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Butterfly, the Bride

Essays on Law, Narrative, and the Family

Carol Weisbrod

Publication Year: 1999

Carol Weisbrod uses a variety of stories to raise important questions about how society, through law, defines relationships in the family. Beginning with a story most familiar from the opera Madame Butterfly, Weisbrod addresses issues such as marriage, divorce, parent-child relations and abuses, and non-marital intimate contact. Each chapter works with fiction or narratives inspired by biography or myth, ranging from the Book of Esther to the stories of Kafka. Weisbrod frames the book with running commentary on variations of the Madame Butterfly story, showing the ways in which fiction better expresses the complexities of intimate lives than does the language of the law. Butterfly, the Bride looks at law from the outside, using narrative to provide a fresh perspective on the issues of law and social structure---and individual responses to law. This book thoroughly explores relationships between inner and public lives by examining what is ordinarily classified as the sphere of private life---the world of family relationships. Carol Weisbrod is Ellen Ash Peters Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut. Her other books include The Boundaries of Utopia and Emblems of Pluralism.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Law, Meaning, and Violence

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pp. 1-6

This book consists of a set of discussions that look at law, and particularly family law, in light of works commonly classified as narrative or literature. The objective is to enrich our understanding of marriage and the family, and the role of law in dealing with and shaping these institutions and our ideas of these institutions. The narratives discussed here are of different kinds, some biographical, some fictional. ...

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Chapter 1. The Bride

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pp. 7-24

It is possible that the story of Cho-Cho-San and Pinkerton is true, in the sense that it is based on real events that happened a hundred years ago to real people. It may be as suggested, that Long's sister, the wife of a missionary, heard this true story in Japan and told her brother.1 Or it may be true at one level removed, based not on a tragic anecdote but on an earlier, possibly autobiographical, work, Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthemum. ...

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Chapter 2. The Couple

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pp. 25-44

... The legal issues involved, including the conflict of laws,2 are of considerable complexity. Butterfly marries Pinkerton in a country where a husband who abandoned his wife was taken to have divorced her under traditional customary law. The wife had no corresponding right to divorce her husband) ...

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Chapter 3. Contracts

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pp. 45-72

The wealthy Prince Yamadori appears in the three versions of the Madame Butterfly story as the Japanese suitor who, through a marriage broker, wants to marry Cho-Cho-San after Pinkerton has returned to the United States. In the short story by John Luther Long, Yamadori is of an "august family" and a man "bred to the Law." In the play by David Belasco, Yamadori is a "citizen of New York," temporarily in his native country. ...

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Chapter 4. The Family

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pp. 73-93

The family was so important in Japan that marriages were understood as a contract between families rather than between individuals. The House "consisted of all living lineal ascendants and descendants in a particular family, with the oldest male member commonly in the position of Head of the House."1 Postmortem divorce derives from this idea, since "marriage is a relationship ...

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Chapter 5. Children

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pp. 95-115

"She named the baby, when it came, Trouble, meaning Joy."1 The double naming of the child suggests perhaps the ambivalence of the parent. In the Butterfly story we have no sense of the consciousness of the child. ...

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Chapter 6. Law

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pp. 117-147

The story of Madame Butterfly has as an important part of its background the marriage and divorce law of Japan, under which Yamadori, the princely suitor, has already divorced a varying number of women. "Yamadori who was bred to the law, tells me that our law prevails in such matters, the marriage having taken place here," John Luther Long writes.1 ...

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Chapter 7. Breaking the Butterfly

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pp. 149-164

Mme. Ohyama admires the libretto to Puccini's opera because it is parallel to a true story. So, too, we are told that the Long account is "possibly based on a real event."1 Without reaching the question, "What allows us to decide that a particular version of reality is true?" we might ask the apparently simpler question, "Exactly what is Butterfly's story?" ...

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pp. 165-167

Outlining various possible relationships between law and literature, we make a mistake if we treat the two prime categories as clear and only the connectives as problematic. When we speak of law as literature, law in literature, literature as a subject of law and legal regulation, and so on, we should remember that these formulations assume a certainty in the basic terms that is far from obvious. ...


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pp. 169-231


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pp. 233-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022847
E-ISBN-10: 0472022849
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472089871
Print-ISBN-10: 0472089870

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1999

Series Title: Law, Meaning, and Violence