A Frolic of His Own

a. New York: Poseidon Press, January 1994
b. London: Viking, June 1994
c. New York: Scribner, January 1995.
d. London: Penguin, 1995.


A Frolic of His Own
annotations for
softcover (hardcover & UK)
         1-50 (1-54) §
51-100 (56-112) §
101--150 (119--164) §
151-200 (174-224) §
201-250 (228-281) §
251-300 (285-341) §
301-350 (344-394) §
  351--400 (402-449) §
401--450 (465-516) §
  451--end (517-end) §

          . . . As of today, under the title A FROLIC OF HIS OWN (Joel v. Morrison, 1834, 6 C.&P. 501, 172 Eng.Rep.1338) the entire 600+ pages of turmoil is in the hands of Poseidon/Simon & Schuster in the form of corrected galleys waiting to be cut & bound, packaged & remaindered over the months to come (publication date probably January '94) & thank the Lord to have it out of my hands.
          Quite contrary to the received opinion of legal language as purposely obfuscatory I had come to admire its tortuous (no pun intended) struggles for precision & contingency ("holding these rights in perpetuity throughout the world and elsewhere"), was handed Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad &, once hooked, on to Prosser & thence a gift of every human foible in AMJUR's all 84 vols. till finally a couple of years ago I soberd up to the fact that I was writing a novel of civilization & its discontents not a compendium of western law & finally surfaced a few months ago to my great relief & that of those around me albeit with decisions never to be reached & opinions never to be written. Which may be just as well.  
          At any rate I hope you will find the final product entertaining & perhaps even, as Conrad had it, with that little bit of truth we'd forgot to ask for.

W. Gaddis
30 July 1993                         


-- letter to Peter Friedman

Similar to J R, Gaddis’s last novel announces its theme with its first word, but then develops it in the rest of its first line:  “Justice? - you get justice in the next world, in this world, you have the law.”  The novel follows a series of litigations through the courts and it is the discrepancy between the ideal of justice and the reality of the law that is Gaddis’s subject.  For Gaddis, the theory of justice is a beautiful, ordered system we have constructed to ward off or minimise the chaos and contingency of existence.  The practice of law however, is for him  “a carnival of disorder”, a self-sustaining system of legalese and a conspiracy against the people run for the benefit of a self-serving legal profession.  The law is finally “about itself.”  As one character puts it, “Words, words, words.  That’s what it’s all about.”  On the one hand, the law is an attempt to establish a constant principle in the face of social differences, the principle of justice.  On the other hand, the operation of the law can be used by the rich and powerful to subvert these very principles.

To develop this theme, the novel tells the farcical but horribly believable story of Oscar Crease, a college instructor who is suing both a film company and himself.  Firstly, he is convinced that a Hollywood mogul has plagiarised an unpublished play of his about the American Civil War and turned it into a blood-and-guts blockbuster.  Secondly, he has managed to get himself run over by his own car while hotwiring it and through the insurance company, he is claiming damages against himself.  In a virtuoso piece of structural parallelism, it turns out that his Civil War play revolves around the idea that a soldier who sends out substitutes during the war to fight on his behalf for both sides becomes convinced that the substitutes met and killed one another in battle. The soldier believes that he has committed a ghostly form of suicide.  Two tales of self harming self then, the prize-winning A Frolic of His Own (despite its length of nearly 600 pages) has become Gaddis’s most popular work.  He has chosen to write on justice and jurisprudence at a time when there has been a resurgence of interest in rights theory. For the law, finally, is about interpretation: about the validity of certain forms of interpretation and, just as importantly, about who possesses the power to enforce them.  This is at the very core of this remarkable novel

from William Gaddis:  Life & Work
by Peter Dempsey
to complete essay
Scene Outline
compiled by Anja Zeidler
A Census of A Frolic of His Own
compiled by Anja Zeidler
from various publications
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