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‘In All Manner of Places, All at Wunst’: Writing, Gossip and the State of Information in Bleak House

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Abstract

The outside weather with which Bleak House commences clearly has as its corollary an interior, discursive climate wherein an opaque ‘wall’ of writing shuts out the still, small voice of advocacy as surely as the implacable sheets of London fog obscure the noonday sun, and Dickens’s own writing, as a surrogate for omniscience, often works to obscure the voice of Esther Summer(son). We have scarcely begun reading the first chapter when we become aware of the systematic repression of voice at the hands of writing. For Chancery is an institution where even ‘briefs’ are given a longevity and ‘shorthand writers’ (BH 1, p. 50) struggle to enclose voice within an overly condensed, compressed system of inscription that chokes all vestige of tonality:

Keywords

Discursive Practice General Equivalent Social Reproduction Ontic Status Legal Family 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1984). See especially the chapter on Great Expectations pp. 113–42 in which Brooks speaks of the logic and syntax of meanings that develop only through succession for Brooks, a mediation between repeating and reproduction, which would give plot a ‘lineage’ always under pressures of displacement, like that of the family.Google Scholar
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    Alexander Welsh, From Copyright to Copperfield: The Identity of Dickens (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987). An intriguing history of copyright law and its impact is to be found in the volume of lectures by Augustine Birrell, Seven Lectures on the Law and History of Copyright in Books (South Hackensack, NJ: Rothman Reprints, 1971; 1899). The reconceptualization of copyright law, both legally and in terms of the role of the author, shifted the meaning of a particular text from a specific form of ownership of the means of production to a specific form of control of the labour process so as to produce surplus value. This shift corresponds to the transformation from petty-commodity production to industrial capitalism that certain commentators, most notably Hindness and Hirst, have observed in the production of other commodities between 1750 and 1850. Bleak House could be read as a large printing enterprise churning out reams of paper within its own pages in such a way that the ‘production’ of Chancery and the ‘production’ of Esther’s diary are in some sense similarly self-consuming. They both ‘mean’ as the cumulative effects of interventions in the productive process itself.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Jan B. Gordon 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tokyo University of Foreign StudiesJapan

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