Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Heiress vs the Establishment

I have just finished reading The Heiress vs the Establishment by Constance Backhouse and Nancy L. Backhouse. It is published by UBC Press and The Osgoode Society, known for their law-related histories.

I found it very interesting, not only for the story told, but also for the format. They have taken an infamous autobiography by our heroine, Mrs. Campbell, called Where Angels Fear to Tread, reprinted it, and added on to it. They have added extensive discussion and footnotes. Reading all of the footnotes did slow me down a fair bit; nevertheless, it was worth the extra work.

Mrs. Campbell, whose family was very much a part of the legal establishment in Ontario, took on her uncle and bencher Mr. Hogg over her mother's estate. Few lawyers were willing to help her in court, so she ended up largely representing herself at the Supreme Court of Canada and at the Privy Council in London. Amazingly, she did win her case at the Privy Council. Backhouse & Backhouse go on to tell the story after this.

I found Backhouse & Backhouse had done extensive research, so that we had good background on the myriad of legal characters (counsel, benchers, and judges) as they come and go through the story. I gained a look at some of the lawyers I have heard about, including a number who have lent their names, or at least their work, to the large Toronto law firms we know today.

I usually read fiction, and to me this is the sort of thing authors like Atwood and Ondaatje try to achieve on a fictional level: mixing formats, and moving in and out of non-fiction texts; or like David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers with story-between-the-lines revealed via extensive footnotes, endnotes, forewords, epilogues and the like.

I think those working in the area of law, especially Ontario, will find this of most interest. Others might not find it worth the work.

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