David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Couldn't I Get Solitary Confinement Instead

September 16, 2021

You got to love the British legal system. Promote bomb-making in the United States of America and you either get away scot-free or a long prison sentence (depending upon your connections). Do so in Great Britain and get punished to read books.

Yes, that is what happened with a white supremacist in Leicester, who was sentenced to read, among other pieces of literature, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. If he's not horrified at his punishment, yet, the young man almost certainly will be when he encounters "what are men to rocks and mountains," or even worse, "it has been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable."  I guarantee he will throw the book across the room, screaming for solitary confinement instead.

The judge, apparently, has a bent towards British Literature, which is disappointing.  I get that the prescribed reading of William Shakespeare will definitely make the man question his actions.  "What is past is prologue," he will read. "What the hell does that even mean?" he will cry out. However, this is where the judge needs to balance the reading list with non-British authors.  Make the criminal follow The Tempest here with some William Faulkner's Requiem For A Nun so that when he comes across "The past is never dead. It's not even past," he may actually start to see themes that might change his mindset. 

The judge also is requiring Dickens.  Good God, anybody but Dickens. Friends of mine know that I am not a big fan of Dickens. David Copperfield may have scarred me for life.  I might even ask for the death penalty over having to read it again.

There is plenty of appropriate literature outside of British literature. What is more applicable for thinking about one's crime and punishment than, well, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment? "If he has a conscience, he will suffer for his mistake."  Now, that is something for this guy to chew on. Throw in Hugo's Les Misérables to add to his moral quandary. Just make sure he doesn't cheat and only watch the movie version.

Which leads to my favorite part of the article: the statement that "the former De Montfort University student will have to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading by the judge after avoiding jail 'by the skin of his teeth'. "A test!" he exclaims, "Come on, I didn't actually kill anybody, just make a threat!"  

I picture the worst part of my qualifying exams for the Ph.D., which was to identify 10 passages from famous pieces of literature (author and specific work). The graduate students lovingly (not) called it "the trivial pursuit" part of the qualifying exams.  I got every author right, but missed several of the actual titles. The readers claimed they had never seen such a disparity. It's probably a miracle I have my Ph.D.

All the more reason to add something like Melville's Moby-Dick. To also worry that you might need to recognize the high-falutin' prose that can accompany such droll material such as the "Cetology" chapter (32), well, that is Geneva Convention-type cruelty. "The Honor and Glory of Whaling" (Chapter 82) has broken many a reader, let alone Chapter 74, "The Sperm Whale's Head--Contrasted View," or, because the sperm-whale isn't enough, its companion chapter, "The Right Whale's Head--Contrasted View" (75).  On the other hand, "The Town-Ho's Story" (Chapter 54) might provide him a moment's of hope. 

So our judge here has good intentions, but he needs to break free from his own insulated education.  Go more international with the compulsory literature. All in all, here is the reading list I suggest for such future sentencings:

Crime and Punishment

Les Misérables


The Tempest

Requiem for a Nun

The Handmaid's Tale (let the convicted really know what repression and oppression is about)

The Stranger (with a paired listening to The Cure's "Killing An Arab")

Ulysses (the ultimate crusher of his criminal spirit)

And frankly any collection of poetry. It probably won't really matter by that point. It will be akin to leaving a prisoner alone with the cell door unlocked. He won't be going anywhere, just crouching in the corner talking to his pet cockroach, Gregor.