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Justice XI Chancery

Roman à Clef:

Inspector Charles Frederick Field


Miss Flite; Inspector Bucket;

Richard Carstone; Ada Clare.


Bleak House

         Dickens' view of Justice, as meted out by Victorian society, is bleak. It is an undiscoverable country from which no traveller returns. Its tyranny is deferment, exhaustion, indifference, and long-winded silence. A sickness with no direct cure, only the repeated admonition to steer clear of its contagion. Victorians were preoccupied with Justice, or perhaps more accurately put they were infatuated with crime. Cohabitating Bleak House are two mysteries – one: the interminable case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, the essence or least detail of which will never be known, and the other: little more in final examination than the indefensible degradation and inhumane misuse of a child born out of wedlock.


 Dickens constructed Bleak House from dualities, each one a metonym of the others; the fractured network that is the novel is fractal. Foremost is the bifurcation of the narrative: Male vs. Female, Objective vs. Subjective, Authoritative vs. Deferential, Expansive vs. Retarded, The Letter of the Law vs. The Spirit. This division is a variant of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce – that is, Prosecution vs. Defense. The novel's characters are also built of these dualities exemplified in Omniscient Narrator and Esther: The Lord Chancellor and Lady Dedlock; Tulkinghorn [talking horn] and Hortense; Krook with his cat and Mrs. Flite with her pet birds. These are the more obvious parallels in an oblique house built of mirrors. In a detail as minor as the “lord chancellor” Krook's grey cat Lady Jane, we may see in the feline's name Lady Dedlock, the 1850s popular slang for female genitals "Lady Jane", and Lady Jane Grey who – as described by Dickens in his Child's History – was an amiable and clever” if momentary queen who only accepted the crown “in obedience to her father” and was beheaded, forthwith. At this female castration we may remember Esther's words: “I knew I was as innocent of my birth as a queen of hers; and that before my Heavenly Father I should not be punished for birth, nor a queen rewarded for it.” This re-warding, while spoken in the wooden court language of “innocence” and “punishment” to a male bench, occurs not in the present but in the hereafter of Miss Flite's Judgment Day. Back on earth, the rag and bone hoarder Krook was sitting on the case's solution all along when he exploded under his own weight. Miss Flite's birds, meantime, having missed their chance, are dead in their cages, waiting.


 Plainly put, in its attempt to right imbalance, Justice is the male solution to transgression. Violence and sex are two such transgressions which the Law ennobles itself to regulate. It sees violence sanctioned and vengeance legitimized. This system is a house of lords - the odd woman who finds her own place within it such as Miss Flite can only be mad. The system, then, reproduces its own inherent imbalance, such as indulging an appetite for violence/sex while condemning it. As Society is echoed in Law, Law is echoed in Society, which sees sex sanctioned and progeny legitimized - or illegitimized, as in Esther's case. The counterbalance to these male structures, also seen in Jarndyce's Bleak House and Tom-all-Alone's, is the hearth and home, the Queen's Gardens to the King's Treasuries, the shared space which commingles within and between each and every of Bleak House's contiguous rooms – from Jo to Chesney Wold. Or, in short: the female realm of love.


 The real mystery, then, is: how does a house become a home?


 One answer is Dickens as spokesperson for Social Justice, with his novels as tools of social reform. Bleak House itself helped instigate a judicial reform movement which culminated in the legal reforms of the 1870s. But Dickens himself, always skeptical of human institutions, grew increasingly cynical of the merit in any such reformation of systems he judged to be implicitly corruptible, corrupted, and corrupting. Increasingly, his own personal answer was a personal one – that is: hearth and home and inherent goodness; the spirit of the law over the letter, Esther over the Omniscient Narrator. In the story of Lady Dedlock we have the Old Testament scapegoat; in her illegitimate orphaned daughter we have the New Testament story her sister recounts to Esther of the woman taken into adultery. Society, chastised for casting stones; the child, removed from society's castigation to drink from the well, finding her self unashamedly in the house she makes a home.


 In A.E. Waite's famous Tarot deck, he switched the places of the number 11 Strength card and the number 8 card, Justice. In Bleak House, and here in The Charles Dickens Tarot, Charles Dickens switches it back.


Notes for General Circulation


  • The Justice card represents a warning and indicates a need for proper deliberation. 

  • Affiliated with the astrological sign Libra, Justice is involved with inner questioning. One of the major difficulties faced by Librans is coming to a decision. 

  • The Lord Justice in wig and full judicial resplendence looks out, over the heads and beyond the immediate everyday realities of the litigants beneath him. His gaze is august, practiced, immutable. He audits all that has gone before, his back turned resolutely to what's coming - the injustice of The Hanged Man, where the ruling is death. 

  • The edifice of the courthouse is decaying. Miss Flite's birds will die in their cages, waiting for Judgment Day. They are miner's canaries for Richard Carstone, who will die poor having gotten nowhere. 

  • The presence of the Justice card in a formal pattern may suggest an obsession with a detail which can never be made fine enough, an uncertainty which can never be proven, a wrong that will never be made right. 

  • Ostensibly, the Justice card signifies man's law, his assumed sovereignty over the earth, its inhabitants, its future. It is almost all letter and next to no spirit. 

  • On a more personal note, Justice suggests each individual's conscience; the human capability to divine good from evil and its attendant responsibility.

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