Study Guide

Bleak House Rules and Order

By Charles Dickens

Rules and Order

There is something in the way the legal system does its best not to work in Bleak House that anticipates the nightmarish bureaucracies of Kafka (see The Trial ), especially in the terrifying moment that shows Gridley attempting to get the judge's attention and being told that he cannot legally be admitted to exist at this time. The wheels of this system spin only each other and do not advance any of the actual machinery forward. Rather, the Court of Chancery feeds on England's resources in the form of the land or accumulated wealth that a will is attempting to distribute, converting potential capitalist investment into coffer-lining feudalism.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. One of the ways in which orderliness is expressed is through the quality of housekeeping in a specific place. For example, think about the difference in messiness levels between Bleak House, Mrs. Jellyby's house, and Krook's shop. Does physical disorder relate to mental or emotional messiness? Who is better off, those who clean up or those who let things fall where they may?
  2. Bleak House seems to show the law as being particularly random, unjust, and, well, lawless. Are there other supposed systems of order that are shown to be completely without rhyme or reason? Why have these systems broken down? Does the novel suggest they can be repaired? How?
  3. One of the novel's structural rules seems to be that there are no superfluous characters. Despite being set in London, a huge metropolis where each day many people come into contact who will never see each other again, the novel only shows us the same few characters, who meet and interact in different combinations. Why is the random-stranger part of city life left out?

Chew on This

One of the political implications of Bleak House is that individual charity and generosity are not enough – systemic change is needed to combat the social ills being described. However, by portraying institutions in such a negative and cynical way, the novel undermines the possibility that government or some other large organization will ever be able to rise to the occasion.

There are so many different ways that people are policed and regulated in the novel – some formal, but most informal – that there is almost no need for the actual police constables. They only come into a situation when the social policing has failed, and even then they are only one of several ways of enforcing rules.

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