Bleak House by Charles Dickens


Bleak HouseBleak House by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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DISCUSSION SCHEDULE

“Bleak House” by Charles Dickens read: David’s Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.

01/18/13 Chapters 1 – 5
01/25/13 Chapters 6 – 10

02/01/13 Chapters 11 – 15
02/08/13 Chapters 16 – 20
02/15/13 Chapters 21 – 25
02/22/13 Chapters 26 – 30

03/01/13 Chapters 31 – 35
03/08/13 Chapters 36 – 40
03/15/13 Chapters 41 – 45
03/22/13 Chapters 46 – 50
03/29/13 Chapters 51 – 55

04/05/13 Chapters 56 – 60
04/12/13 Chapters 61 – 67 (End)

Opening sentence:
“London, Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’ s Inn Hall.”

Major characters

• Esther Summerson — the heroine of the story, and one of its two narrators
(Dickens’s only female narrator), raised as an orphan because the identity of
her parents is unknown. At first, it seems probable that her guardian, John
Jarndyce, is her father because he provides for her. This, however, he disavows
shortly after she comes to live under his roof. The discovery of her true
identity provides much of the drama in the book: it is discovered that she is
the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock and Nemo (Captain Hawdon).

• Richard Carstone — a ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. A
straightforward and likeable but irresponsible and inconstant character who
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 putting faith in the outcome of a Chancery suit.

• Ada Clare — another ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. She falls in
love with Richard Carstone, who is a distant cousin. She does not share his
fervent hopes for a quick settlement in the Jarndyce case. They later marry in
secret.

• John Jarndyce — an unwilling party in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, guardian of
Richard, Ada, and Esther, and owner of Bleak House. Vladimir Nabokovcalled him
“the best and kindest man ever to appear in a novel”.[5] A wealthy man, he helps
most of the other characters out of a mix of disinterested goodness and guilt at
the mischief and human misery caused by Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which he calls
“the family curse”. He falls in love with Esther and wishes to marry her, but
gives her up because she is in love with Dr Woodcourt.

• Harold Skimpole — a friend of Jarndyce “in the habit of sponging his friends”
(Nuttall); supposedly based on Leigh Hunt (but see above). He is irresponsible,
selfish, amoral, and without remorse. He often refers to himself as “a child”
and claims not to understand the complexities of human relationships,
circumstances, and society — but understands them all too well. As when, early
in the book, he attempts to have Richard and Ada raise money on their
expectations in Jarndyce and Jarndyce to pay off the bailiff who has arrested
him on a writ of debt.

• Lawrence Boythorn — an old friend of John Jarndyce; a former soldier, who
always speaks in superlatives; very loud and harsh, but goodhearted. A neighbour
of Sir Leicester Dedlock, with whom he is engaged in an epic tangle of lawsuits
over a right-of-way across Boythorn’s property that Sir Leicester asserts the
legal right to close; based on Walter Savage Landor.

• Sir Leicester Dedlock — a crusty baronet, very much older than his wife.
Dedlock is an unthinking conservative who regards the Jarndyce and Jarndyce
lawsuit in which his wife is entangled as a mark of distinction worthy of a man
of his family lineage.

• Lady (Honoria) Dedlock — the haughty mistress of Chesney Wold. Her past
drives much of the plot as it turns out that, before her marriage, she had an
affair with another man and had his child. She discovers the child’s identity
(Esther Summerson) and, because she has made this discovery and revealed that
she had a secret predating her marriage, she has attracted the noxious curiosity
of Mr Tulkinghorn, who feels himself bound by his ties to his client, Sir
Leicester, to pry out her secret and use it to control her. At the end, she
dies, disgraced in her own mind and convinced that her aristocratic husband can
never forgive her moral failings, even though he has already done so.

• Mr Tulkinghorn — Sir Leicester’s lawyer. Scheming and manipulative, he seems
to defer to his clients but relishes the power his control of their secrets
gives him over them. He learns of Lady Dedlock’s past and tries to control her
conduct, to preserve the reputation and good name of Sir Leicester. He is
murdered, and his murder gives Dickens the chance to weave a detective’s
investigation of the murder into the plot of the closing chapters of the book.

• Mr Snagsby — the timid proprietor of a law-stationery business who gets
involved with Tulkinghorn’s and Bucket’s secrets. He is Jo’s only friend. He
tends to give half-crowns to those whom he feels sorry for. He is married to
Mrs. Snagsby, who has a strong personality and suspects Mr. Snagsby of many
secrets, such as Jo (incorrectly) being his son.

• Miss Flite — an elderly eccentric obsessed with Chancery. Her family has been
destroyed by a long-running Chancery case similar to Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and
her obsessive fascination with Chancery veers between comedy and tragedy. She
owns a large number of little birds which she says will be released “on the day
of judgement”.

• Mr William Guppy — a law clerk at the Chancery firm of Kenge and Carboy’s. He
becomes smitten with Esther and plays a role in unearthing her true past. He at
first proposes marriage to Esther, withdraws the offer after discovering her
much-altered appearance due to her illness. Esther politely refused his proposal
in the first place, prior to his withdrawal.

• Inspector Bucket — a detective who undertakes several investigations in the
course of the novel, most notably the investigation of Mr Tulkinghorn’s murder,
which he brings to a successful conclusion.

• Mr George — a former soldier, serving under Nemo, who owns a London
shooting-gallery. He is a trainer in sword and pistol use, briefly training
Richard Carstone. The prime suspect in the death of Mr Tulkinghorn, he is
exonerated and his true identity is revealed, against his wishes. He is found to
be George Rouncewell, son of the Dedlocks’ housekeeper, Mrs Rouncewell, who
welcomes him back to Chesney Wold. He ends the book as the body-servant to the
stricken Sir Leicester Dedlock.

• Caddy Jellyby — a friend of Esther, secretary to her mother, the “telescopic
philanthropist” Mrs. Jellyby. Caddy feels ashamed of her “lack of manners”, but
Esther’s friendship revives her, and she falls in love with young Prince
Turveydrop, marries him, and has a baby.

• Krook — a rag and bottle merchant and collector of papers. He is the landlord
of the house where Nemo and Miss Flite live and where Nemo dies. Krook dies from
a case of spontaneous human combustion, something that Dickens believed could
happen, but which some critics of the novel such as the English essayist George
Henry Lewes denounced as outlandish and implausible. Ironically, amongst the
stacks of papers obsessively hoarded by the illiterate Krook is the key to
resolving the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

• Jo — a young and homeless boy who lives on the streets and tries without much
luck to make a living as a crossing sweeper. He dies from a disease (pneumonia,
a complication from an earlier bout with smallpox which Esther also catches and
almost dies of).

• Allan Woodcourt — a surgeon. A kind, caring man who cares deeply for Esther.
She in turn cares for him but feels unable to respond to his overtures because
of her prior commitment to John Jarndyce. All is resolved happily at the end and
they marry.

• Grandfather Smallweed — a moneylender. An evil man who enjoys inflicting
emotional pain on other people. He drives Mr George into bankruptcy by calling
in debts. Mr Tulkinghorn is his attorney in that case. It has been suggested
that his description (together with his grandchildren) fit that of a person with
progeria.[6]

• Mr. Vholes — a Chancery lawyer who takes on Richard Carstone as a client,
squeezes out of him all the litigation fees he can manage to pay, and then
abandons him when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes to an end.

• Conversation Kenge — a Chancery lawyer who represents John Jarndyce. His
chief foible is his love of grand, portentous, and empty rhetoric.

*** Minor characters
• Mr Gridley — an involuntary party to a suit in Chancery (based on a real
case, according to Dickens’s preface), who repeatedly seeks to gain the
attention of the Lord Chancellor but in vain. 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 copies 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 the former lover of Lady
Dedlock and the father of Esther Summerson.

• Mrs Snagsby — Mr. Snagsby’s highly suspicious and curious wife, who suspects
her husband of being the father of Jo.

• Guster — the Snagsbys’ maidservant, prone to fits

• Neckett — a debt collector — called “Coavinses” by debtor Harold Skimpole
because he works for that business firm

• Charley — Coavinses’ daughter; hired by John Jarndyce to be a maid to Esther

• Tom — Coavinses’ young son

• Emma — Coavinses’ baby daughter

• Mrs Jellyby — Caddy’s mother, a “telescopic philanthropist” obsessed with an
obscure African tribe but having little regard to the notion of charity
beginning at home

• Mr Jellyby — Mrs Jellyby’s long-suffering husband

• Peepy Jellyby — the Jellybys’ young son

• Prince Turveydrop — a dancing master and proprietor of a dancing studio

• Old Mr Turveydrop — a master of Deportment who lives off his son’s industry

• Jenny — a brick maker’s wife

• Rosa — a favourite lady’s maid of Lady Dedlock

• Hortense — lady’s maid to Lady Dedlock (based on murderess Maria Manning)[7]

• Mrs Rouncewell — housekeeper to the Dedlocks at Chesney Wold

• Mr Robert Rouncewell — son of Mrs Rouncewell and a prosperous iron master

• Watt Rouncewell — his son

• Volumnia — a Dedlock cousin

• Miss Barbary — Esther’s godmother and severe guardian in childhood

• Mrs Rachel Chadband — a former servant of Miss Barbary

• Mr Chadband — an oleaginous preacher, husband of Mrs Chadband

• Mrs Smallweed — wife of Mr Smallweed senior and sister to Krook. She is in
her second childhood.

• Young Mr (Bartholemew) Smallweed — grandson of the senior Smallweeds and
friend of Mr Guppy

• Judy Smallweed — granddaughter of the senior Smallweeds

• Tony Jobling — aka Mr Weevle — a friend of Mr Guppy

• Mrs Guppy — Mr Guppy’s aged mother

• Phil Squod — Mr George’s assistant

• Matthew Bagnet — military friend of Mr George and dealer in musical
instruments

• Mrs Bagnet — wife of Matthew Bagnet

• Woolwich — the Bagnets’ son

• Quebec — the Bagnets’ daughter

• Malta — the Bagnets’ daughter

• Mrs Woodcourt — Allan Woodcourt’s widowed mother

• Mrs Pardiggle — 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 — Mr. Skimpole’s “Beauty” daughter

• Laura Skimpole — Mr. Skimpole’s “Sentiment” daughter

• Kitty Skimpole — Mr. Skimpole’s “Comedy” daughter

• Mrs. Skimpole — Mr. Skimpole’s ailing wife who is weary of her husband and
lifestyle

Additional information:

The Chancery system: (courts for inheritances, care of orphans, etc.) for instance and colonialism (Mrs. Jellyby).

Rag-and bone man

Study guide.

Chapter XXXII:

Call the death by any name your Highness will, attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented how you will, it is the same death eternally–inborn, inbred, engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and that only–spontaneous combustion, and none other of all the deaths that can be died.

Chapter XXXVI:

“Oh, my child, my child, I am your wicked and unhappy mother! Oh, try to forgive me!”

Chapter LIV:

“it’s my duty to prepare you for a train of circumstances that may, and I go so far as to say that will, give you a shock.

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Free audio-book version available at LibriVox

 

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