Judge Not

by Andre Gide
ISBN: 0252028449

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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.

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