"L'Affaire Contrafatto: Law and Narrative"
On October 15, 1827, a 28-year old priest, Joseph Contrafatto, was sentenced for raping five-year old Hortence Le Bon. This talk analyses the trial of this cause celebre, especially the rhetorical strategies used by the prosecution and defense. By applying Robert Cover's legal framework and analyses of "innovative legal arguments" to the Contrafatto case, Sharon P. Johnson illuminates how the prosecution's closing arguments were the precursor to new legal definitions of the Code Penal. Moreover, omissions and unclear language in the Code contributed to judges and lawyers' ability to modify rape penal code over time. French jurisprudence would come to include la violence morale (a type of coercion or abuse of an individual's truest or naivety) and the requirement of consent as constitutive parts of the rape statutes concerning children and adults in 1857. This presentation considers how narrative shapes law to reflect social mores. For Cover, when a dynamic model of law and judicial processes occur, legal statutes are not static; they are always "becoming." Contrafatto's trial, analyzed within the context of 19th-century rape penal law, laid the foundation for the evolution of France's 1810 Penal Code as differing interpretations and social understandings of rape entered into French jurisprudence throughout the century.
Sharon P. Johnson is an associate professor of French in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, and Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program. A 19th-century French scholar, her articles on Paris and Emile Zola have analyzed the manner in which medical, political, and literary discourses constructed and conflated disease, immorality, and impropriety when depicting 19th-century Paris' urban problems and its working class. Johnson's current book project's title, "Bodies That Speak: Narrating and Interpreting Rape in Law, Medicine and the Penny Presses (canards sanglants) of Nineteenth-Century France," encapsulates how she examines representations of rape in legal, medical, and journalistic discourses.
This presentation may contain content that is disturbing to some viewers. There will be a brief Q and A following the presentation. The livestream will be archived on the Center for Humanities YouTube channel.
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