Dickens’s critique of Chancery in Bleak House reflects the increasing importance of state bureaucracy in the Victorian era. Disputing D. A. Miller’s influential argument that Bleak House was complicit in new disciplinary forms of power, this essay argues that fictional representations of bureaucratic institutions like Chancery served as a pedagogic resource for Victorians struggling to navigate the emergent bureaucratic landscape. Positioning Bleak House within a wider mid-nineteenth-century attempt to illuminate the workings of bureaucratic state culture, this essay explores the ways in which Dickens’s novel not only critiques Chancery, but also provides lessons in the art of bureaucracy. Dickens’s narrative centers on laypeople that are utterly bemused by Chancery’s unfamiliar textual culture, structural dispersion and intractable slowness. This emphasis on the laity’s disempowering lack of bureaucratic skills and sensibilities underscores the fact that bureaucratic agency is knowledge-based, and, as this essay shows, serves as the basis for Dickens’s pedagogic conceptualization of bureaucracy.


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pp. 24-41
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