Friday, July 18, 2014

Coombe on Breach of Marriage Promise and Defamation in Victorian Ontario

Rosemary Coombe, York University, has been posting her backlist on SSRN.  Two articles of special interest to legal historians.  The first is  'The Most Disgusting, Disgraceful and Inequitous Proceeding in Our Law': The Action for Breach of Promise of Marriage in Nineteenth Century Ontario, University of Toronto Law Journal 38 (1988): 64-108: 
This study examines judicial management of the action for breach of promise of marriage in nineteenth-century Ontario through an analysis of reported cases, trial records, and newspaper accounts. This seldom researched area of legal history sheds light on the interplay between cultural ideology and legal developments. Breach of promise of marriage cases elicited much societal attention and often consternation because they challenged widely held attitudes on women’s participation in the legal system. This study also illustrates how judges at the time exhibited a strong commitment to judicial autonomy in the face of contentious juridical gender issues, as these cases often threatened Victorian visions of social order.
A second is Contesting the Self: Negotiating Subjectivities in Nineteenth-Century Ontario Defamation Trials, Studies in Law, Politics and Society 11 (1991): 3-40:
Understanding the hegemonic quality of legal discourse requires us to view hegemony as unfolding in multiple sights of discursive practice. Thus, we must begin to analyze not only hegemonic legal discourse but hegemony in social sights of legal practice in order to see that legal practice is essential in processes of domination and social ordering. In this article, I explore the processes of political subjection and resistance as they manifest in witness testimony and judicial decisions from late nineteenth century defamation trials in Ontario. I argue that slander and libel suits were integral in constructing particular legitimate knowledges about class and gender as categories of social identity.

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