Stuart Culver


Irene Tucker, A Probable State: The Novel, the Contract, and the Jews. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 311. $42, cloth.

Irene Tucker's A Probable State: The Novel, the Contract, and the Jews is an intelligent, closely-argued book that deals insightfully and valuably with a number of issues students of literary and legal history find pressing today. She has three major stories to tell: how liberal--which for Tucker means Lockean-assumptions about individual agency, property, and representation failed to withstand the new ideas and social facts of the late nineteenth century; how the narrative conventions of realism were challenged and remade by new conceptions of literary authority and the act of reading; and how the Jew became the figure for a new relation between culture and identity. Along the way, Tucker offers a persuasive critique of the role context has come to play in the historicist literary study influenced by Michel Foucault. The largest claims Tucker makes in A Probable State are neither strikingly original nor unexpected to any reader familiar with the territory she covers. Still, one's journey through the book's complex and subtle readings is rewarding and at the center of A Probable State is an essay on the role of contract in Henry James's What Maisie Knew that seems to this reader an extremely successful example of how legal and literary studies can interact.