Instructor(s): Simon Stern

For graduate students, the course number is LAW5027HF.

Note: The Blackboard program will be used for this course. Students must self-enrol in Blackboard as soon as confirmed in the course in order to obtain course information.

O.W. Holmes: “The life of the law has not been logic but experience.”
O.Wilde: “Experience is the name we give to our past mistakes.”

Each week we will read several articles, along with several short stories and novels during the term. We will begin with a consideration of some of the questions and criticisms that scholars have recently raised as they have sought to justify or reorient the field. We will then look at some of the specific problems connecting law and literature at various points since the Renaissance. After a more intensive look at current theoretical debates, we will take up various problems at the intersection of law and literature: legal fictions, forms of legal writing and explanation, and the regulation of literature through copyright law. Next we will focus on two legal problems that have also occupied literary thinkers: the problem of criminal responsibility and literature’s ability to document human thought and motives, and the question of privacy in criminal law, tort law, and fiction. We will end by considering possible future directions for law and literature. The course requirements will include a final paper and two or three response papers for presentation in class.

Each unit includes some required readings and a number of suggested sources for students who are interested in doing further research in a particular area. Some of the questions we will discuss include:

How does literature use or respond to legal structures, themes, and analytical techniques, and vice versa?
How does literature portray legal institutions and processes?
What can literature bring to the performance of legal tasks, including legal narrative?
To what extent can literary critical accounts of narrative structure and coherence explain the role of narrative in law, and where do these accounts fall short?
What is achieved and what is missed by positing literature as law’s “other” (e.g., as the imaginative and ethical alternative to legal rules and constraints)?

Two or three one- to two-page comment papers on assigned readings (to be used in class discussions of those readings) (cumulatively 20%); class participation 20% (10% performance on comment papers, 10% contribution to class discussion); and a term paper of about 15 pages, on a topic to be approved in advance (60%).

At a Glance

First Term
Perspective course



9 JD

8 MA English and 3 SGS students from other departments


M: 4:10 - 6:00