Sharon Marcus


Jonathan H. Grossman, The Art of Alibi. English Law Courts and the Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Pp. xii, 202. $39.95.

Jan-Melissa Schramm, Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Literature, and Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xvi, 244. $54.95.

Read in conjunction as contributions to the field of law and literature, these two books initially appear made for each other, since each supplies what the other lacks. Grossman's The Art of Alibi gives us literature through literary criticism: subtle readings, precise analyses of narration, and an assured grasp of the novel as a genre. Schramm's Testimony and Advocacy gives us law: an internally differentiated set of legal categories and a conceptual framework constructed from legal history. That complementary relationship, however, turns as adversarial as the courtrooms both authors study, since ultimately these two books make incompatible arguments. Grossman emphasizes suspenseful narrative structure as the common ground of law and the novel, while Schramm argues that Victorian law and literature diverged, with law favoring advocacy and literature gravitating to direct testimony.

Both Grossman and Schramm historicize the connections between law and literature, although Schramm links them through legal epistemology and Grossman links them through literary form. Literature has little autonomy or history in Schramm's analysis, but is closely bound to law because it shares law's epistemological commitment to evidentiary realism. By evidentiary realism, Schramm means empiricist standards of proof that can be satisfied by probable knowledge and that renounce the certain knowledge that nineteenth-century thought increasingly associated with religious faith. For Grossman, the connection between law and literature depends on their common deployment of narrative in the sense of highly structured, suspenseful plots. Although Grossman usually defines the law as causing changes in literature, his use of the literary term "narrative" to define the historical specificity of nineteenth-century law reassigns primacy to literature.