- Author: Charles Dickens
- Title: Bleak House
- Genre: novel, satire of manners
- Published: monthly parts, March 1852– September 1853
What does the title mean: Bleak House ?
- Irony: Bleak means, cold and unsheltered, somber and damp.
- Bleak house is exact the opposite!
- Ch 6: Esther describes the house as a delightful irregular home.
- “…in every one (room) of which a bright miniature of the fire was blazing.
- …charming little sitting-room, looking down upon a flower-garden,”
- Practically every other location in the book is bleak!
- Chensey Wold, the Chancery courthouse, Tom-All-Alone’s,
- Krook’s Rag and Bone shop, Mrs. Jellyby’s neglected and bare rooms
- …and the slum home of Jenny and her family.
What is the point-of-view?
- Anonymous 3rd person : narrator (Dickens ?)
- who dares address ‘the Lords of gentlemen’ of England
- Modest, humble 1st person: Esther
- the least powerful voice in the novel.
What is the tone?
- Dickens uses a very satirical narrative to set the tone.
- His choice of words and the viewpoint on a corrupt judicary
- are central to the book.
What is the BEST quote in the book?
- This quote sums up the main theme Dickens wanted to expose:
- “It won’t do to have TRUTH and JUSTICE on his side;
- he must have LAW and LAWYERS…” (Ch 55)
What is the mood?
- I read and listened to the first few paragraphs of chapter 1 at least 5 x.
- I think it is one of the BEST examples of creating a mood through setting.
- Dickens makes you feel the emotional situation that surrounds his characters.
- He wants to FOG and MUD set the mood.
- The images of fog and mud that surround the Court of Chancery
- reveal no one can escape the terrible weather conditions or the courts!
- The legal case Jarndyce vs Jarndyce is central in the book.
- This suit symbolizes material property.
- It is about a will and testament.
- Inheritance of property (Bleak House)
- Inheritance of affection (mother/daughter)
- Judiciary: the presentation of lawyers and legal processes
- is corrupt and deliberately obscure.
- NO oral evidence is given in the Chancery.
- Everything is on paper…
- bills, cross-bills, rejoinders, affidavits, issues (Ch 1)
- Suits just melt away in their own costs: Jarndyce vs Jarndyce
What is the structure?
- Bleak House has a ‘circular narrative’.
- It ends where the story begins on Chancery lane.
- Chancery lane resembles the entire society.
- Krook’s Rag and Bone Shop is on Chancery lane.
- Miss Flite and Nemo/Captain Hawdon have rooms there.
- The Jellybys and the Snagsbys live near Chancery Lane
What social commentary does Dickens highlight in the book?
- Tom-All-Alone’s is an example of a slum area, fallen into disrepair.
- People who live in slums do so because they have nowhere else to go.
- Mr Dickens names Tom-All-Alone’s after a boyhood memory
- of a house built by a local eccentric.
- Its name sums up the individual and collective
- …misery and loneliness of the place.
Who are some quirky characters?
- Lady and Lord Dedlock: – deadlock …couple that produce no heirs
- Rev. Mr. Chadband: loves his own voice, bravuras and flourishes
- Mrs. Jellyby: people who help noble causes (Africa) but neglect own children
- Mr. Skimpole: people who ‘do absolutely nothing’ in society
- Capt. Hawdon: living secretly as his nickname indicates ‘Nemo’ = nobody
- Mr. Jarndyce: Dickens uses a the clever symbol of ‘east winds’
- …something evil or depressing is bothering this man.
Why is Bleak House considered the best Dickens novel?
- It has everything!
- Curse of the Ghost’s path is explained and Lady Dedlock’s foot steps will break the evil.
- Lady Dedock believes her child is dead – Esther believes her mother is dead.
- Rosa is surrogate daughter for Lady Dedlock; Esther surrogate daughter for Jarndyce.
- Detectives: there are unskilled, skilled, Tulkinghorn who
- …threatens suspects and Mr. Bucket who conjoles them!
- Letters: contains secrets, are lost, hidden, falsified…‘smoking gun’ evidence!
- Names: Honoria Dedlock is ironically not at all honorable …child out of wedlock
- Nicknames: Esther has several…Why?
- Ch 8: “…my being called Old Woman, and Little Old Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame Durden…”.
- Esther’s guardian Mr Jarndyce is assigning her an important role as
- the woman who will manage Bleak House.
- The house keys symbolize responsibility.
- I’ve mentioned just a few items about the book….
- but there is so much more to discover when you read it.
- I avoided the book merely because of its size.
- This was my big mistake.
- Never judge a book by its cover or size!
- Dickens is the greatest victorian novelist.
- Strong points: realism, humor, characters with quirks and dialects
- If you put the names of all the characters in an
- excel spreadsheet then you will see that
- they all connect to the law suit in one way or the other.
- That is an amazing writing achievement by Dickens!
- Of all of Dickens’s novels Bleak House is not a best seller.
- It is outsold by millions of copies by A Tale of Two Cities.
- Yet it is often chosen as the ‘best’ Dickens novel.
- I totally agree!