BLEAK HOUSE is one of
Though the legal profession criticised Dickens's satire as exaggerated, this novel helped support a judicial reform movement, which culminated in the enactment of legal reform in the 1870s.
There is some debate among scholars as to when
* 1 Synopsis
* 2 Characters in
* 2.1 Major characters * 2.2 Minor characters
* 3 Analysis and criticism
* 4 Locations of
Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife Honoria live on his estate at Chesney Wold. Unknown to Sir Leicester, Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, before she married and had a daughter by him. Lady Dedlock believes her daughter is dead.
The daughter, Esther, is in fact alive and being raised by Miss
Barbary, Lady Dedlock's sister. Esther does not know Miss Barbary is
her aunt. After Miss Barbary dies, John Jarndyce becomes Esther's
guardian and assigns the Chancery lawyer "Conversation" Kenge to take
charge of her future. After attending school for six years, Esther
moves in with him at Bleak House.
Jarndyce simultaneously assumes custody of two other wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare (who are both his and one another's distant cousins). They are beneficiaries in one of the wills at issue in Jarndyce and Jarndyce ; their guardian is a beneficiary under another will, and the two wills conflict. Richard and Ada soon fall in love, but though Mr Jarndyce does not oppose the match, he stipulates that Richard must first choose a profession. Richard first tries a career in medicine, and Esther meets Allan Woodcourt, a physician, at the house of Richard's tutor. When Richard mentions the prospect of gaining from the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Jarndyce beseeches him never to put faith in what he calls "the family curse".
Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock is also a beneficiary under one of the wills. Early in the book, while listening to the reading of an affidavit by the family solicitor, Mr Tulkinghorn, she recognises the handwriting on the copy. The sight affects her so much she almost faints, which Tulkinghorn notices and investigates. He traces the copyist, a pauper known only as "Nemo," in London. Nemo has recently died, and the only person to identify him is a street-sweeper, a poor homeless boy named Jo, who lives in a particularly grim and poverty-stricken part of the city known as Tom-All-Alone's. Consecrated ground
Lady Dedlock is also investigating, disguised as her maid, Mademoiselle Hortense. Lady Dedlock pays Jo to take her to Nemo's grave. Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is concerned Lady Dedlock's secret could threaten the interests of Sir Leicester and watches her constantly, even enlisting her maid to spy on her. He also enlists Inspector Bucket to run Jo out of town, to eliminate any loose ends that might connect Nemo to the Dedlocks.
Esther sees Lady Dedlock at church and talks with her later at Chesney Wold – though neither woman recognises their connection. Later, Lady Dedlock does discover that Esther is her child. However, Esther has become sick (possibly with smallpox , since it severely disfigures her) after nursing the homeless boy Jo. Lady Dedlock waits until Esther has recovered before telling her the truth. Though Esther and Lady Dedlock are happy to be reunited, Lady Dedlock tells Esther they must never acknowledge their connection again.
Upon her recovery, Esther finds that Richard, having failed at several professions, has disobeyed his guardian and is trying to push Jarndyce and Jarndyce to conclusion in his and Ada's favour. In the process, Richard loses all his money and declines in health. He and Ada have secretly married, and Ada is pregnant. Esther has her own romance when Mr Woodcourt returns to England, having survived a shipwreck, and continues to seek her company despite her disfigurement. Unfortunately, Esther has already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce.
Hortense and Tulkinghorn discover the truth about Lady Dedlock's past. After a confrontation with Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock flees her home, leaving a note apologising for her conduct. Tulkinghorn dismisses Hortense, who is no longer of any use to him. Feeling abandoned and betrayed, Hortense kills Tulkinghorn and seeks to frame Lady Dedlock for his murder. Sir Leicester, discovering his lawyer's death and his wife's flight, suffers a catastrophic stroke, but he manages to communicate that he forgives his wife and wants her to return. Attorney and Client
Inspector Bucket, who has previously investigated several matters related to Jarndyce and Jarndyce, accepts Sir Leicester's commission to find Lady Dedlock. At first he suspects Lady Dedlock of the murder but is able to clear her of suspicion after discovering Hortense's guilt, and he requests Esther's help to find her. Lady Dedlock has no way to know of her husband's forgiveness or that she has been cleared of suspicion, and she wanders the country in cold weather before dying at the cemetery of her former lover, Captain Hawdon (Nemo). Esther and Bucket find her there.
Progress in Jarndyce and Jarndyce seems to take a turn for the better when a later will is found, which revokes all previous wills and leaves the bulk of the estate to Richard and Ada. Meanwhile, John Jarndyce cancels his engagement to Esther, who becomes engaged to Mr Woodcourt. They go to Chancery to find Richard. On their arrival, they learn that the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is finally over, but the costs of litigation have entirely consumed the estate. Richard collapses, and Mr Woodcourt diagnoses him as being in the last stages of tuberculosis . Richard apologises to John Jarndyce and dies. Jarndyce takes in Ada and her child, a boy whom she names Richard. Esther and Woodcourt marry and live in a Yorkshire house which Jarndyce gives to them. The couple later raise two daughters.
Many of the novel's subplots focus on minor characters. One such subplot is the hard life and happy, though difficult, marriage of Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop. Another plot focuses on George Rouncewell's rediscovery of his family, and his reunion with his mother and brother.
CHARACTERS IN BLEAK HOUSE
As usual, Dickens drew upon many real people and places but imaginatively transformed them in his novel (see character list below for the supposed inspiration of individual characters).
Although not a character, the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case is a vital part of the novel. It is believed to have been inspired by a number of real-life Chancery cases involving wills, including those of Charles Day and William Jennens , and of Charlotte Smith 's father-in-law Richard Smith.
* ESTHER SUMMERSON is the heroine. She is Dickens's only female narrator. Esther is raised as an orphan by Miss Barbary, (who is in fact her aunt). She does not know her parents' identity. Miss Barbary holds macabre vigils on Esther's birthday each year, telling her that her birth is no cause for celebration, because the girl is her mother's "disgrace." Because of her cruel upbringing she is self-effacing, self-deprecating and grateful for every trifle. The discovery of her true identity provides much of the drama in the book. Finally it is revealed that she is the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock and Nemo (Captain Hawdon). * HONORIA, LADY DEDLOCK is the haughty mistress of Chesney Wold. The revelation of her past drives much of the plot. Before her marriage, Lady Dedlock had an affair with another man and bore his child. Lady Dedlock discovers the child's identity (Esther Summerson), and because she has revealed that she had a secret predating her marriage, she has attracted the noxious curiosity of Mr Tulkinghorn, who feels bound by his ties to his client, Sir Leicester, to pry out her secret. At the end of the novel, Lady Dedlock dies, disgraced in her own mind and convinced that her husband can never forgive her moral failings. * JOHN JARNDYCE is an unwilling party in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, guardian of Richard, Ada, and Esther, and owner of Bleak House. Vladimir Nabokov called him "one of the best and kindest human beings ever described in a novel". A wealthy man, he helps most of the other characters, motivated by a combination of goodness and guilt at the mischief and human misery caused by Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which he calls "the family curse." At first, it seems possible that he is Esther's father, but he disavows this shortly after she comes to live under his roof. He falls in love with Esther and wishes to marry her, but gives her up because she is in love with Mr Woodcourt. * RICHARD CARSTONE is a ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Straightforward and likeable but irresponsible and inconstant, Richard falls under the spell of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. At the end of the book, just after Jarndyce and Jarndyce is finally settled, he dies, tormented by his imprudence in trusting to the outcome of a Chancery suit.
The little old lady
* ADA CLARE is another young ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and
Jarndyce. She falls in love with Richard Carstone, a distant cousin.
They later marry in secret and she has Richard's child.
* HAROLD SKIMPOLE is a friend of Jarndyce "in the habit of sponging
his friends" (Nuttall). He is irresponsible, selfish, amoral, and
without remorse. He often refers to himself as "a child" and claims
not to understand human relationships, circumstances, and society –
but actually understands them very well, as he demonstrates when he
enlists Richard and Esther to pay off the bailiff who has arrested him
on a writ of debt. He believes that Richard and Ada will be able to
acquire credit based on their expectations in Jarndyce and Jarndyce
and declares his intention to start "honoring" them by letting them
pay some of his debts. This character is commonly regarded as a
portrait of Leigh Hunt . "Dickens wrote in a letter of 25 September
1853, 'I suppose he is the most exact portrait that was ever painted
in words! ... It is an absolute reproduction of a real man.' A
contemporary critic commented, 'I recognised Skimpole instantaneously;
... and so did every person whom I talked with about it who had ever
had Leigh Hunt's acquaintance.'"
G. K. Chesterton
* MR GRIDLEY is an involuntary party to a suit in Chancery (based on a real case, according to Dickens's preface), who repeatedly seeks in vain to gain the attention of the Lord Chancellor. He threatens Mr Tulkinghorn and then is put under arrest by Inspector Bucket, but dies, his health broken by his Chancery ordeal. * NEMO (Latin for "nobody") is the alias of Captain James Hawdon, a former officer in the British Army under whom Mr George once served. Nemo is a law-writer who makes fair copies of legal documents for Snagsby and lodges at Krook's rag and bottle shop, eventually dying of an opium overdose. He is later found to be Lady Dedlock's former lover, and the father of Esther Summerson. * MRS SNAGSBY is Mr Snagsby's highly suspicious and curious wife, who has a "vinegary" personality and incorrectly suspects Mr Snagsby of keeping many secrets from her: she suspects he is Jo's father. * GUSTER is the Snagsbys' maidservant, prone to fits. * NECKETT is a debt collector – called "Coavinses" by debtor Harold Skimpole because he works for that business firm. * CHARLEY is Coavinses' daughter, hired by John Jarndyce to be a maid to Esther. Called "Little Coavinses" by Skimpole. * TOM is Coavinses' young son. * EMMA is Coavinses' baby daughter. * MRS JELLYBY is Caddy's mother, a "telescopic philanthropist" obsessed with an obscure African tribe but having little regard for the notion of charity beginning at home. It's thought Dickens wrote this character as a criticism of female activists like Caroline Chisholm . * MR JELLYBY is Mrs Jellyby's long-suffering husband. * PEEPY JELLYBY is the Jellybys' young son. * PRINCE TURVEYDROP is a dancing master and proprietor of a dance studio. * OLD MR TURVEYDROP is a master of deportment who lives off his son's industry. * JENNY is a brickmaker's wife. She is mistreated by her husband and her baby dies. She then helps her friend look after her own child. * ROSA is a favourite lady's maid of Lady Dedlock whom Watt Rouncewell wishes to marry. The proposal ends in nothing when Mr Rouncewell's father asks that Rosa be sent to school to become a lady worthy of his son's station. Lady Dedlock questions the girl closely regarding her wish to leave, and promises to look after her instead. In some way, Rosa is a stand-in for Esther in Lady Dedlock's life. * HORTENSE is lady's maid to Lady Dedlock. Her character is based on the Swiss maid and murderer Maria Manning . * MRS ROUNCEWELL is housekeeper to the Dedlocks at Chesney Wold. * MR ROBERT ROUNCEWELL, the adult son of Mrs Rouncewell, is a prosperous ironmaster . * WATT ROUNCEWELL is Robert Rouncewell's son. * VOLUMNIA is a cousin of the Dedlocks, given to screaming. * MISS BARBARY is Esther's godmother and severe childhood guardian. * MRS RACHAEL CHADBAND is a former servant of Miss Barbary's. * MR CHADBAND is an oleaginous preacher, husband of Mrs Chadband. * MRS SMALLWEED is the wife of Mr Smallweed senior and sister to Krook. She is suffering from dementia. * YOUNG MR (BARTHOLEMEW) SMALLWEED is the grandson of the senior Smallweeds and friend of Mr Guppy. * JUDY SMALLWEED is the granddaughter of the senior Smallweeds. * TONY JOBLING, who adopts the alias Mr Weevle, is a friend of William Guppy. * MRS GUPPY is Mr Guppy's aged mother. * PHIL SQUOD is Mr George's assistant. * MATTHEW BAGNET is a military friend of Mr George's and a dealer in musical instruments. * MRS BAGNET is the wife of Matthew Bagnet. * WOOLWICH is the Bagnets' son. * QUEBEC is the Bagnets' elder daughter. * MALTA is the Bagnets' younger daughter. * MRS WOODCOURT is Allan Woodcourt's widowed mother. * MRS PARDIGGLE is a woman who does "good works" for the poor, but cannot see that her efforts are rude and arrogant, and do nothing at all to help. She inflicts her activities on her five small sons, who are clearly rebellious. * ARETHUSA SKIMPOLE is Mr Skimpole's "Beauty" daughter. * LAURA SKIMPOLE is Mr Skimpole's "Sentiment" daughter. * KITTY SKIMPOLE is Mr Skimpole's "Comedy" daughter. * MRS SKIMPOLE is Mr Skimpole's ailing wife, who is weary of her husband and his way of life.
ANALYSIS AND CRITICISM
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Much criticism of
Esther's portion of the narrative is an interesting case study of the Victorian ideal of feminine modesty. She introduces herself thus: "I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages, for I know I am not clever" (chap. 3). This claim is almost immediately belied by the astute moral judgement and satiric observation that characterise her pages. In the same introductory chapter, she writes: "It seems so curious to me to be obliged to write all this about myself! As if this narrative were the narrative of MY life! But my little body will soon fall into the background now" (chap. 3). This does not turn out to be true.
For most readers and scholars, the central concern of
Dickens claimed in the preface to the book edition of Bleak House
that he had "purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of familiar
things". And some remarkable things do happen: One character, Krook,
smells of brimstone and eventually dies of spontaneous human
combustion . This was highly controversial. The nineteenth century saw
the increasing triumph of the scientific worldview. Scientifically
inclined writers, as well as doctors and scientists, rejected
spontaneous human combustion as legend or superstition. When the
George Gissing and
G. K. Chesterton
LOCATIONS OF BLEAK HOUSE
The house named
The house is located on top of the cliff on Fort Road, and was
Dickens locates the fictional
In the late nineteenth century, actress
Fanny Janauschek acted in a
stage version of
Anthony Phillips included a piece entitled "Bleak House" on his 1979 Progressive Rock release, "Sides ." The form of the lyrics roughly follows the narrative of Esther Summerson, and is written in her voice.
Like most Dickens novels,
INSTALMENT DATE OF PUBLICATION CHAPTERS
I March 1852 1–4
II April 1852 5–7
III May 1852 8–10
IV June 1852 11–13
V July 1852 14–16
VI August 1852 17–19
VII September 1852 20–22
VIII October 1852 23–25
IX November 1852 26–29
X December 1852 30–32
XI January 1853 33–35
XII February 1853 36–38
XIII March 1853 39–42
XIV April 1853 43–46
XV May 1853 47–49
XVI June 1853 50–53
XVII July 1853 54–56
XVIII August 1853 57–59
XIX–XX September 1853 60–67
* ^ Oldham, James. "A Profusion of Chancery Reform". Law and
* ^ Holdsworth, William S. (1928).
* ^ " Anthony Phillips Official Website - Lyrics - Sides".
* Crafts, Hannah; Gates, Jr, Henry Louis (Ed). The Bondswoman's
Narrative. Warner Books, 2002. ISBN 0-7628-7682-4
* "Blackening Bleak House: Hannah Crafts's The Bondwoman's
Narrative," in In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays on the
Bondwoman's Narrative, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Hollis Robbins.
Basic/Civitas, 2004. ISBN 0-465-02708-3
* Calkins, Carroll C. (Project Editor). Mysteries of the
Unexplained. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association,
* Holdsworth, William S.