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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

1 - ‘If You Only Knew Me Through and Through’: The Domestic Trial Scene and Narrative Advocacy

Summary

Victorian literature provides many examples of the shared procedural methods between literature and the law as observed by Ian Watt in The Rise of the Novel, with novelists frequently using the courtroom as a metaphor for their fictional practice. As Jonathan H. Grossman notes, ‘it is easy enough to find analogies between the novel and the law courts as storytelling forums: readers or authors are like judges; a narrator performs as a witness or a lawyer; characters testify; and so on.’ Wilkie Collins, for example, opens The Woman in White with the statement that ‘the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness – with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect.’ Thus ‘as the Judge might once have heard it, so the Reader shall hear it now.’ The pervasive appearance of the courtroom and legal discourse in Victorian literature can be traced back to changing practices in trial procedure from 1836 when the Prisoner's Counsel Act reshaped trial procedure into an adversarial contest between opposing counsels. This development, which Justice James Fitzjames Stephen described as ‘the most remarkable change introduced into the practice of the courts’, was subject to intense scrutiny in the press and narrative fiction.