Jury selection in Anthony Trollope’s The Vicar of Bullhampton

I’ll post a review of Anthony Trollope’s novel The Vicar of Bullhampton this month, but ever since I finished this marvellous novel, I’ve found myself thinking about a passage that concerns jury selection. A murder takes place early in the novel, and here towards the end of our story, jury selection begins. I was rather surprised by this passage:

At that moment the court was occupied in deciding whether a certain tradesman, living at Devizes, should or should not be on the jury. The man himself objected that, being a butcher, he was, by reason of the second nature acquired in his business, too cruel, and too bloody-minded to be entrusted with an affair of life and death. To a proposition in itself so reasonable no direct answer was made; but it was argued with great power on behalf of the crown, which seemed to think at the time that the whole case depended on getting this one particular man into the jury box, that the recalcitrant juryman was not in truth a butcher, that he was only a dealer in meat, and that though the stain of blood descended the cruelty did not.

I found this small aside, set within a 500 page plus novel, fascinating. The man’s objections were not dismissed out of hand–rather his livelihood was defined as ‘not to be cruel’ since he just sold the meat and was not a butcher after all.

In Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book The Jungle, the workers in an abattoir are desensitized to violence, and as a consequence rapes, murders and brawls occur. Strange to connect Trollope and Sinclair together, but the connection is there–even in just a small aside.

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21 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Trollope, Anthony

21 responses to “Jury selection in Anthony Trollope’s The Vicar of Bullhampton

  1. Interesting. My mom loves Trollope (she has a fondness for ecclesiastical novels) but I have never read him. I do remember watching The Pallisers on PBS.

  2. Very interesting, I agree.

  3. Another I haven’t read (and I’ve read plenty) – I swear he’s still secretly bashing them out as we speak…

  4. Guy – The connection that you make is interesting. I find myself making all kinds of connections between seemingly dissimilar authors. Sometimes it is fun to discover these things, but sometimes I feel that I stretch it a bit.

  5. Since free-thinking connections seem be in vogue on this post, I will hi-jack the thread briefly to say that seasons one and two of Silk (the BBC barrister drama you recommended — hence it has juries) arrived this week.
    Mrs. KfC and I popped the first disc in just to have a look at the first episode and finished all six hours of season one that evening. Enjoyed it so much, that we watched all of season two the next night.
    Another great DVD recommendation from Guy. Thank you ever so much.
    And now, back to Trollope — he is one of my favorites as well, both in the printed form and screed adaptations.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Kevin. You’ve probably already seen Above Suspicion. What about Spiral?

      • We’ve watched all three seasons of Spiral and found them all excellent. That led us to Braquo, every bit as noir and every bit as good — season two just arrived this week but we’re holding off on it for a bit to give the characters a chance to mentally refresh themselves (in our minds, of course). Next noir for us will either be Bergman (only two episodes so probably this first) or Those Who Kill, which had the misfortune to arrive at the same time as The Bridge (probably our favorite noir of recent months) so has been stuck on the shelf for a while.

      • Oh ho … we are watching Silk and Spiral too … great stuff.

        As for Silent witness (or, was that witless), it’, rather lost its way don’t you think?

  6. What an interesting piece of English way of thinking.

    There are fascinating pages about justice in the Victorian era in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.

  7. Those who Kill in my view isn’t a patch on The Bridge. Entertaining enough, but not the same quality.

    Season two of Braquo definitely has its moments but sadly isn’t as good as the first. Still worth watching though.

    I think this does say something about how society of the time viewed that profession, and viewed the effects of certain trades. On jury selection the book I’d single out would be The Saga of Burnt Njal (sometimes called Njal’s Saga). It’s a thousand year old Norse saga, a brilliant read and contains pretty much an entire chapter on jury selection. It also however contains at one point a skate-by axing, the ancient Norse equivalent of a drive-by shooting. It’s a spectacular read, and surprisingly detialed on Icelandic jury selection procedures…

    • I’m still getting by mind around a skate-by axing. Incredible. Haven’t heard of this one Max so will check it out.

      • It’s a dramatic scene, but then much of Njal’s saga is dramatic.

        It’s also quite blackly funny in places. There’s a very famous scene where Njal’s house is surrounded by enemies. Their leader orders one of his men to look inside. The man does and falls back mortally wounded by a spear thrust from within?

        “Is Njal home?” comes the question.

        “I can’t answer that”, says the dying man, “but I can tell you that his spear is.”

        Egil’s Saga is also worth a look. It’s more fantastic, and while it’s also tragic the fantastic elements make it in a way more epic and less depressing. Njal’s is a study of how violence spirals out of control drawing in more and more people into tragedy, and despite some mild supernatural elements (mostly involving characters who know the future, which was common in Icelandic folklore) it’s largely pretty realistic in tone.

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