Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Session #13: September 2nd, 2009 – lay judges 裁判員 and the jury system

A scan of the Magna Carta, signed by John of E...
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UPDATE (2009.09.03.08:20): Thank you to everyone who participated today. Today’s session was about lay judges, a new system introduced into the Japanese courts. We read this article about it , Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009. We then discussed the origins and purposes of the jury system. This involved learning something about Magna Carta. I feel very grateful to the people who made Magna Carta and forced King John to sign it. The jury system was intended to be a legal protection against the almost limitless powers of the king: Magna Carta states that the king may not punish any freeman except by the consent of his (the freeman’s) peers. The peers does not mean the peerage (the aristrocracy), but “the people”, as opposed to the king or the ruling class. It put a limit on the king’s power.

Before reading the article, I introduced a book about the financial crisis: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and the Government Bailout Will Make Things Worse and its Japanese translation メルトダウン 金融溶解 The foreword to the book was written by US Senator Ron Paul. Ron Paul has written his own book on the subject of the Federal Reserve: End the Fed. You can read chapter 2 of this book for free on the Mises Institute website (Ludwig von Mises was one of the most important Austrian economists. Read about him in Japanese here). The libertarian website Lew Rockwell.com has announced that Ron Paul’s book “End the Fed is now #4 in non-fiction on Amazon, and #17 overall. End the Fed!

During August, our Reading Group had no meetings. But that does not mean that members were not busy. Some of them read Atlas Shrugged (some in English, some in Japanese 肩をすくめるアトラス). One member read Emma (Jane Austen‘s classic Pride and Prejudice , or in Japanese 自負と偏見, was the subject of an earlier reading course, and we read the beginning of Emma, or エマ in our first session). She also read City of Glass (in Japanese シティ・オヴ・グラス ) by Paul Auster. (Here is a website in Japanese about the story: シティ・オヴ・グラス.)

The first session after the holidays.  To make a change from reading fiction, I have chosen a newspaper article about the new system of lay judges adopted in Japanese courts this year.

The article is Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009.

As well as discussing this article, we will be looking at the history of the jury system: when and why it was established.  To prepare for this, read about Magna Carta (in Japanese here), especially about rights still in force today.

UPDATE: Here is the original Latin from Magna Carta which relates to trial by jury. “Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisetur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur; nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terrae.” According to Lysander Spooner, in his “Essay on the Trial by Jury” (1852),

The most common translation of these words, at the present day, is as follows: “No freeman shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, nor will we (the king) pass upon him, nor condemn him, unless by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.”

As I mentioned during the session, the “law of the land” was also called “Common Law”, and it was different from laws created by the king. In other words, the Common Law is law independent of the king. At the time (the Middle Ages), kings had to promise to protect and respect the Common Law, although many of them did not (and King John was one of the worst in this regard, and the result was the barons opposed him).

Lysander Spooner, in his essay on trial by jury, examines the exact words of the Magna Carta, and other charters of that time, and argues that the purpose of the jury was originally not only to decide guilt or innocence, but also to decide whether the law was just or not. In other words, the purpose of trial by jury is to check and limit the power of the king to do exactly whatever he wants. Spooner gives evidence that King John was extremely angry about the contents of Magna Carta and at first refused to sign it. He even appealed to the Pope, and the Pope replied with sympathy. Spooner writes that this shows that both King John and the Pope understood that the Magna Carta was taking away a very great power from the king: it was not only about deciding guilt or innocence, but it gave the jury the power to express their judgment of the law itself. Obviously, if only the king can make laws but if the jury can decide whether the law is fair or not and refuse to punish anyone who is accused under an unfair law, then this gives the people a very great protection against the abuse of power that any king might make. It is protection for the people against the king, or government, or state.

This history lesson teaches us much about the purpose and meaning of trial by jury, and also throws some light onto the lay-judge system created in Japan recently.

I will also bring an article about the recent elections, to show the point of view from the British media.

UPDATE: In fact, we did not have time to discuss this.  I have a list of links to articles in the British press about the election at my other blog Searching for Accurate Maps. A Japanese comedy troupe called The Newspaper has created a comedy skit showing Hatoyama choosing his new cabinet ministers. Watch the video here.

TOKYO - AUGUST 11:  Yukio Hatoyama, President ...
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Session #4: Stream of Consciousness & Interior Monologue

Cover of "Mrs. Dalloway"
Cover of Mrs. Dalloway

Session #4: Stream of Consciousness & Interior Monologue, March 4th, 2009

Two texts for today:

  1. Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce

We read the first two paragraphs of “Mrs. Dalloway”, chosen to illustrate the “stream of consciousness“, and two short extracts from “Ulysses”, chosen to illustrate the “interior monologue” technique.

Both of these techniques allow the reader to “listen” directly to the thoughts of a character, without an intermediary explanation by an all-knowing narrator. The “stream of consciousness” is often mixed with the narrative voice, but the reader has to guess which is which.

The “stream of consciousness” technique was a development of an earlier technique called “free indirect style”, a technique used frequently by Jane Austen.

The “interior monologue” or “internal monologue” is more difficult to read: because there is no explanation or mediation by the narrator, and because the author is trying to give us the raw thoughts of a character. When we think, we know the context of our thoughts, we do not explain them. The lack of context makes it hard for the reader, though.

Here’s an extract from “Ulysses” to illustrate:

On the doorstep he felt in his hip pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have.

The first sentence is the narrator’s voice. From the second sentence onwards we are “listening” to the thoughts of the character (Leopold Bloom, the “Ulysses” of the title).  The verb is left out, as it often is in our own thoughts. The other sentences are also a kind of shorthand, but the reader can fill in the blanks. The final sentence, “Potato I have” is completely baffling, unless you know that Leopold habitually carries a potato in his pocket for good luck.

The second extract we read comes from later in the novel, and illustrates how one thought leads to another by a quick process of association. Stephen Dedalus watches two nuns/midwives walking on the beach. He recalls that one such midwife assisted at his own birth. He glimpses some knitting in her bag and imagines the strand of wool as a navel cord, and the knitting as a “misbirth” “hushed in ruddy wool”. The idea of a navel cord makes him think of the genetic links that connect all human beings, going back to our original “mother”, Eve. “Navel” reminds him of “navel gazing”, or meditation. His knowledge of Greek  tells him the Greek word for navel, “omphalos” Somehow, the “cord” or cable, together with the idea of monks meditating in order to connect with God, gives Dedalus the hilarious idea of telephoning Eden: “Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.”

Reading this kind of text is very hard work, and requires either a great deal of knowledge, particularly of other languages and literature, or some kind of reference guide.  But it can also be very satisfying.  Joyce did not use this technique throughout his novel “Ulysses”: that would have been too much, for both reader and author.

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Session #3: Mystery & Suspense

Session #3, February 25th, 2009.

Suspense by excellent lunch on Flickr
Suspense by excellent lunch on Flickr

Today’s themes were mystery and suspense.

To illustrate the various meanings of suspense, I chose a passage from Thomas Hardy‘s novel A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). You can read the passage for yourself online. It is from Chapter 22 and begins “At first, when death appeared improbably because it had never visited him before…”. In order to understand the situation, you need to read Chapter 21.

Henry Knight, out on the cliffs of Dorset, slips down a slope above a cliff, as he tries to catch his hat blown off by a gust of wind. Before the eyes of his horrified companion, Elfride Swancourt, he finds himself unable to climb back up the grassy slope as it is now wet from a shower of rain. She tries to help him, but only succeeds in pushing him further down, and his legs slip over the edge of the cliff. He’s only hanging on by his arms.

A real “cliffhanger”! The word “suspense” originally means “hanging”, and still has this meaning in “suspension bridge”. From the meaning of “hanging” came the meaning of “waiting impatiently to know what happens next”. In this example, both meanings of “suspense” are illustrated.

In addition, the excerpt illustrates the meaning of a synonymouse phrase, “cliffhanger”, which refers to a story or movie full of suspense.  Hardy’s tale “A Pair of Blue Eyes” is considered the origin of this phrase, as the narrative leaves Henry Knight hanging over the edge of the cliff, holding on only by his arms, his feet over empty space and the sea “an eighth of a mile” below, gradually losing his strength. The narrative follows his thoughts and feelings as he becomes increasingly desperate.

To illustrate “mystery”, I chose an excerpt from another writer of suspense stories, Wilkie Collins‘ (Japanese here)  “The Moonstone” (1868).  T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels“. It contains many elements that later became staples of the English detective story, for example in those by Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers: a large number of suspects, red herrings, an English country house, investigation by talented amateurs, and two police officers who represent the ‘local bungler’ and the skilled, professional, Scotland Yard detective.

Although I did not realize it at the time, other novels by Collins also offer examples of the “cliffhanger”:  “Why are we to stop her, sir? What has she done?” “Done! She has escaped from my Asylum. Don’t forget; a woman in white. Drive on.” (The Woman in White).

“The Moonstone” is also an example of a novel which is told in the form of letters written by various characters; such novels are called epistolary novels (Japanese here), and have a long history in English literature. Jane Austen originally intended “Pride and Prejudice” to be in this form, but later abandoned the idea.

Epistolary novels often contain letters by different characters which describe the same event from different points of view. This leads naturally to another technique of fiction, the unreliable narrator: as we read different accounts of the same event, doubt appears – which character is telling the truth? Which narrator can we rely on? This fascinating development is made possible by the use of letters; it is much more difficult to throw doubt on the reliability of a narrator when there is only one narrator. The reader’s natural impulse is to take the narrator’s version as the truth, at least until some evidence appears to contradict it.

Difficult though it is to throw doubt when only a single narrator is used, this was accomplished with remarkable success by Kazuo Ishiguro (Japanese here) in his novel about an English butler in a large country house, “The Remains of the Day” (Japanese here).  Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that the feat was accomplished even in the movie version of this novel.

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Session #1: Beginnings

Week 1: New Beginnings
Image by mseckington via Flickr

Session #1, January 28th, 2009.

We read two excerpts in today’s session:

  1. the first few paragraphs from “Emma” (1816) (Japanese Wikipedia link here) by the English writer Jane Austen (Japanese link here), and
  2. the opening paragraph from “The Good Soldier” (1915) by the English writer Ford Madox Ford

After reading the excerpts and clarifying any questions about vocabulary and meaning, we discussed how each writer introduces their characters and how the narrator makes the reader want to read more.

One participant was intrigued enough to read “The Good Soldier” for herself, and revealed to us in a later session that it is a complicated story about adultery.

After reading Ford Madox Ford’s biography on Wikipedia, I discovered a connection between Ford and myself.

Born Ford Hermann Hueffer, the son of Francis Hueffer, he was Ford Madox Hueffer before he finally–during WWI, at a time when German connotations proved unpopular–settled on the name Ford Madox Ford in honor of his grandfather, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, whose biography he had written.

My ancestors came from Germany to England in the 19th century, and during WWI changed the family name slightly in order to lessen the negative Germanic impression.

The Good Soldier is one of Ford’s most famous novels, and introduces a literary device which we did not talk about in this first session, but which we will perhaps discuss in the future: that of the unreliable narrator (信頼できない語り手)

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