||A Review of: Judge Not
by George Fetherling
Andr Gide was the great French novelist and littrateur who became
sufficiently old and respectable to receive the Nobel Prize in 1947.
Like Zola, Gide was a critic of the French legal system, though
justice and not injustice is what interested him. He especially
liked to observe the mechanics of the courts. Other busy people
might scheme and fib to get out of jury duty, but Gide plotted and
pleaded to be chosen.
One of the pieces collected and translated by Benjamin Ivry for
Judge Not, his choice of Gide's non-fiction about crime, is a memoir
of his time in the Assize Court, which under the French system is
the top-level criminal court and the only one involving jurors from
the community. It reveals how Gide the crime buff was sometimes
more knowledgeable than the panel of judges (whose decisions could
not be appealed). In one arson case, Gide thought the defendant was
a pyromaniac who sought a psychosexual thrill (jouissance sexuelle),
a possibility the judges had apparently never heard of.
Gide served on juries so often that he acquired stature within the
system, as when his fellow jurors instantly chose him to be their
foreman. "As the only intellectuel, more or less, I feared
hostility, despite the great effort I made to prevent it. I was
quite touched by this sign of esteem."
Whether in Paris or on the road, Gide collected and carefully filed
great numbers of press clippings about individual crimes. They were
of course research material for his fiction. But Ivry speculates
that Gide's Protestantism influenced his fascination with retribution
and punishment. So apparently did the fact that for most of his
life Gide was always in danger of being prosecuted for his
homosexuality, a serious offence in France in that era.
Gide's synopses of many of these news stories, along with his notes
on them and subsequent correspondence, are also found in Judge Not,
along with two long essays on a pair of notorious cases of the day.
His tone is always detached and sociological but the material is
lurid or sordid or both.