ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Monday, December 7, 2009

George Eliot on "Going to Law"

The notion of the honest lawyer seems to have been a stranger to the 19th-century English novel.  Here is how George Eliot describes the prospects of a law suit in The Mill on the Floss:

George_Eliot_3  Mr. Tulliver was a strictly honest man, and proud of being honest, but he considered that in law the ends of justice could only be achieved by employing a stronger knave to frustrate a weaker. Law was a sort of cock-fight, in which it was the business of injured honesty to get a game bird with the best pluck and the strongest spurs.

. . .

"I hope and pray he won't go to law," said Mrs. Moss, "for there's never any knowing where that'll end. And the right doesn't allays win.  This Mr. Pivart's a rich man, by what I can make out, and the rich mostly get things their own way."

[Jeremy Telman]

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No, the 19th century did not have a particular fondness for lawyers. One need only think of a few representations of lawyers -- Dickens (Oliver Twist, Bleak House, David Copperfield) -- the law is filled with unfairness, loudness, a failure to pursue truth, and at the end of the day justice goes to the iniquitous; similarly, Leo Tolstoy wrote with loathing of lawyers in his works: they are often characterized as something more akin to low-levels of society, grimy, and perpetually taking people's money for no good end. And while Shakespeare may have employed a lawyer to save Shylock's unwitting contractual partner from a gruesome end, he also famously wrote, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (Henry IV).

-Michael Lopez
University of North Dakota

Posted by: Michael Lopez | Dec 8, 2009 12:27:19 PM

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