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Irish plays, sibling succession provide basis for dissertation

June 01, 2009

For a girl who never much liked school, Deborah Pogson sure has a lot of learning under her belt.

Pogson, the managing editor of Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, & Technology at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, received a doctorate degree in English Literature on Wednesday, May 13, at ASU’s spring commencement. She, along with the other doctoral candidates, was in the enviable, if unnerving, position of crossing the main stage to shake hands with President Obama, the commencement speaker. Unlike many of the graduates, Pogson decided not to give him a hug.

“I’m a huggy person – I always hug my friends and family and people I’m close to, but we have a relationship,” Pogson said. “For me, hugging him just wasn’t right. I wanted to respect the dignity of the office.”

Growing up in the Houston area, Pogson loved reading, but disliked school. “I always looked forward to summer vacation,” she said. “When I invited my niece, Lindsey, to my graduation (from ASU), it was funny because the first words out of her mouth were, `Does this mean I get out of school?’ I had to laugh.”

Pogson waited for more than 10 years after graduating from high school to make an earnest attempt at college, and earned a bachelor’s of science in Professional Writing from the University of Houston-Downtown. At ASU, she worked on her master’s degree in English concurrently with her doctorate, earning the former in 2004.

Working full time (she moved from the College of Education in 2005 to the College of Law), it took Pogson another four years to write her five-chapter, 200-page dissertation, “A Middle Sort of Wickedness: Property, Law, and the Subversion of Patriarchy in Farquhar’s Drama.” Pogson melded her study of plays by the Anglo-Irish dramatist George Farquhar, with an interest in English inheritance laws and how those laws sometimes contributed to rivalries between siblings. In the latter case, a personal experience involving a family heirloom inspired her curiosity.

Pogson is the eldest of four siblings, two brothers and a sister, and as a child, her favorite family possession was the Pogson grandparents’ Victorian-era grandfather clock. “When my attachment to the clock became evident, my grandmother told me straight away that it would never be mine,” she said.

Family tradition dictated that the clock would go to an elder son, and if for some reason he declined, the clock would go to the next eldest son and so on down the line. “Even though I am an elder daughter, I was not in the line of succession, and that was just the way it was,” Pogson explained.

As a college freshman, she was introduced to the term, “primogeniture,” the English common-law practice that favored elder sons in inheritance matters. As well as explaining her own family history, the subject of primogeniture would become prominent in her study of Farquhar’s plays. Certain, Pogson empathized with characters bypassed in the line of succession, particularly younger brothers, because they often became the primary targets of jokes.

“When I began, my intent was to do a study of the literature through the sociological lens of the family,” Pogson said. “I knew that primogeniture would need to be discussed, but I had no idea I would be looking at Farquhar’s plays, mining them for legal terms of art, and examining the plays in terms of 17th- and 18th-century inheritance issues. When I began looking at how the fiction matched legal reality, I began to realize that Farquhar’s repeated use of legal terminology was no accident, albeit, the law and lawyers were used as sources for his satire.”

Pogson found little in the way of primary materials that addressed her initial questions about mixed relationships between brothers in 17th- and 18th-century literature. “In a nutshell, I had to write the book I was looking for,” she said.

Because Pogson is a literature scholar, rather than a legal scholar, she was grateful for recommended reading provided by faculty at the College of Law. Professor Jonathan Rose pointed her to J.H. Baker’s An Introduction to English Legal History, and Professor Dennis Karjala to Dukeminier & Krier’s Property casebook.

Pogson will remain at the College of Law, continuing to contribute her editorial expertise to Jurimetrics, the oldest journal dedicated to topics of law and science in the United States. It is co-published by the College of Law, the Center for Law, Science, and Technology, and the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.