Lawyers-“losers” in world literature. On the famous writers who used to be lawyers
Once, having discovered a phenomenal author, Mark Aldanov, to myself, it was a real surprise to learn he was a student of Law Department in Kyiv University. My next thought was what’s wrong with looking though the biographies of famous and not widely known authors for whether they were lawyers? And if true, then what kind of lawyers were they? It turned out that plenty of outstanding, eminent, famous and just mature writers used to be lawyers-“losers”.
¹45 (620) 10/11/09
France gave the world a whole pleiad of lawyers-“losers” who later became outstanding writers. Perhaps the most famous among them was a great Honoré de Balzac. Being born to the family of “restless and ambitious skint bum” (as Stefan Zweig wrote in his foremost biography of Balzac), who due to his extraordinary persistence from joskin turned into decent bourgeois, after grammar school at Vendôme young Honoré entered Paris School in 1816 and finished his studies there three years later.
Balzac’s can be deemed as rather experienced lawyer. While at the university, for two years in a row he had been working at Jean-Batiste Guionnet de Merville’s, whom he later immortalized with his works as Derville. Once his practice at attorney’s had been over, parents entrusted young Balzac to the supervision of notary Passez, a friend of the family. The family was eager to make Balzac an associate of notary, and soon afterwards — upon Passez would go to the better world — and a heir to the whole office.
However, it was in 1819 that a young lawyer unexpectedly announced he didn’t want to be neither an attorney nor a notary. His desire is to be a writer! Years of 15, 16 hours daily writing travail brought him world-wide fame.
Law experience stood Balzac in good stead. In his many works he described duties and daily routine of attorneys and notaries. Narratives Le Colonel Chabert and Le Contrat de marriage are among his most brilliant works. The former of them in incredible way tells about lawyer’s office organization and work of Paris attorney through the first third of XIX. And Le Contrat de marriage I recommend as an urgent reading to the girls students attending “Private legal practice” course, before they are getting married.
A son of court official, Voltaire was educated at Jesuits Collège, where he learned “Latin” and “other rubbish”; his father dreamed that his son would be a lawyer; however, the son preferred literature to law. And fell a victim of his own decision: he was confined in the Bastile for his satirical verses, which addressed regent and his daughter; later he “tripped” to the Bastile for the second time (now for someone else’s verses). After some time had passed he was set free conditional upon his departure abroad and left for England, where he leaved during three years, studying its political system, science, philosophy and literature. The afterlife of the great recidivist is well-known to the modern lawyers.
Being born into a family of well-educated chemist and artist, Prosper Mérimée accomplished a course of law sciences in Paris. Versatility of Mérimée’s literary education made him head and shoulders above other contemporary French authors. Mérimée learned Russian to be able to read Pushkin and Gogol in the original. He much admired Pushkin and translated his works for French people. One of the most prominent Mérimée’s works appeared to be his short story Carmen, in which he profoundly and brilliantly described Corsican characters.
After finishing his law studies at the University of Ghent in 1885, Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was qualified as a lawyer. It may be that his greatest contemporary success appeared to be philosophical play and parable The Blue Bird.
But for me the greatest biographical surprise was the fact that genius author of fairy tales Charles Perrault was a lawyer! He published his fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots) with the name of his son to separate them from his other – as he regarded – more serious works.
Several generations of Soviet children and adults watched over and again each episode of immensely popular French film about Fantômas, masked elusive robber. Author of the Fantômas (such an infamous Agent 007) novel series was Marcel Allain, French writer and journalist, remembered for his co-creation with Pierre Souvestre. Marcel Allain was born to a family of attorney in 1885; he studied law before becoming a journalist, and then a writer. He was notable for being an exceptionally prolific author: total number of his novels – both co-created and written independently – nears 400. The writer often grumbled and moaned at limelight brought by Fantômas. Wikipedia cites his exclamation, “Oh God, I’m really browned off with this Fantômas! Once he’ll be the death of me!”
There were enough of lawyers-“losers” among the English, who became writers. As a 15-year-old boy, Charles Dickens started working as an attorney’s clerk. Later, providing detailed description of attorneys’ and judges’ work in his numerous novels; he felt strong dislike for both of them. Vladimir Nabokov, delivering lectures in foreign literature with American universities, rendered fantastic analysis to one of the most outstanding Dickens’ novels Bleak House, having put his finger on the point. Nabokov, who deified Dickens, indicates several core subject matters of the novel. The first and main one is children, their worries and vulnerability, the other one is “court of chancery-mist-insanity”. Exactly so! Court-mist-insanity!!! This was his interpretation of eternal process “Jarndyce and Jarndyce”. In this and in other novels Dickens time and again betrays his aversion for judges and attorneys, as well as for the judicial authorities of England XIX on the whole.
Walter Scott, an outstanding poet, writer, historian, is renowned as a great romancer and historical novelist. Writer to-be was born into a family of solicitor. In 1786 he began an apprenticeship in his father's office. In 1814 Scott published its first anonym and immediately won a widespread appreciation.
Our literature was also marked by lawyers-“losers”. Simple truth: Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy — a genius Russian writer. It is worth here reminding that he betook himself to two-year studies of law at the Kazan University. Moreover, V. Lenin and A. Kerensky went to the same University. L. Tolstoy hardly regretted to drop his studies as at that date the Kazan University was in such doldrums that the Ministry of Education even was about to wind it up.
It was a great surprise to discover that an outstanding Russian playwright, Aleksandr Ostrovsky, not only studied law at the Moscow University (without obtaining the degree), but also had an office of a senior law clerk at the Moscow Chancery Court. Thereafter he got down to work at the Moscow Commercial Court. It seems exactly that practice enabled him to write a number of great and still up-to-date dramatic pieces. A. Ostrovsky rose into fame with its first play Bankrupt renamed afterward as It's OK - we'll settle up one day! Even the title is genius!
One cannot but remember the Kiev University graduates. It is hard to mark somebody out as the most brilliant.
Mark Aleksandrovich Aldanov (Landau) seems to be the most famous Russian emigrant writer. He graduated from the St. Vladimir University earning degrees in chemistry and law. He did not become a lawyer but the law and advocacy themes were not forgotten in his works. The Nobel laureate, I. Bunin, called Aldanov the last gentleman of the Russian emigres. For many years Aldanov’s publications were forbidden in the Soviet Union. But afterwards his collected works were published even twice. The first of them turned out a huge edition of 600 000 pieces!
Three trilogy, one tetralogy — no one native author left such heritage. Lots of historical figures, among whom home and foreign statesmen of the end of XVIII th century as well as Stalin and Hitler, are portrayed in his novels. One of the trilogy novels describes the ups and downs of the family of a famous Petersburg attorney originated from Ukraine. Aldanov deserves being recognized in Ukraine just like other graduates of the University of Kiev — Mikhail Bulgakov and Konstantin Paustovsky.
Konstantin Paustovsky entered the University of Kiev, first the faculty of the Natural History. Later he transferred to the Law faculty of the University of Moscow but the World War I interrupted his studies. In 1965 he won the Nobel prize for literature, but through diplomatic intrigues the Soviet Union forced the Nobel Committee to change its decision and awarded it to Mikhail Sholokhov — a “poet” of collectivization in the agriculture.
The Paustovsky’s most famous work is his Povest o Zhizni (Life Story) comprising of 6 books, which he was writing for over 20 years.
A great poetess Anna Akhmatova after graduating gymnasium entered the Higher Woman’s Extension at the University of Kiev, where she studied law. The poetess dreamed to be ...notary (interesting how many Ukrainian notaries celebrated this year the 120th anniversary of the birth of A. Akhmatova?). However, her dream failed to come true: she got married another poet — Nikolay Gumilev. Her husband was also a poet of Silver Age and studied law at the University of Moscow. Gumelev did not graduate and transferred to the historical and linguistic faculty. In 1921 he was shot on a charge of participation in counterrevolutionary plot.
There are many other literary geniuses who considered lawyers-“losers” in the past. One of them — Franz Kafka. He graduated from the Charles University in Prague (Univerzita Karlova v Praze) as a Doctor of Law; his academic adviser was Professor Alfred Weber. Most of his pieces were published after his death. After his studies Kafka took humble desk jobs with an insurance company. He hated his bosses, colleagues, employees and customers. What all this crystallized into - one could get to know by reading his prominent novels The Castle and The Trial. Absurd, angst of the outer world, failure to oppose against administrative apparatus are brightly featured in his prominent novels.
I cannot help but mentioning two other great lawyers-“losers”, significantly contributing to the world of literature and philosophy. I’m referring to two former students of the University of Kiev. In 1883 Lev Shestov entered the University to study mathematics, and a year on transferred to the law faculty and graduated in five years. Afterwards, he became one of the founders of existentialism. Ten years later another founder of the same movement in philosophy – Nikolay Berdiayev – also enrolled in the law department and was expelled for participation in students’ riots. These two genius philosophers are referred in the literary community among those who affected Mikhail Bulgakov in creation of its masterpiece Master and Margarita.
But this is quite a different story...
Sergii KOZIAKOV, attorney at law, senior partner, Volkov, Koziakov and Partners, Kyiv