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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Bleak House

Image from Britannica
Title: Bleak House
Author: Charles Dickens

I had started reading Bleak House long before, but gave up when it was too heavy for me to handle. But, after a semester of classes on Law and Equity in my law school a year back, I picked it up again a few months back and read it through. And, I enjoyed every dig, every syllable that Dickens had to say about the Chancery and its court of Equity.

There was always a problem about law not delivering justice in time. Sayings such as ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is popular and known to all of us. Dickens captures the essence of it throughout his book. 

“The good ships Law and Equity, those teak-built, copper-bottomed, iron-fastened, brazen-faced, and not by any means fast-sailing clippers are laid up in ordinary.”

“Over all the legal neighbourhood there hangs, like some great veil of rust or gigantic cobweb, the idleness and pensiveness of the long vacation.”
If the whole narrative of Bleak House has to be simply put, we just need one of the most preliminary paragraphs of the novel to get on point with the theme and the storyline. It is also one of the most pleasurable and enjoyable descriptions I have come across. 

“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit.”

It is a common fact of basic knowledge to all those who have Equity as a subject that the first and the most important principle on which the whole concept of Equity is founded is that- “Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy.” Want to know the truth of Dickens’ times? Here’s an extract that’ll clearly give you the answer.

“This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give—who does not often give—the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"”

Bleak House is an absolute pleasure to read. With Dickens, it is never just about the story, but the nuances of his narrative plays a very important role. Bleak house is a must read for all, and most definitely all law students. And, here’s a good suggestion from a fellow-reader: do some homework on equity before you get to Bleak House, I’m sure the fun will be doubled!

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