Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie

«Bleak House» and Law as Despair

Issue 3, pp 315-327
article, 8014 words

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Charles Dickens’ novel « Bleak House », being probably the finest among the works written by the English novelist, centers around the story of a trial. It is a case, Jarndice versus Jarndice, brought before the Court of Chancery, the « equity » jurisdiction, in the first half of the Nineteenth century, when the Chancery court distinguished itself for the dilatory and heavy procedure of it sessions. The story is a dark one, indulging in the description and comment of the ruin brought to suitors by such formalist and everlasting trial. Suitors are pushed to despair and the patrimony they are fighting for is finally consumed by the trial costs. The novel might thus be seen as an elaborate and poetic treatise on law, legal process, and the legal profession. The article intends to reconstruct the novel’s main critical arguments about law, lawyers, and the practice of court. It also tries to discuss a possible application of a minimalist philosophy of history to law. If in principle it is progress and its claim that could be considered as pragmatically inherent to legal practice, Dickens’ novel might be produced to give a pessimistic turn to this claim, and make of it a regressive incident. If law were not to satisfy the claim to progress that is performatively deducible through the claim to correctness of legal acts, the outcome would be the opposite : law would then be experienced as failure and, most intensely, despair.

law and literature
legal trial
legal profession
claim to correctness
claim to progress
Recht und Literatur
Anspruch auf Richtigkeit
Anspruch auf Fortschritt

ARSP 2018, 315