Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: Ian McEwan's "The Children Act" November 6-7, 2015

In its unparalleled run of 22 years, the Alumni College's Law and Literature Weekend Seminar has relied on a highly effective model: gathering professors and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical, and literary perspectives. The results can be exhilarating. Each fall, the School of Law chooses a compelling text, assembles a team of professors, invites participants to Lexington, and clears the way for a unique sharing of ideas and responses. In 2014, the program featured George Orwell's modern classic, 1984, with its stark vision of a society without civil liberties or the rule of law. In sessions that ran from late Friday afternoon through midday Saturday, participants traced the path of Orwell's brave but doomed protagonist and discussed the tale's implications for our own current concerns about technology, surveillance, and free expression. Teaching in the program were W&L law professors Brian Murchison and Margaret Hu, former colleague David Caudill, and English professor Marc Conner. The faculty and the program itself won high marks from the more than 70 enrollees.

The 2015 program will focus on The Children Act, a new novel by acclaimed British writer Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, Amsterdam (which won the Booker Prize), Sweet Tooth, and other works. In The Children Act, legal issues and personal repercussions take center stage. The woman at the heart of the story, Fiona Maye, is an English judge whose docket consists of highly contentious family law cases. In one case, legal rules and religious belief come into sharp conflict, allowing McEwan to delve deeply into questions of identity, responsibility, and the limits of human understanding. A further, more enduring conflict in the novel concerns the intersection between the private self and the public, judicial persona in Fiona, a conflict compounded by a marital crisis that unsettles her settled life and nudges her closer to judicial misconduct. A reviewer in The New York Review of Books wrote that this book is "among the best and most accomplished novels [McEwan] has ever written." Faculty for the weekend will include Brian Murchison and Ann Massie, their former colleague David Caudill, and Marc Conner, with another to be announced.

As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2015 program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature — you don't need to be an attorney to attend.

Author Photo by Joost van der Broek