Barbara Shapiro


Alexander Welsh, Strong Representations: Narrative and Circumstantial Evidence in England. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Pp. xi, 262. $29.95.

The "law and literature" movement to date consists of two rather different enterprises and concerns. The older, more familiar variety, "law in literature," consists of examining literary works such as Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Melville's Billy Budd, or Kafka's The Trial for their insight into and assessment of legal issues and problems. The second the driving force in the recent law and literature movement - emphasizes interpretation of literary and legal texts. Interpretation, of course, has always been central to literary and humanistic endeavors, but has taken on growing importance for law as belief in literature as a unique variety of text has eroded. The tendency to speak about legal and literary texts in the same breath thus seems more appropriate than it might have in earlier decades and largely stems from changes in modes of literary criticism. Interest is now focused on the extent to which the same or similar interpretive modes and strategies can or should be employed in a variety of different discourses.

Alexander Welsh's Strong Representations: Narrative and Circumstantial Evidence in Englanddoes not fit easily into either category. It may be thought of as having extended the boundaries of the second, more recent development of law and literature studies. Perhaps Welsh, a distinguished literary scholar, has even developed a third variety, one that seeks to link legal modes of thought of particular historical eras with non-legal cultural experience of the same era. Welsh attempts to demonstrate a close relationship between eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century concepts of circumstantial evidence in English criminal law and the development of the English novel during that period. If that were all he attempts one might wish simply to state his thesis, suggest the extent to which he is able to support it, and be done with it. But he has done a good deal more-he has begun to explore the relatively unknown area of the history of the Anglo-American law of evidence, and has attempted to show how both literary and legal concepts of evidence were linked to the wider world, in the areas of religion and natural science. If he has not been altogether successful, he has made a significant foray into an important, though little explored, area of law and culture.