A sweeping, intricate structure of ludic metaphors runs through Bleak House. I argue that what Caroline Levine has called the "network form" of Dickens's novel can be better understood through the figure of the game. The "great gaming system" Richard imagines the world to be expresses not just a peculiarity on his part but a broader conception of how social and legal systems are felt or enjoyed by their participants. Dickens opens up a space for agency within systems by making play the primary technique with which characters engage the social without disavowing their own responsibility. While the self-enclosure of law's rules leads characters to apprehend it through ludic metaphors, the specificity of those metaphors—whether gambling or chess—determines the relationship between the individual and the legal system. But despite the critique of "all this wasteful wanton chessplaying," the novel offers no alternative to gameplaying—only a spectrum of games to play.


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pp. 134-155
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