step father becomes the suitor of his step-daughter (engaging but not marrying here) in order to maintain the constant flow of her dowry. Connect with other father/husband doublings, such as Jarndyce.
  • The Five Orange Pips – Takes the KKK as its subject – strange similarities to Sutpen in Absalom/Absalom. Unique because “fate” in the form of a storm succeeds where Holmes fails (sinks the boat of racists) though he solves the crime, he can’t being justice.

Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1860)

Walter Hartwright opens the novel narrating a strange encounter with a woman in white on the outskirts of London. Helps her find a carriage, and finds out that she has escaped from psych ward. Walter gets a job teaching drawing to Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. He falls in love with Laura (who looks exactly like Anne), but is relieved of post because Laura is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde,a  hot-headed landed gentry who turns out to be quite awful. Walter goes to South America. Mr. Fairlie signs away Laura’s fortune (20.000 pounds). 10,000 pounds have also been left to her, but will go to Countess Fosco if she dies before the Foscos do. Laura marries, goes to Rome, and then returns. Percival spends loads of money. The hugely fat Count Fosco returns with them. Anne begins to come around (wearing white b/c of attachment to deceased Mrs. Fairlie) talking about a “Secret” that will bring Percival crashing down. Turns out her mother has told her about the secret, without giving the content, and Anne used this to advantage in youth and was consequently sent to asylum. Laura and Marian become prisoners—through an ingenious plan, Fosco and Percival switch the dead Anne with the living Laura in order to have Laura put into an insane asylum—but also mange to get the money to pay the debts. Marian breaks her out, Walter returns, and they begin to try to reconstruct the evidence that will reveal Percival’s secret and also prove Laura’s identity (the latter comes down to a matter of dates; the former comes down to a marriage log in rustic church). Percival attempts to burn the log and burns the church down with himself inside. Percival has spuriously inserted his name into the log (a sin), that in fact covers up the original sin of Philip Fairlie who fathered both Anne and Laura by different mothers. Battle continue with Fosco, who si blackmailed into writing his account of the story. He is part of an international secret society (in which Pesca is high-ranking member), he flees but is tracked down and killed in Paris. Laura and Walter are married and their child inherits Limmeridge.

Preface: Lays out form of the story: characters provide narration along a roughly chronological chain—no overlap, so the various perspectives are not complicating the scene described (they rather highlight the characters—and clarify the story)…characters becomes means to a plot. Any overlap is ABOUT PLOT NOT ABOUT CHARACTER.

Narration: both narrator and organizer of evidence.

Story vs. law: acknowledge of “facts” being inadequate to the task of narration.

Discussion of Crime: the perfect crime is one in which no one knows the crime has been committed. Think about this as form for all narrative: SECRET. Secret takes on substance.

Function of the lawyer or man of business – Mr. Gilmore is impersonal recorder of events, as pure functioning machine. Cf. Bruff in Moonstone.

MADNESS enters as medicine into a family crime (no longer associated with larger cosmic determination, but firmly domestic)

Sir Pericval’s crime is a solution to a problem via the limited protocols of marriage.

Inheritance: similar routing of the spurious inheritor as in Wuthering Heights.

Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1852-3)

Esther Summerson, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare are all orphans that have the benefit of being cared for financially by Mr. John Jarndyce, who brings them all together at Bleak House when they come of age. Ada is beautiful and boring, Richard is handsome and aimless, and Esther is diligent and plain. Esther becomes “mistress of Bleak House,” eventually marrying the young doctor Allan Woodcourt, but not before she discovers that she is the daughter of Lady Dedlock, the wife of the very rich and powerful Lord Leicester Dedlock, owner of Chesney Wold. Richard and Ada become engaged at a young age, and Richard devotes his life to unraveling the case, only to die when the case is solved and all inheritance money is taken up in expenses.

Other important characters: the lawyer Tulkinghorn, the detective Bucket, the spontaneously combusted Krook, the hyperbolic Boythron, the loyal soldier Mr. Geroge that turns out to be the son of the maid of Lord Dedlock, the crazy Miss Flite with all the birds, the young and homeless Jo that makes everyone sick, and Henry Skimpole, the “noble savage” that refuses the space-time logic of capitalism.

Property: Esther essentially marries a house. Jarndyce and Jarndyce case is sustained through flow of property—like capital, it requires movement, exchange. Bleak House is also easily transplanted, becomes signifier of traditional bonds, but is not rooted to land. Contrast this to Dedlock’s ideal England and one can see this as story of aristocratic decline, the repeal of the corn laws (the immaculate 53 cf. Barchester Towers), etc. (connect this with Parade’s End and Tietjens as Tory, etc.)

Narration – oscillates between omniscient narrator (present tense, social satire, spans geographical space and geological time) and Esther Summerson (deliberately self-limited, acutely aware of “epistemological limits” that double as socially defined gender conventions.) 3rd person is focused on objective conditions of society, while 1st person becomes increasingly imbricated in those concerns as the narrative progresses…convergence would be similar to something like David Copperfield’s conclusion, but via spatial coordinates.

Comedy – Impetus to produce (alphabetical list of names and other excess, bordering on absurdity)….as desiring-production in contrast to Freudian desire (in terms of construction and resolution of plot). At hinge moments (such as incipient critique of Chancery) the narrative starts to get absurd.

Genre – A peculiar mix of romance, detective story and realist novel. At time chaotic, but more often than not, locked in productive competition, leading towards ambiguous mixture. In general, realism becomes increasingly about character as the 19th century wears on: the psychological or sympathetic mimesis of Eliot and James is in the distance…but for Dickens, institutions, historical, etc. are still recalcitrants objects of representations that cannot be worked out via psychological focalization.

Plot – Chapters strung together like set pieces, plot emerges in small increments at the end of the chapters…as novel progresses, the plot begins to take over more and more of each chapter. Or the describes as inverse, where characters take on the body of the plot as they put on more flesh. Think about plot itself in terms of survival – with Chnacery case as prime example: achievement of steady-state. Further, plot is generated by 3 mysterious absences: the missing legal document, Esther’s past, Jo’s sickness (secret is social system that has given him disease, that then spreads)

Law – Opening sequence describes antediluvian London’s Chancery court system – contrast with Hugo’s description of Notre Dame (both make use of evolutionary language.)

Boythorn is a parody of William Savage Landor – ridiculous hyperbole and chivalry – a good example of Dicken satirical style, along with Chadband’s speechifying—note that all this comes mostly through omniscient narrator, and rarely through the restrained lens of Esther. Chadband is parody of florid novelistic prose that doesn’t go anywhere.

Richard Carstone fits the aimless male type: Deronda, Edward Ferrars, etc…is taken over by labor rather than taking on labor—perhaps because there is no metabolic exchange???

Skimpole – Dickens send up of the socially innocent ‘noble savage’

Bucket – precursor to Sherlock Holmes, disaffected and indifferent, pure plotting machine – terrifying attention to detail, an ability to “plot” which amounts to unraveling the plot – see Peter Brooks on the necessity of repetition.

Individual/System – Dickens shows the friction between individual agency and systematic recalcitrance. In generic terms, one can see the romantic Bildungsroman struggling for life, but being swallowed by Victorian conventions. This stands in reverse relation to otherwise “progressive” social reforms that democratize society and allow for the ascent of Mr. George’s brother, for example, and the marriage that flows from his monetary success… The relating between these vectors (political, economic) is by turns ironic, contradictory, and coincident.