In Charles Dickens Bleak House, Chancery is portrayed as a disease that plagues the Victorian society. Dickens uses the suits and the lawyers of Chancery to display its effects on the whole society.
The suits are “slow, expensive, British, constitutional kind of things” (25) that stifle and bemuse those that come in contact with them. In Ms. Flite’s case, the suit has deteriorated her life. She attends Chancery regularly expecting a judgement that is never to come and yet, she lives a “pinched” (73) lifestyle, unable to help herself or others. In addition, she cages birds she intends to set free on her judgement day, however, she states, “I positively doubt sometimes whether while matters are still unsettled I may not one day be found lying stark and senseless here, as I have found so many birds!” (74).
Like Miss Flite, the suit has stagnated Robert’s life. Robert, “So young and handsome, and in all respects so perfectly the opposite of Miss Flite…[is] so dreadfully like her” in his clouded, eager, and seeking mannerism (592). Under the misconception that the suit “can’t last forever” (599), Robert declares, “I am young and earnest; and energy and determination have done wonders many a time…I devote myself to [the suit]. I make it the object of my life” (599). As a result, this suit not only causes Robert to loose himself, but his misplaced suspicions cause him to loose his sound relationship with Mr. Jarndyce.
“The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself…viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme” (621) of which lawyers are the key players. Mr. Vholes, Robert’s lawyer, “always looking at the client, as if he were making a lingering meal of him with his eyes as well as with his professional appetite,” (624) dupes Robert into believing that he needs him for his suit. This “respectable” lawyer tells Robert that because he is represented he will have a voice in the legal system, however, it means nothing for Robert’s suit. Thus, these false hopes told to Robert by his lawyer eventually results in his melancholy death.
“Make man-eating unlawful, and you starve the Vholeses,” (623) however, Mr. Vholes is only one type of lawyer. Mr. Tulkinghorn, “reputed to have made good thrift out of aristocratic marriage settlements and aristocratic wills,” (23) leads to Lady Dedlock’s demise. Mr. Tulkinghorn wished to display his power over Lady Dedlock (a representative of the aristocratic class) thus, he blackmailed her. In Lady Dedlock’s own words, “I am to remain upon this gaudy platform, on which my miserable deception has been so long acted, and it is to fall beneath me when you give the signal” (659).
Mr. Tulkinghorn’s desire to know the secrets of the aristocratic leads him to deceive, bribe, threaten, blackmail and eventually kill others. One unfortunate soul used by Mr. Tulkinghorn is Joe. He bribes Joe to confess about Lady Dedlock’s visit to him disguised as her maid. Later, he hires Inspector Bucket who says, “Don’t you be afraid of hurting the boy…it’s all right as far as the boy’s concerned…he’ll be paid for his trouble, and sent away again…it’s the best and wisest way to keep little matters like this quiet”(356). This inspector kidnaps Joe, bribes him, threatens him to stay away from London and leaves him to fend for himself. However, Joe falls ill and returns to London where he eventually dies.
Thus, Dickens successfully portrays how Chancery diminishes people’s way of life, whether they are of a lower class like Joe and Ms. Flyte, or are of an upper class like Robert and Lady Dedlock. I personally believe that the message is that the cause and the need for change are present and people need to work together despite their differences or social classes to bring on the necessary change.