Criminal Conversations: Sentimentality and Nineteenth-Century Legal Stories of Adultery / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $10.00
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 67%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (11) from $10.00   
  • New (3) from $25.94   
  • Used (8) from $10.00   


Storytelling is an essential aspect of any legal case. But what kinds of stories win cases, and why? Criminal Conversations explores sentimentality as both a literary genre and a rhetorical strategy in the novels and courtrooms of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. By focusing on "criminal conversation"--the civil tort whereby a cuckold sues his wife's lover to for damages to his property rights from the adultery--Korobkin argues that literary discourse, used in the courtroom, affects the outcomes of legal cases. She shows how lawyers used sentimentality strategically to guide juries in reaching verdicts, and how appellate courts appropriated the rhetoric, plots, and characters of sentimental fiction to redefine husbands' and wives' marital obligations. Criminal Conversations begins by tracking the legal fictions that were part of the civil tort of adultery from its origins in the English Renaissance. Korobkin then examines in detail the final arguments at Henry Ward Beecher's sensational criminal conversation trial of 1874-1875. The final part of the book takes up a series of appellate decisions that decided whether women could bring criminal conversation cases against their husbands' female lovers. Drawing on court documents, as well as literary examples from E.D.E.N. Southworth, Mark Twain, T. S. Arthur, and others, Korobkin explores the intersections of gender, genre, law, and story, revealing the ways in which the courtroom became a site of empowerment for women around the turn of the century. A major contribution to our understanding of the legal power of literary stories and styles, Criminal Conversations will be of interest to students of law, literature, rhetoric, and women's studies.

Columbia University Press

A Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title of the Year

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Choice - E. Nettels

Recommended... for its impressive clarity, incisive analysis, mastery of sources, and timeliness.

Recommended... for its impressive clarity, incisive analysis, mastery of sources, and timeliness.

— E. Nettels, College of William and Mary

College English

In the course of this interesting mix of methodologies and historical time periods, Korobkin makes fascinating suggestions about the impacts of women's sentimental (domestic) fiction on popular and legal rhetoric of the time.

Martha Minow
An instructive, provocative and engaging work that grounds the field of law and literature firmly in textured stories, lived, told and ordered.
Sacvan Bercovitch
This book is a landmark contribution to literary and cultural studies. . . . a powerful and original perspective both on the legal mechanisms of American Victorian society and on the profession of letters during this period. . . . I predict [it] will have a strong impact on the entire field of American studies.
Nancy Armstrong
What could be more timely in this age of legal spectacle than an historical study of the narrative performance, or sentimental conversation, that has been part and parcel of the American system of justice for almost two centuries? Korobkin´s book deftly brings that tradition to bear on sentimental fiction and vise versa, illuminating the difficulty of a sustaining and sustainable feminism in a culture where victims have always had such a powerful rhetorical edge.
Nancy Glazener
A fascinating study, equally sensitive to the precise turnings of legal history and to the nuances of narrativity.
E. Nettels
Recommended . . . for its impressive clarity, incisive analysis, mastery of sources, and timeliness.
College English
In the course of this interesting mix of methodologies and historical time periods, Korobkin makes fascinating suggestions about the impacts of women's sentimental (domestic fiction on popular and legal rhetoric of the time.
Focuses on cases of adultery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, looking at how women operated as subjects in American law, how gender-inflicted literary logic controlled cases' outcome, and whether and to what extent American courtrooms became sites of empowerment for women during this period. Part I provides historical background, Part II details a case from 1875, and Part III examines state appellate court decisions on whether women could be plaintiffs in criminal conversation and in alienation of affection cases. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231105095
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 1/4/1999
  • Series: Social Foundations of Aesthetic Forms Series
  • Edition description: CASEBOOK E
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Hanft Korobkin is assistant professor of English at Boston University.

Columbia University Press

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction and Historical FoundationPrologue: Telling Stories in the CourtroomCriminal Conversation and the Conversational Process of the LawThe Transformative Magic of Legal Fictions: The Suppression of Sex in Early English Civil Adultery CasesTheodore Tilton v. Henry Ward Beecher: Criminal Conversation, 1875Prologue: Crisis of Confidence in the CourtroomThe Maintenance of Mutual Confidence: Sentimental Strategies at the Beecher-Tilton TrialSilent Woman, Speaking Fiction: The "ministry of Catherine Gaunt" at the Beecher-Tilton TrialFemale-Plaintiff Criminal Conversation Cases: Rewriting the Law's Story of MarriagePrologue: Four CasesRethinking the Law's Story of Marriage: The Bonds of SentimentConsequences of Change: The Sexually Passive Husband and the Erotically Autonomous Wife

Columbia University Press

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)