The Art of Alibi: English Law Courts and the Novel

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9780801867552: The Art of Alibi: English Law Courts and the Novel

In The Art of Alibi, Jonathan Grossman reconstructs the relation of the novel to nineteenth-century law courts. During the Romantic era, courthouses and trial scenes frequently found their way into the plots of English novels. As Grossman states, "by the Victorian period, these scenes represented a powerful intersection of narrative form with a complementary and competing structure for storytelling." He argues that the courts, newly fashioned as a site in which to orchestrate voices and reconstruct stories, arose as a cultural presence influencing the shape of the English novel.

Weaving examinations of novels such as William Godwin's Caleb Williams, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, along with a reading of the new Royal Courts of Justice, Grossman charts the exciting changes occurring within the novel, especially crime fiction, that preceded and led to the invention of the detective mystery in the 1840s.

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About the Author:

Jonathan H. Grossman is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Review:

"Among those texts that attend both to historical environment and formal or generic pressures, Jonathan H. Grossman's The Art of Alibi stands out."

(Andrew H. Miller Studies in English Literature)

"[An] absorbing study of the cultural influence of the law courts on the Victorian novel... Grossman's refusal to simply draw an analogy between trials and novels distinguishes his argument from others working in the crossover territory between legal studies and literary criticism."

(David McAllister Times Literary Supplement)

"Grossman's innovative study is a provocative reconsideration of the early nineteenth-century novel and should stimulate further exploration of the generative intersection of law and literature."

(Gareth Cordery Dickens Quarterly)

"Jonathan Grossman offers an important exploration of the relationships of physical, political, and narrative forms of the law in the early Victorian period. His powerful readings form an essential tool for understanding the way writers like Dickens and Gaskell used juridical forms to make important innovations in literary form. His use of visual material as well as court records to illuminate these readings is marvelous."

(Hilary M. Schor, University of Southern California)

"The crossover territory between legal studies and literary criticism is a subject of central interest to scholarship. Grossman's study deals with this subject in a fresh and vigorous manner that presents a young critic who will make his mark."

(John Sutherland, University College London)

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