The Human Pared Away: Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell as an Archetype of Legal Pragmatism
Forthcoming in Law and Literature
32 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2020
Date Written: April 15, 2020
Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy are iconic pieces of literature, but also represent a hugely insightful commentary on the law. Her protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, is the archetype of a philosophical legal pragmatist: willing to use the law and its language to achieve his ends, but regarding adherence to any principled or abstract account of the law as misleading and even dangerous. With striking parallels to the pragmatist philosophy of William James, Richard Rorty, Richard Posner and others, Mantel's Cromwell illustrates both the promise of legal pragmatism — its ability to get results without false conjunction about means — but also its dangers — that one may pick the wrong prince, or make flawed or base calculations on how to act. The Wolf Hall trilogy shows this in a manner far more clear and far more vivid than any purely philosophical accounts, and capture something deep about the theory and practice of law. As such, their commentary on the law, authority and governance deserves our close attention.
Keywords: Law and literature, Thomas Cromwell, Hilary Mantel, Pragmatism, Legal Pragmatism, William James, Stanley Fish, Wolf Hall
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