The Paper Chase (novel)

  (Redirected from Professor Charles Kingsfield)
Paper airplane with the address to Harvard Law School at green-ish blue background and above the red title "THE PAPER CHASE".
First edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1971)

The Paper Chase is a 1971 novel written by John Jay Osborn Jr., a 1970 graduate of Harvard Law School. The book tells the story of Hart, a first-year law student at Harvard, and his experiences with Professor Charles Kingsfield, the brilliant, demanding contracts instructor whom he both idolizes and finds incredibly intimidating.

The novel inspired an eponymous 1973 film and then a television series, which ran from 1978 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1986.

Osborn wrote the novel as a third-year student at Harvard Law School. William Alfred, a Harvard humanities professor and playwright, coached him in writing the book.[1]


The story centers on Hart, a young law student from Minnesota who attends Harvard Law School and becomes obsessed with one of his teachers, Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. Hart becomes an expert on Kingsfield's subject, contracts; he reads everything about the subject, including all of Kingsfield's papers, most of which are not on the reading list. He goes so far as to break into the law library to read Kingsfield's original law school notes. Hart becomes such an expert that Kingsfield asks him to contribute to a paper.

At the same time, he begins a relationship with Susan Field, who turns out to be Kingsfield's daughter. Susan stands aloof from the law-school rat-race and dismisses all the things Hart cares about most.

After much effort preparing for the final exam, Hart's grade is delivered to him, but he simply makes a paper airplane out of his final report card, and sends it sailing into the Atlantic Ocean without looking at it.

Professor Charles W. Kingsfield JrEdit

Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. is one of the key characters in the novel, film and television series. Kingsfield is an imperious, highly respected (and feared) professor of contracts at Harvard Law School, known for his unrelenting use of the Socratic method on his students.

Kingsfield was a law student at Harvard as shown by the presence of his own class notes in the institution's archives. Kingsfield has a daughter with a fiercely independent personality.

During an event at Harvard Law School to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the book's release, the author said that the character was a composite of several of his professors at Harvard Law School, saying, "It wasn’t like it was hard to find role models."[2][3] Many Harvard Law graduates believe the character to be a composite of Contracts professor Clark Byse [4][5] and Property Law professor A.J. Casner, legendary intimidating users of the Socratic method. Osborn has stated that Contracts was his favorite law school course.[6] John Houseman, who played the role in the film and television series, said that he based his performance, in part, on stories he was told by former students of Earl Henry Warren, a professor at the law school from 1904 to 1945. Warren, who taught a first-year property-law course, was famous at the school for his sarcastic comments during lectures and intimidating manner. Houseman's performance was also based on his experience as a professor and director of the drama department at the Juilliard School.[7]


The novel is divided into three sections: Fall (chapters 1–15), Winter (chapters 16–33), and Spring (chapters 34–58). Chapters 1, 3, 13, 27, and 35 begin with quotes that set the tone for those chapters.

40th anniversary editionEdit

In 2010, a 40th-anniversary edition of The Paper Chase was released by Peninsula Road Press, which contains a new preface. This edition is the only one prepared by the author.



According to Osborn, the 1973 film is based "almost word for word" on the novel. It starred John Houseman as Kingsfield and Timothy Bottoms as Hart.

Television seriesEdit

CBS aired a one-hour drama series in the 1978–1979 season based on the movie. John Houseman reprised his movie role, and James Stephens played Hart. In 1983, pay-cable network Showtime brought back the show with both Houseman and Stephens. At the end of three seasons on Showtime, Hart finally graduated.


  1. ^ "Former Professor, Playwright Alfred Dies". The Harvard Crimson. May 24, 1999. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  2. ^ Walsh, Colleen (October 2, 2012). "'The Paper Chase' at 40". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  3. ^ 'The Paper Chase' at 40: A conversation with author John Jay Osborn Jr. '70
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2014-01-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^
  6. ^ Garcia, Ken (January 28, 2003). "Father of the 'Paper Chase' / San Francisco writer helped define Harvard". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  7. ^ Houseman, John (August 9, 1986). "Tyrannical? Terrifying? You Should Have Met the Real Professor Kingsfield!". TV Guide. pp. 36–8. Retrieved 29 June 2013.[permanent dead link]