Literature, Culture, and Law - At Duke University

Teaching Law and Literature, 2008

Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 1201867

30 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2008

See all articles by Robin L. West

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center


The article compares programmatic questions from the Law and Literature movement from the 1970s to 1990s with more recent suggestions regarding the foundational questions for the Law and Culture movement. It argues that in both movements, but particularly the latter, scholars have focused on questions regarding the nature of law, culture, and interpretation, and neglected substantive jurisprudential claims regarding law sometimes found in literature and other cultural texts. It argues that this emphasis on theory over substance is unfortunate. To illustrate, the piece examines a false rape claim brought against some university athletes in Durham, North Carolina in the summer of 2006, and a novelistic depiction of sexual exploitation in Tom Wolfe's popular novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. The novel was repeatedly invoked by commentators and bloggers when the charge was first made and widely believed, to make the case that the Duke campus was drenched in a culture tolerant of rape. The novel, then, might be sensibly understood as central to a cultural understanding of how this false rape charge was interpreted, and then came to be widely believed. Although true enough, the article argues that we miss something important, if we look at (and indict) Wolfe's novel only as a part of a cultural/legal explanation for a sex panic that resulted in a miscarriage of justice. We miss Wolfe's substantive, narrative account of sexual exploitation (not rape) and the harms, quite specific, that undesired, unwanted and unwelcome sex can occasion, on college campuses and elsewhere.

Keywords: Law and Literature, Law and Culture, Duke, Rape

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., Literature, Culture, and Law - At Duke University. Teaching Law and Literature, 2008, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 1201867, Available at SSRN:

Robin L. West (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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United States

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