Perspectives Larry Woiwode's* Response
A Literary Guide to Litigation
It may seem odd, or perhaps revelatory, that Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson developed a close relationship, largely by correspondence. James was of course the superior artist, although Stevenson was no slouch, and their bonding seems the sort that occurs in opposites. The lesson of their relationship, with its several different edges, is a lesson that practicing lawyers might attend to, and I don’t mean in choosing clients.
A distillation of that relationship can be found in Graham Greene’s essay, “Two Friends,” when in a review of a biography of Stevenson, Greene shifts to an examination of the friendship that developed between the two writers.1 The biography of Stevenson, by Janet Adam Smith, “sees in the friendship the aesthetic appeal to James of Stevenson’s situation”2:
The man living under the daily threat of a fatal hemorrhage, yet with such an appetite for the active life; the novelist who could only gain the health and energy for writing at the risk of dissipating them on other ends; the writer who had to spur his talent to earn more and more money to pay for the life of action that kept him alive; the continual tug between the claims of life and literature--here was a situation not unlike those which had provided James with the germ of a novel or story.3
This glimpse of Stevenson could as well be a thumbnail sketch of a high-powered, occasionally reckless, litigator.
James, on the other hand, once he moved from the security of the family brownstone on Washington Square, off Fifth Avenue, to England, maintained the reserved and distant (some thought cold) composure that perhaps only an expatriate writer with no financial worries in the world can adopt. He seemed comfortable only at his writing desk, and is the exact person one would want to have working on contracts and briefs. His weighty seriousness, as Greene points out, was no match for Stevenson’s agile metaphors, as when in correspondence Stevenson debated James on the possibility of the art of fiction being able to “compete” with life:
These phantom reproductions of experience, even at their most acute, convey decided pleasure, while experience itself, in the cockpit of life, can torture and slay.4
One can imagine the effect of this poised and colorful statement in a courtroom, where “phantom reproductions of experience” are recounted, some of which may have to do with torture or one slain. Or in a mode more instructive, perhaps, Stevenson writes to James that “catching the very note and trick, the strange irregular rhythm of life, that [my emphasis] is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps Fiction upon her feet.”5 Indeed it is the capture of that note and trick, “the strange irregular rhythm of life,”6 which will stand out, for the accomplished litigator, as the force that in every instance keeps a jury alert.
But it is James who proves more relevant to courtroom procedure, and not for his rolling, periodic sentences or finely turned sensibility. It was James who nailed down for good in the composition of fiction the concept of point of view. Before his strictures, narrators of fiction were often omniscient or the point of view shifted from character to character or scene to scene, as with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and their lesser compatriots in America. No, James said, in more than one of his prefaces and especially in his practice; no, a novel or story that begins with third-person point of view must retain that point of view in every movement to its end, for aesthetic and conceptual veracity to adhere.
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