Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 6-12-2021


This paper proposes that Dickens’s Bleak House is symptomatic of a so-called social realm, in which neither oikos nor polis exists as a distinct, autonomous entity; therefore, neither can offer sanctuary or adequately discharge the historical role of the household – maintaining life. In this zone of indistinction, the symbolic structures of London’s law have become the city’s physical structures, leading to symptoms like Jo the outlaw, whose illness and death is attributed to the failure of both the polis and the oikos – the city’s legal housekeeping and the law-as-house, respectively ­– to maintain life. London’s law has become so immanent that it takes on the role of religion, thus precluding God’s transcendence. Ultimately, the novel recoils from London’s threatening presence and attempts to inter the nineteenth-century anxieties associated with the city – anxieties centering around the law both as structure and religion – through redemptive repetition: Bleak House attempts to wrest the oikos from the clutches of the polis. But despite the novel’s efforts, as the divisions between oikos and polis collapse, it is ultimately impossible for either sphere to retain any semblance of itself. As a result, retreat from the polis to the oikos is impossible: there are no longer well-defined domains – of oikos or polis – into which to retreat in the growing indistinction of the social realm.

Original Citation

Casey, L. ‘All Wrong in Point of Political Economy’: Attempting to Salvage the Oikos from the Polis in Bleak House. Law Critique (2021).

Available for download on Wednesday, June 15, 2022