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Introductory Post: Blathering about Transatlantic Law and Literature

by Brian Wall

Isaac Cruikshank, Cool Arguments!!! (1794). © The Trustees of the British MuseumThanks to Anthony and the rest of the Romantic Textualities team for letting me chime in here. I’m planning on being a semi-regular contributor to the site whilst I dodge inquiries from my supervisor about progress on my thesis (I see you watching, Penny!), and I’m delighted to have the chance to introduce myself.

First off, the basics: my name is Brian Wall, and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh aiming to graduate in June 2015. I claim Las Vegas as my hometown (although I haven’t really lived there since 2000) and am an alumnus of Brigham Young University and the College of William and Mary, where I worked in law school admissions before coming to Edinburgh in January 2012. I’ve been married to the lovely Katy since December 2006, enjoy playing basketball badly and the piano a bit better, and my most significant cultural adjustment since moving to Edinburgh has been not freaking out every time I see a dog running free of its lead—Las Vegas dogs are not nearly as well behaved as their Scottish counterparts.

Now, what I do: my research focuses on nineteenth-century Scottish and American transatlantic law and literature. In addition to this being a really roundabout way of justifying combining a law degree with advanced studies in literature, this is also an area in which I am sincerely fascinated. I’ll get into the details of this a bit more in my next post (forthcoming after the ACLA conference in March—stay tuned!), but I’ll sum it up briefly here. Essentially, I’m trying to justify the literary rationale for the interdisciplinary study of law and literature. Much of the work in this area has been done from members of the legal academy, and their work generally centres on whether literature can help create more humane lawyers. While I certainly think this is a worthwhile effort—as Walter Scott wrote in Guy Mannering (1815), ‘A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason’—I am also interested in whether there is any reciprocal benefit to literature scholars.

My central argument is that transatlantic studies, with its emphasis on collaboration and reciprocity over older models of ‘influence’, serves as both an excellent model for the disciplinary justification of law and literature and allows an understanding of nineteenth-century legislation and case law to illuminate the works of various authors. In that vein, the rest of my thesis serves as a case study of how certain legal debates can enhance our understanding of the works of key Scottish and American authors: I look at property law in Scott and Hawthorne, the insanity defence in Poe and Hogg, substance-induced multiple personality disorder in Stevenson and Norris, and patronage in Twain and Conan Doyle. Again, I’ll probably mine these studies for future blog updates, so stay tuned and I’ll see you next time!

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