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Dickens and the National Interest: On the Representation of Parties in Bleak House

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In the decades between the First and Second Reform Bills (1832 and 1867), public moralists, politicians, journalists, and authors of fiction considered the mechanisms by which a reformed House of Commons might best represent the interests of 'the people'. Determined to position fiction as an important intervention in public debate, Charles Dickens placed himself in competition with those radical orators who were committed to the advocacy of the national interest. Dickens's attempts to speak on behalf of as many people as possible were arguably most successful in Bleak House (1852-53) where he seeks to critique Chancery practice and 'the law of all necessary parties' (the principle, articulated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that if the court was to do complete justice, then all possible litigants had to be heard). In this essay I seek to trace the correspondences between Bleak House and class actions, and I argue that, whilst Chancery practice foundered on the law of all necessary parties, the novel succeeded in fulfilling the social function of group litigation on behalf of those who could not afford to protect their own self-interest.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.

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