From Law to Art (Part 2): Keep the pen, sod the wig – Writers who studied law

18/02/2013 22:30

The Part 1 article demonstrated how law is far from the linear vocational degree that it initially appears to be. Our painters from Part 1 are kept in the good company of writers, with the latter arguably drawing more from a law degree. Welcome to Part 2: The Writers! Deep study of law helps one to unravel society by compelling the student into a rigorous and ongoing contemplation of its very fabric. Thinking of this nature leads an intelligent person with a certain mind into a way of seeing the world that transcends the encysted standards of normality. The law student morphs into an artist ready to create the new world within their mind; an artist educated rigorously enough to present it with abandon and diligence. At this point a writer is born; the point of no return.


The Writers


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) – the visceral bad boy of French poets gained a law degree from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, but rejected the suggestion of a legal career in favour of a literary one. Ever the individual, this move gave Baudelaire his voice – the voice of the fearless artist drowning in the world and revelling in solitude. His sharp view of urban life is timeless.


Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) – the Russian heavyweight removed himself from a law degree at Kazan University in Tatarstan. No doubt he realised he didn't wish to work as part of the social machine of government, as is consistent with his later views on the negative wielding of power by the State.


Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) – completed a law degree at Charles University, Prague and was engaged in a wide variety of employed jobs. Of his books, my favorite is 'Too Loud A Solitude' – a perfect example of how memorable short novels can be.


Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) – under pressure from his family Flaubert studied law in Paris, doing so with increasing reluctance, as expressed in his book 'Novembre' and in his fear, mid-study, that he would become “a respectable assistant district attorney in a small provincial town!” – in his view a nobody.... “Monotonous, sensible, stupid.” He didn't complete his degree.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-) – author Marquez left law school, at Bolívar's University of Cartagena, in the middle of his studies to become a journalist. The versatile Colombian Nobel prize winner, now age 85, is still living so you could even write to him via his publisher.


Henry James (1843-1916) – New York born James read law at Harvard, but not for long – he had the sense to quickly exit that argumentative world in favour of his own work, writing. I don't have much affinity for this author's work, but there's the right spirit in parts of 'The Ambassadors', his favourite novel, in which he wrote: “Live all you can: it's a mistake not to. It doesn't matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life.” Nebulous advice, yes!... 


Franz Kafka (1883-1924) – despite some indifference about the subject, Kafka graduated in law from Charles University in Prague. After completing the period of service as a court clerk required following his degree, he then worked at an insurance company whilst writing at night, an activity that he kept private. The theme of law pervaded Kafka's work, not least in many of his short stories, and in his haunting novel “The Trial.”


Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) – studied law for a time, as well as other respectable subjects including medicine, as was consistent with his family background. Clearly he wouldn't have been satisfied as a dandified solicitor, the renegade that he was, or at least became. Soon after closing the textbooks de Musset let rip and immersed himself in the Parisian underworld, inspiring him to write a variety of plays, poems and stories. “How glorious it is, and how painful, to be an exception.”


... and one more for the list:


The author of this article and website (alive), whose first novel is being polished without the desire to rush. Watch this space with patience.


So next time you meet a writer or a painter, ask them where they studied law. You have a good chance of raising a smile.