The Architecture of Containment in Bleak House
Charles Dickens’s most ambitious work as a novelist both centres around and subverts notions of physical space and solidity. This essay examines the architectural function of Bleak House’s buildings in respect to concepts of containment, and alongside the related notions of displacement and naming. The title is taken as a starting point for examining the significance of physical structures in the book, with an in-depth reading of Bleak House as a building, a title, and a lens through which we access all of the action of the novel. From there it looks at the other structures (Chesney Wold, Chancery etc) as physical edifices as well as centres, around which concepts such as law and fashion revolve, yet which are also vulnerable to spatial intrusion. The Victorian expansion of institutional power through Foucaldian structures of containment and isolation provides historical context for Dickens's representation of such buildings. Thirdly, the essay considers the movements in this book away from the centre, in a post-structuralist sense. Following Steven Connor's observation that everything everyone is being made to 'move on', it analyses in detail the importance of Jo, and how the concept of a 'resting place' - regarding houses, language, law or narrative - is undermined in the novel. Drawing on both theoretical frameworks and close textual reading, this study ultimately highlights how Dickens’s aim to deconstruct society’s architecture of containment is fully realised throughout the themes and subtext of Bleak House.