Masculinity and the Trials of Modern Fiction: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Masculinity and the Trials of Modern Fiction

1st Edition

By Marco Wan


177 pages

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How do lawyers, judges and jurors read novels? And what is at stake when literature and law confront each other in the courtroom? Nineteenth-century England and France are remembered for their active legal prosecution of literature, and this book examines the ways in which five novels were interpreted in the courtroom: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Paul Bonnetain’s Charlot s’amuse, Henry Vizetelly’s English translation of Émile Zola’s La Terre, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. It argues that each of these novels attracted legal censure because they presented figures of sexual dissidence – the androgyne, the onanist or masturbator, the patricide, the homosexual and the lesbian – that called into question an increasingly fragile normative, middleclass masculinity. Offering close readings of the novels themselves, and of legal material from the proceedings, such as the trial transcripts and judicial opinions, the book addresses both the doctrinal dimensions of Victorian obscenity and censorship, as well as the reading practices at work in the courtroom. It situates the cases in their historical context, and highlights how each trial constitutes a scene of reading – an encounter between literature and the law – through which different forms of masculinity were shaped, bolstered or challenged.


`Masculinity and the Trials of Modern Fiction offers a new and striking contribution to the subject of censorship and the trials of literary texts. The subject has often been treated without Marco Wan’s great subtlety as a reader. He has a remarkable capacity to read the language deployed by the law with the keen critical attention of the literary critic, and then to see how legal issues inflect the modalities of literature. His attention to the discourses of gender implicated in these famous trials gives his study a striking originality. This is one of the best studies of law and literature in intertextual relation that I have ever seen.'

Peter Brooks, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Yale University, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholar, Princeton University

`It is the task of literature to call people back to the radical diversity of forms of life, and modes of desire. Ranging over narratives of the sodomitical, patricidal, onanistic, androgyne, gay and lesbian, Marco Wan’s eloquent and incisive study brilliantly evidences the capacity of the literary to challenge, unsettle and rewrite the strictures of the juridical.'

Peter Goodrich, Professor and Director of the Program in Law and Humanities, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

`Neither before nor since have I written to congratulate an author unknown to me. But I did so in response to an article by Marco Wan on the Oscar Wilde trial, now addressed more fully in Chapter Four of this book. " Fascinating " was what I said. Indeed there is no better word to describe Marco's analysis here of five famous examples of where the establishment desperately resorts to law in order to confront home truths about human sexuality which it regards as socially subversive.'

Nicholas Wilson, Justice of the U.K. Supreme Court.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Legal Interpretation, Gender and the Novel

2. The Madame Bovary Trial: Androgyny and Realism’s ‘Lascivious Painting’

3. The Charlot s’amuse Trial: Masturbation and the Scandal of Naturalist Fiction in France

4. The Henry Vizetelly Trials: Patricide and Obscene French Novels in England

5. The Oscar Wilde Trials: The Sodomite, ‘Literary’ Evidence and ‘Legal’ Interpretation

6. The Well of Loneliness Trials: Lesbianism, Male Homosexuality and the Return of the Repressed.

About the Author

Marco Wan is Associate Professor of Law and Honorary Associate Professor of English at the University of Hong Kong.

About the Series

Discourses of Law

This successful and exciting series seeks to publish the most innovative scholarship at the intersection of law, philosophy and social theory. The books published in the series are distinctive by virtue of exploring the boundaries of legal thought. The work that this series seeks to promote is marked most strongly by the drive to open up new perspectives on the relation between law and other disciplines. The series has also been unique in its commitment to international and comparative perspectives upon an increasingly global legal order. Of particular interest in a contemporary context, the series has concentrated upon the introduction and translation of continental traditions of theory and law.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Jurisprudence
LAW / Legal Writing
LAW / Trial Practice
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 19th Century
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Men's Studies