- Jarndyce and Jarndyce
"Jarndyce and Jarndyce" is a fictional court case in Chancery in the novel "
Bleak House" by Charles Dickens.
The case concerns the fate of a large inheritance, but has dragged on for many generations prior to the action of the novel, so that, by the time it is resolved late in the narrative, legal costs have devoured nearly the entire estate. The case is thus a byword for an interminable legal proceeding. Dickens used it to attack the chancery court system as being near totally worthless, as any "honourable man among its [Chancery's] practitioners" says, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"
It is believed that the
Thellusson Will Caseprovided the inspiration for the tale. [http://www.tickhillhistorysociety.org.uk/documents/BrodsworthFullPics2.pdf]
All of the main characters are connected in some way through the case, though the actual legal proceedings appear only as background plot. Aside from the lawyers who prosecute and defend the case every character who directly associates with it suffers some tragic fate. Miss Flite has long since lost her mind when the narrative begins; Richard Carstone dies trying to win the inheritance for himself; Krook even spontaneously bursts into flame as a metaphor for the all-consuming Chancery.
From the first chapter:
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 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. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1023 Bleak House at Project Gutenberg etext]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/9695 Bleak House at Project Gutenberg audio book]
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