Science And Literature: From Resistance to Acceptance (Based On The Bleak House)
Obsession is something that everyone goes through at some point but destroys those who take it to the extreme. Richard Carstone is an example of how obsession can consume an individual.
Richard’s Obsession and Negative Reactions Towards Scientific Progress
In Bleak House, Richard is an orphan who comes into contact with the Jarndyce case. The Jarndyce case is the major plot point that goes on throughout the entire novel and affects every character. The Chancery Court System, the court that houses the Jarndyce case, deals with noncriminal cases, inheritance issues, and wills, and is notorious for having long, drawn-out cases that have no definitive end. Because of this, many become consumed and obsessed with the cases and devote their lives to something with no return. The case has an especially large effect on Richard. Richard is consumed by the Jarndyce case because he hopes to gain a large amount of revenue from the inheritance money being distributed by the case. This causes him to obsess overworking and trying to resolve the case and causes him to return to it repeatedly. Richard’s obsession with the Jarndyce case and resistance to new opportunities parallels negative reactions Victorians had towards scientific progress and teaches twenty-first-century readers to be open-minded and accepting.
Science at the time Bleak House was published was developing rapidly, and the industrial revolution was in full swing. These changes to society at times were met with adversary. The church played a major part in society during the Victorian era, so science had to agree with the religious ideas people had. Most of the scientific literature that was published early in the nineteenth century was approved by the church because they included ideas such as nature being god’s creation. But as more literature was being published, the less attached to the church scientific ideas were becoming. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was a major scientific literature piece that people had issues with. Some saw it as radical because how could a developed species like humans evolve from something so primitive. People wanted science to align with their own beliefs about how the world is and were unwilling to let go of what they believed. Also, Galton’s theory of Eugenics, which was heavily influenced by Darwin, stated that humans can manipulate and predict certain traits through selective breeding. This was opposed by many because it meant God was not responsible for giving human-specific traits that make us different from other species.
Reverting to One’s Beliefs
At the start of the novel, Richard is a promising young man who has been given an opportunity as John Jarndyce’s ward. Richard works on the case for a while with his cousin Ada, and Esther. Because the Jarndyce case is going nowhere, Richard is persuaded to pursue a new occupation that is stable and will allow him to support himself. He decides, almost at random, to go into medicine as Mr. Badger’s apprentice, but his mind is still fixated on the case. Richard doesn’t last long working in medicine and comes back to the Jarndyce case because he believes this will be his big break. He tries to reason with Ada by explaining how “the longer it goes on, dear cousin, the nearer it must be to a settlement one way or another” (Dickens 209). Richard convinces himself that the case has to come to a close soon and refuses to believe the signs that are telling him otherwise. Similarly, people in Victorian England, especially members of the church, had their ideas about the natural world and when a new scientific idea went against it, they would reject the idea and return to their original beliefs.
This tendency Richard has to revert to his beliefs continues and gets worse when he decides to apprentice himself into Kenge’s office again to become a lawyer. After Richard explains to Esther and Ada that he wants to return to practicing law, Esther “was not by any means so sure of that; and I saw how his hankering after vague things yet to come of those long-deferred hopes, cast a shade on Ada’s face” (Dickens 249). In Kenge’s office, he constantly pores over documents about the Jarndyce case day and night. This becomes a problem and Esther starts to be concerned about his blind ambition and can see his obsession and Ada’s worries increase. In the nineteenth century when people were first exposed to Galton’s theory of eugenics they disagreed and rejected his idea that traits can be biologically manipulated because it meant God did not implement qualities. People who were resistant to Galton’s theory had a similar tendency as Richard to only see things from their predetermined viewpoint, resulting in their inability to change.
Richard and Ada get engaged, but when Richard goes through another career change by enlisting into the army, Jarndyce asks them to undo the engagement until they are older. When Richard returns, he goes straight back to the case, however, he becomes suspicious of Jarndyce and his motives, so he decides to work elsewhere. As science became more radical and less attached to the church, the more resistant clergymen became to these new thoughts and reason. Richard goes through resistance to change occupation and leaving the Jarndyce case behind, similar to how the church was resistant to accept Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin theorized that animals, including humans, adapt and survive through natural selection. This was a radical thought that was not appreciated at first because people believed they were special and an elevated species. Clergymen especially resisted the belief that their origins were not divine and that they come from a primitive species.
Letting Go of Previous Beliefs
Richard spends all of his time on the case and becomes extremely ill. The Jarndyce case finally ends because all of the money has been spent in court costs. When Richard learns about the case ending he says he must “begin the world” (Dickens 746) but dies moments after. Richard finally realizes that he needs to start his life, but his obsession with the case caused him to waste his entire life. This relates to how some scientific ideas were not appreciated by the public until they let go of their previous beliefs to have a more open mind.
Today, in the 21st Century
On the other hand, twenty-first-century science and literature work more cohesively and have a less biased audience. In society today, most new scientific thoughts or ideas that are shared with the public are received by open-minded people who are less influenced by personal biases to alter their opinions. This allows for a united relationship between science and literature, which was not as present in the nineteenth century. Now people want to obtain as much knowledge and information as possible so that they can learn new ideas and have multiple different points of view. For example, global warming is discussed continuously by people all over the world with varying opinions on the issues it causes and how to deal with these issues. However, instead of only listening to and believing ideas that align with their personal beliefs, people want to understand every viewpoint to find the best possible solution to the problems. Similarly, in literature when there is a new idea that is presented, people are more likely to be interested and want to learn more about how it can affect their lives. When self-driving cars were first introduced people were skeptical about the safety and practicality of it. But many kept an open mind allowing them to see the benefits and capabilities the new technology offers to them. This allows the idea to develop and progress at a much faster rate than if people resisted. It also increases the opportunity for projects to be seriously considered, whereas before, in the nineteenth century, many new thoughts and ideas were shut down before they were tried.
In addition to science and literature being more close-knit, science and literature has become more accessible. New technology has allowed the distribution of new thoughts and ideas to become easy. People can access science through the internet allowing them to learn whatever they might be interested in or curious about. More accessibility allows for more science learned by the public, increasing knowledge about new ideas and thoughts. An increase in knowledge brings opinions and criticism with it. Many people become critical to the ideas that combat their own, but in many ways, this is positive for the relationship between science and literature. With different opinions and criticism, more nuanced and well put together conclusions are made because they are influenced by not only their own beliefs but the beliefs of other people who have slightly different ideas. This allows scientists to build off of those ideas to improve their own and keep progress going forward.
Obsession often brings resistance with it. In Richard’s case, he was so obsessed with the Jarndyce case he resisted finding a job to support himself and his family. For people loyal to the church during the Victorian age, it was their obsession with their ideas about science that led resistance to new scientific thought. Both have proven how obsession can blind an individual or a whole population to what is important in their lives. Richard is unable to progress through his life, and constantly working on the case leads him to an early death, while the church disabled themselves from appreciating science that was years before its time and ultimately has become widely accepted. This reveals how readers of the twenty-first century can learn from the nineteenth century. People now should be grateful for the amount of access they have to new information to learn. Instead of rejecting ideas that they disagree with, people need to keep an open mind and acknowledge new thoughts to help progress science.
The Search For Happiness And Love in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House
The characters in Dickens’s famous, rather long and complex novel Bleak House, are all looking for happiness in their short and precious lives, just as all people do, both fictional and real. Everyone in their right mind wants to achieve ultimate happiness, being satisfied with the current state of their lives, seldom feeling down and regretting close to nothing. It cannot be said with absolute certainty that something so idyllic and perhaps naïvely perfect is truly attainable by human beings, but one can always hope, even when everything and everyone proves the contrary. It is this very hope, together with an unwavering drive to achieve goals people set for themselves, that makes the concept of absolute happiness slightly more real and believable than it perhaps is. The root of this ultimate happiness greatly varies, it depends highly on what the particular person values the most in their life – be it money, success, fame, having a positive influence on the world or simply love. The last mentioned is what quite a few characters in the novel crave for the entirety of their lives and what Dickens puts in the foreground as one of the important factors shaping the story. Through this, Dickens also hints to the reader that if ultimate happiness in life actually exists and is ever obtainable, it may as well be closely tied to the very concept and the feeling of love. Despite it being so difficult a process, it is surely a most rewarding one.
Esther as a Narrator
One of the two novel’s narrators, Esther, searches for happiness in love very intensely. As a narrator, Esther is very self-conscious and even goes as far as to tell the reader she is not a good storyteller and she belittles herself. This happens on many occasions throughout the story. What’s more, she does this the very first time she appears as a narrator, affecting the development of the reader’s opinion about Esther as a character and narrator. “I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages, for I know I am not clever. I always knew that” (Dickens). This makes the reader actually doubt the reliability of her as a narrator. Yet, throughout the pages of her narrative, she proves to be an excellent narrator indeed, going into great detail in everything, from descriptions of characters to commenting on the events taking place. To give an example of Esther’s narrative skills, the moment when she and Mr. Jarndyce meet for the first time in the novel, Esther gives the reader a thorough description of his visage, while also articulating her internal thoughts:
‘And how did you like the ride? And how did you like Mrs. Jellyby, my dear?’ said Mr. Jarndyce to Ada.
While Ada was speaking to him in reply, I glanced (I need not say with how much interest) at his face. It was a handsome, lively, quick face, full of change and motion; and his hair was a silvered iron-grey. I took him to be nearer sixty than fifty, but he was upright, hearty, and robust</i>. (Dickens)
Esther handles most of her narrative the same way, skilfully and in detail.
However, there is an exception to this standard. The exception is, based on what the reader can draw from the text, embedded in the fact that Esther is attracted to Mr. Woodcourt. She does not ever describe what he looks like in too much detail, keeps her internal thoughts to herself and does not really mention him very often. Dickens uses the moments of Esther’s clumsy and hesitant narrative, moments which are very easily recognisable when one gets used to the smooth storytelling Esther uses, to point out there is something more to the topic at hand. When Esther seems to be avoiding going into detail, the reader can quickly deduce the obvious – that she is trying to hide her true feelings. To prove this, it is best to demonstrate it on an actual passage where Esther’s narrative loses its cohesion:
I have forgotten to mention — at least I have not mentioned — that Mr. Woodcourt was the same dark young surgeon whom we had met at Mr. Badger’s. Or that Mr. Jarndyce invited him to dinner that day. Or that he came. Or that when they were all gone and I said to Ada, ‘Now, my darling, let us have a little talk about Richard!’ Ada laughed and said — But I don’t think it matters what my darling said. She was always merry.(Dickens)
It is clear that Esther is indeed very hesitant in this passage and that she most probably did not actually forget to mention all of this, she just chose not to. The narrative completely loses its flow and the reader again begins to question her integrity as a narrator. Eventually, she even experiences a change of heart and decides not to disclose what Ada says in return for her remark about Richard – a man Ada is obviously attracted to. Esther begins to finally acknowledge Mr. Woodcourt in her narrative later in the story, not until they are married.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens: Power of Nature in the Novel
In this extract from ‘Bleak House’, Charles Dickens carefully constructs a catalyst for political protest in the court of law. Dickens explores the nature of power through the power held by those with more authority than others, such as the High Chancellor; he also depicts the power struggles of the people with less significance in society through specific language choices. As a result of the descriptive style of the extract, from the start, the reader is immediately informed of the corruption of the legal system, for instance “dense fog “, and “muddy streets” implies there is a lack of clarity regarding the court, demonstrating Dickens’ frustration with the corruption of the law. Thus, it sets up the progression of rebellion that will follow.
Dickens illustrates the power of language as a form of political protest at the beginning of the extract, which seems to fit the setting of the narrative at this point in the novel, in terms of its historical context and being in a court of law. The lexical field of decay conveyed by the words and phrases: “decaying”, “worn-out” and “dead” provide a convincing narrative for the reader, in which Dickens is able to explore various political ideas for example, he believes the English legal system served only itself instead of others, reiterating the corruption of the law. Dickens also demonstrates power when using imperatives in the High Chancellor’s speech: “I will speak” and “I will mention” which can be perceived as an exertion of authority as though he needs to do this in order to prove he is a powerful figure. Contrasting with this is the fact that Dickens chose not to name some of the characters in the novel, those of which are mentioned in the extract “the young girl”, the “boy” and “the man from Shropshire”. He could have deliberately chosen not to name these characters to convey their lack of influence in this court setting, seen as they are not even worthy of an identity, which highlights the clear distinctions between the social classes. The absence of identity here suggests the court’s lack of compassion and more so the ignorance of the higher classes such as the High Chancellor, who cares little for anyone of a lower social status than him. These phrases, especially “young girl” are very condescending and patronising portraying that the people with authority were very submissive of everybody else, which could mirror the corruptness of the law in ‘Bleak House’. Since the only two characters who are named in the extract are those who work in the court: “Mr Tangle” and “Lord High Chancellor”, it implies that the less powerful people lack significance, which emphasises just how immoral and corrupt the legal system is. Consequently, the nature of power is an extremely significant aspect in this extract since it has enabled the author to strategically voice his frustration with the English legal system through word choice alone. The readers in 1853 would have had a much more traditional mindset so they would have probably been more reluctant to admit to the corruption of the government and the legal system whereas now, a modern audience would be able to sympathise with Dickens as we are more aware of corruption.
Furthermore, the temperament of power is explored even more through the language used, particularly with regards to the Lord High Chancellor. For instance, his incredibly high status is reinforced by the deliberate focus on titles throughout the extract, such as “the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery”. This emphasises the concept of hypocrisy and the repetition of “High” (which is capitalised to signify the Chancellor’s importance), tells us that it is an impressive title which accentuates the vast amount of power that those in high positions possess at this moment in the extract. However, this could change as the novel progresses because the reader is aware that “Mr Tangle knows more of Jarndyce and Jarndyce than anybody” so his broader knowledge of the law could mean that he can overtake the Lord High Chancellor later in the novel; Dickens has briefly touched on this idea in the middle of the extract when the Chancellor asks Mr Tangle for verification when he says “Have you nearly concluded your argument?” which suggests he is searching for acceptance. But, the narrative swiftly returns to his assertion of power: “I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in my private room”. This makes us question if the corrupt legal system will ever be resolved, which is reminiscent of the corruption of the church in many of Blake’s poems in ‘Songs of Experience’. The recurring use of the personal pronouns “I” and “my” could imply the idea that the court of law only care for themselves, as it suggests somewhat of a self-obsession. This slight uncertainty of power mirrors the confusion that the court of law in England caused in 1853 due to it being both unjust and unfair illustrating Charles Dickens’ negative view on traditional law, so it refers to a change in power, linking to political protest.
Moreover, there is one “man from Shropshire” who attempts to protest against the Lord High Chancellor as he is said to have cried “My lord!”. The fact that he has “cried” implies a sense of despair and desperation, conveying that he may want justice rather than the bias that is offered from the law system. Also, this small act of verbal protest implies that he could be the first/ only person to realise that the system is unjust after the “Chancellor rises” possibly just to emphasise his excess of power. Dickens could be protesting about the fact that no one did rebel against the exploitation of the English legal system by means of another character who at first seems insignificant as he does not have a title but we do learn information that he is from Shropshire which is more than the “young girl and boy” were given, so it gives him a little more power than them but not as much as the High Chancellor. Thus, it could portray that to resolve this problem, the act of rebellion must be greater in order to overthrow those with a lot of power like Mr Tangle and the High Chancellor.
Also, the word “foggy” is repeated twice in the extract which could be recurring imagery representing the corruption of the law system in England. The phrase “with a foggy glory” is an oxymoron which the author has included to illustrate that the truthfulness of the law system is merely façade and in fact, it is extremely unjust and untrustworthy. The specific choice of the word “foggy” usually means you are unable to think or see, which could reflect how the public are blinded by the positive perceptions of the law system in that this is the only possibility to achieve justice, whereas it is biased and very much dependent on the decisions of the upper class. Therefore, Dickens is trying to highlight that law and those with a lot of authority have too much power and though it seems truthful and fair, is the complete opposite.
Throughout the extract, Dickens demonstrates that the legal system at the time the novel was written was very corrupt and not accurate at all. He conveys that the judiciary only serves itself and no one else, possibly due to their ignorance to anyone of a lower social status than themselves. This is portrayed by the somewhat unsuccessful protest of “the man from Shropshire” and the power struggle between the upper and lower classes, and although it is apparent to the reader, it is not clear to the Lord High Chancellor that Mr Tangle is more aware than he conveys which is dishonest in itself. As a result, the author has signified that he is very much against corruption, and he wants a truthful legal system in order to achieve justice for those deserving of it. To conclude, Dickens has shown that the authority that the powerful figures have is the cause of the corruption, almost like a misuse of power.
Bleak House: Dickens And Charity
The England of Charles Dickens was one plagued with disease, pollution, and poverty. This is the England that gave rise to the Salvation Army, the gin craze, and Benthamism, and it is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ Bleak House has much to say about the question of charity. As Esther proceeds through life she is both the recipient of the charity of others as well as a bit of a philanthropist herself. However, it is John Jarndyce who is the central philanthropist in this novel. It is through his assistance that the causes of Miss Barbary, Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, Harold Skimpole, and, indeed, Esther Summerson are furthered. Nevertheless, Dickens does not always paint these characters’ charitable work in the most favorable light. Rather, one gets the feeling that their perspectives are a bit askew, and that they miss much of the good work they could be doing.
The first so-called philanthropist with which the reader has contact is Miss Barbary. Esther’s “godmother,” who is in fact her aunt, does much to provide the necessities of life for Esther, albeit through the generosity of Mr. Jarndyce. Nevertheless, the home she and Esther share is not necessarily a happy one. Esther tells us that though Miss Barbary was quite pious — “[s]he went to church three times every Sunday, and to morning prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and to lectures whenever there were lectures –, “she never smiled. She was always grave and strict” (28). It is in this home that Esther spends her early years, a home without friends, birthdays, or very much joy.
After the death of Miss Barbary, it is again Jarndyce who comes to the aid of Esther and arranges for her to attend Greenleaf, a boarding school in Reading. While in transit via coach Esther encounters Jarndyce — though she does not know that it is him at the time –, whom she finds to be “very strange” and a bit scary. As Esther begins to cry about her unknown future, Jarndyce attempts to console her with a plum cake and pie, a trick which the reader soon comes to recognize as his standard means of dealing with an adverse situation:
“In this paper,” which was nicely folded, “is a piece of the best plum-cake that can be got for money — sugar on the outside an inch thick, like fat on mutton chops. Here’s a little pie (a gem this is, both for size and quality), made in France. And what do you suppose it’s made of? Livers of fat geese. There’s a pie! Now let’s see you eat ’em.”
“Thank you, sir,” [Esther] replied, “thank you very much indeed, but I hope you won’t be offended; they are too rich for me.” (37-8)
Though “[s]uch a man is rich and good, warm-hearted and generous, golden at the core,” what Jarndyce fails to recognize is that Esther does not need an imported pie or the finest cakes “that can be got for money” (Goldfarb 144). What she needs is love, acceptance, and comfort — not a hand-out, no matter how luxurious.
Following her six years at Greenleaf, Esther once again finds herself under the influence of John Jarndyce; she is asked to serve in Bleak House, Jarndyce’s home. While en route she and two of Jarndyce’s other wards, Ada and Richard, spend the night at the home of Mrs. Jellyby, yet another cause Jarndyce has chosen to fund. While Mrs. Jellyby spends much time and energy addressing the issue of benefitting Africa, her home is a wreck, and she is abusing her daughter Caddy by forcing her to work so diligently for the cause as well. When Esther brings to the attention of Mr. Jarndyce the fact that “[Mrs. Jellyby] was a little unmindful of her home,” Jarndyce is “floored” (83). Esther suggests that “it is right to begin with the obligations of home […]; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them?” (83). Jarndyce responds: “She means well” (84). Such seems to be the whole of Jarndyce’s philanthropic mission: good intentions and well-meaning are all that is necessary to earn the charitable support of John Jarndyce.
While at Bleak House, Esther, Ada, and Richard meet Harold Skimpole, another of Jarndyce’s charity projects and a fine example of his philanthropic mission. A trained doctor, Skimpole has recently opted to live, thanks to the support of Jarndyce, the leisurely life of a dilettante. He manages to get Esther and Richard to contribute to the payment of one of his debts and, indeed, to forego any normal responsibility requisite of a grown-up life. For, “Harold Skimpole loves to see the sun shine; loves to hear the wind blow; loves to watch the changing lights and shadows; loves to hear the birds, those choristers in Nature’s great cathedral. And does it seem to me that I am about to deprive Harold Skimpole of his share in such possessions, which are his only birthright!” (99). Interestingly, it is a doctor, Skimpole, who Jarndyce has enabled to live a life of leisure. In a time and place where there is much suffering and disease — Esther herself becomes afflicted with smallpox — Skimpole should have much to offer to his society. Instead, he lives a comfortable life in Bleak House, allowing others to pay his debts, while he takes time to enjoy the sun shine.
Jarndyce’s young wards Esther, Ada, and Richard, are introduced to yet another of his charitable causes while in residence at Bleak House, Mrs. Pardiggle. “[A] formidable style of lady, with spectacles, a prominent nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal of room,” Mrs. Pardiggle takes great concern with her charitable work and with the assistance her five boys provide not so willingly. She is “a School lady, […] a Visiting lady, […] a Reading lady, […] a Distributing lady, […] on the local Linen Box Committee, and many general Committees,” and has done extensive canvassing (125-6). She takes Esther and Ada with her to visit a brickmaker, “a very bad character,” and his family (128). Upon arrival, Esther and Ada see “a woman with a black eye, nursing a poor little gasping baby by the fire; a man, all stained with clay and mud, and looking very dissipated, lying at full length on the ground, smoking a pipe; a powerful young man, fastening a collar on a dog; and a bold girl, doing some kind of washing in very dirty water” (130). To this group, Mrs. Pardiggle, with “not a very friendly sound” warns that she cannot be tired and will continue to make regular visits until the conditions are to her liking. Even though the brickmaker informs her that their situation is as it is, and will not likely be changed by her regular visits, Mrs. Pardiggle is insistent. What Mrs. Pardiggle fails to notice or even take interest in, and that which Esther and Ada do take interest in, is the baby. Upon closer inspection, they discover it is dead.
While the brickmaker is unable to rid himself of Mrs Pardiggle, Mr. Jarndyce has relatively little trouble; it has become his standard method of conflict resolution: writing a check. For, “[d]oing good for the sake of doing good is not his guiding impulse in life. He uses money, his unearned money, mostly to protect himself from the tribulations of life” (Goldfarb 145).
Perhaps it is Esther, a bit of a charity case herself, who is the most effective humanitarian in Bleak House. Where Miss Barbary provided only the most essential resources to Esther during her early years, when it Esther’s turn to provide a nurturing environment for the young girls at Greenleaf, she provides warmth and compassion alongside the requisite instruction. Though Esther does not have the means to offer rich plum cakes or imported kidney pies, she can offer companionship. And it is that companionship that Mr. Jarndyce comes to value quite highly, eventually asking her to marry him. The same is true in the situation with Mrs. Jellyby. Though Esther takes relatively little interest in the problems plaguing Africa, she does take quite an interest in Caddy, Mrs. Jellyby’s over-worked, neglected daughter, who becomes a dear friend. Even though Esther is suspicious of Harold Skimpole’s lifestyle, she does make the effort to help pay his debts. Furthermore, it is she, not Mrs Pardiggle, who takes an interest in lives of the brickmaker’s family, and, indeed, returns to provide some real assistance. “Nobody could seem at times so self-unmaking as Esther but ultimately she is self-making. She needs to receive enough from the past to be educated and to learn to exert herself, but it is not by inheritance, not by high class, not by Christian […] virtues that she progresses” (Blake 15). Esther in many ways embodies the Utilitarian ideal, but with a compassionate human face.
In a world as bleak as that depicted in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, it is no wonder that there are so many examples of people trying to provide for the needs of others. Whether it is Miss Barlaby meeting, through duty, the most essential of Esther’s needs, or John Jarndyce writing a check whenever a cause presents itself, or Mrs. Jellyby tirelessly working towards the betterment of Africa, or Harold Skimpole who has chosen to a live a life dependent on the goodwill of others, or Mrs. Pardiggle who exerts so much time and energy in so many causes that she finds important, everyone seems to be trying to improve the lives of others. Nevertheless, all of these efforts ultimately ring hollow. Indeed, it is Esther who seems to have the greatest impact, without investing any great sum of money, making any great sacrifice, or exerting any great amount of effort.
Blake, K. “Bleak House, Political Economy, Victorian Studies,” Victorian Literature and Culture, 25:1 (1997), 1-21.
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Penguin, 1996.
Goldfarb, Russell M. “John Jarndyce of Bleak House,” Sutdies in the Novel, 12:2 (1980), 144-52.
Charles Dicken’s “Bleak House” – One Of The Greatest Novels Of The English Language
Charles Dicken’s Bleak House is considered one of the most complex and greatest novels of the English language. The novel has many characters and sub-plots being told by two different narrators. This 750-page novel satires the English judicial system, which helped promote legal reforms in the 1870’s. How could Andrew Davies possibly translate this novel into just an 8-episode T.V. series. Making Bleak House into a show has already been done before in the year 1985, where most of the audience said that it was superb and one of the greatest adaptations of the novel that they have ever seen. How will Andrew Davies differentiate from this series? Is it even possible for him to have a better adaptation of the novel then the 1985 series did?
Every time that a literary work is translated into a movie or show, most of the audience believes that a lot of things were left out and that the book will always be superior. Movies and shows only give a slight insight into the world that is perceived by the literature. It is impossible for every image, feeling, and effect to be translated from a novel into a movie or show. Individuals that have read the books and go see the movie will always be disappointed because the book is always the original and correct way of presenting the literature. People have their own interpretation and image of what the book is supposed to look like. 500 different readers of the same book may have 500 different ideas of a character’s appearance. On top of that, if the actor doesn’t live up to what the reader expected, then the reader will be disappointed. There is also a limited amount of storytelling in a movie or show, and the script may not do the story justice. This comes with the questions of why directors and writers still try to adapt novels into movies and shows. Why do these writers still take the huge task of disappointing and letting down the audience who read the novel? Through this thinking and my love for the novel Bleak House, I created the question: To what extent did Andrew Davies adapt Charles Dickens’s novel into his T.V. show series Bleak House?
Serialization past and present
A serial in literature is when a larger single work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments usually in the newspaper. During the 19th and 20th centuries serialized fiction grew in popularity, which was during the Victorian era. Novel serialization was T.V. before T.V. Readers would wait for the newspaper and or magazine to come out so that they could read the next serial of their story. The first major success of a serialized piece of literature was Charles Dickens’s, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836. Many authors were inspired by Dickens way of serialization. This new way of storytelling continued and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes stories originally for serialization in The Strand magazine. Overtime, this British way of doing things translated over to America. The first significant American works to be released in serial format is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
As time progress into the late 20th and early 21st centuries, serialization of novels began its slow decline because of the rise in broadcasting. Newspapers began focusing more on entertainment and television. Serializing, this way of breaking a large piece into parts translated into television. Television broadcasts were being separated into episodes like novels were broken up into small pieces. This is one way how Andrew Davies Bleak House T.V. series was like Charles Dickens’s novel. This breakdown of the story has a very important effect on the reader/watcher. After each episode or serial, the audience is left with suspense and curiosity. They want to know what is going to happen in the story, so they are left wondering until the next episode or serial comes out. This keeps the audience on their feet and draws them in. In an interview with BBC Andrew Davies said that he hopes that his half-hour format will leave viewers wanting more. “The thing that was uppermost in our minds was to tell the story in a way that made people absolutely die to know what happens next.”
After saying that, Andrew Davies clearly made the show episodic to be like the serial feel of the novel. After entertainment became popular, serialized novels became quite unpopular, however, some writers still serialized. Recently writers began serializing their novels on the World Wide Web. In 2011, pseudonymous author Wildbow published Worm, which remains one of the most popular web serials of all time. As of the week of April 17, 2017, 170 thousand unique people have read Worm Many aspiring authors also use the web to publish free-to-read works in serialized format independently as well as web-based communities. Many of these books receive as many readers as successful novels; some have received the same number of readers as New York bestsellers. Bleak house was serialized in this fashion
Characterization and setting between the two works
Andrew Davies left out more than ten characters in his adaptation of the novel: The wife of Snagsby, the law stationer; the wife and grandson of the moneylender Smallweed; the law clerk Tony Jobling; the bankrupt Jellyby; Sir Leicester Dedlock’s several cousins; and the Bagnet family, friends of the ex-soldier Sergeant George. Andrew Davies has never made it clear why he has erased those characters from his adaptation of the novel. These weren’t characters that were just in the background of the story and didn’t have an impact. They were very important to the plot and storyline of the novel. The storyline concerning Mrs. Snagsby’s paranoid jealousy of her husband is omitted altogether. This is because wife of Mr. Snagsby isn’t even in the adaptation. In the novel, the possession of Lady Dedlock’s letters involve Tony Jobling and Smallweed junior. Since Davies left these characters out, he used Mr. Crook, a landlord, and Mr. Guppy, a clerk at Mr. Kenge’s law firm, as the characters involved in the possession of her letters.
The final plot that was portrayed differently in the show was the reconnection of George and his mother, which in the novel was brought about by Mrs. Bagnet. In the show there was no Mrs. Bagnet, so Esther Summerson and Mr. John Jarndice found his mother and told her where her son was. These are all examples of elements left out of the show that were in the book, however there is one example of a sub-plot that was part of the show but not in the book. Mr. Tulkinghorn is Sir Leicester Deadlock’s lawyer and the lead attorney of the Chancery Court. He is the mysterious antagonist that Dickens and Davies choose not to solve. Throughout both works that reader/viewer is wondering what Mr. Tulkinhorn’s true intentions are up until the end. He is the devil figure in the story and has sinister intentions to hurt Lady Deadlock.
In the novel there is a narrator that shows the motives and deeds of Mr. Tulkinhorn. In the show there is no narrator, so Andrew Davies created a character known as Mr. Clamb. He is the Clerk of the foul lawyer. Mr. Clamb is sort of the confidante of Mr. Tulkinghorn. The confidante is someone that a character reveals his/her main thoughts, personality and motives to. The casting was a gift unto itself with BBC’s most talented actors playing in every role. Every actor portrayed their respective characters in a perfect way that would make Dickens proud. One of the most mesmerizing performances was Phil Davis as Mr. Smallweed.
In the novel Mr. Smallweed is desribed as an angry, paralyzed many whose only emotion is greed. The only thought that is ever on this man’s mind is profit. His body in the novel is described as barely human. He is paralyzed in a chair 24/7 and on top of that his granddaughter, Judy, must fluff him up like a pillow every few minutes. He is a nasty old man who is as foul on the inside as he is on the outside. In literature a monster is described as someone or something that brings sensation of disgust to the reader. On top of that, the monster has no redeeming qualities and has no heart. Mr. Smallweed is nasty in everything he does: screaming at everyone including his granddaughter, trying to extort George and Sir Leicester Deadlock, and trying to keep and sell the final will that would solve the Jarnidice and Jarndice case. Phil Davis executed this role in a way that made you feel disgusted and creeped out every time he was shown on the screen.
The set and the costumes add another dimension to the story. Charles Dickens’ works were associated with London, which is the setting of many of his novels. Dickens didn’t use London as a backdrop, instead he centered his works about London and its characters. No character played a role as important as London itself. The unique ways that he described London with all five sense brought a new perspective to the city. This description became known as Dickensian London. Dickensian London is a character in itself. Charles Dickens had a son named Charles Dickens who wrote a popular guide book to London, using his father’s description of the city. The book was called, Dickens’s Dictionary of London
This is the map that the guidebook is based around. In the legal district behind the courts on Chancery lane, is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which in “Bleak House” are described as “the perplexed and troublous valley of the shadow of the law.” Dickens used words like dull, dingy, and dusky when describing the square. Andrew Davies perfectly portrayed Dickensian London in his adaptation of “Bleak House.” The city is always covered and fog and the lighting is minimal. Every outdoor scene consists of heavy rain and lightning, adding to the gloominess of the setting.
In chapter one of the novel Charles Dickens uses this imagery to describe the setting “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwhich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck.
Deconstructive and New Historical Criticism of Bleak House
Bleak House, a novel by the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, has a number of elements: comedy, tragedy, melodrama, romance, and biting social satire. The work also includes at least ten major characters, and scores of minor ones. The novel’s complexity and length lends itself quite easily to a number of critical interpretations, including feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalytic theories. In the following paper, this argument will focus on a deconstruction of certain aspects of the novel, especially Dickens’ names for characters, and on a new historical approach of literary criticism of the satirical attacks on the Chancery justice system of Dickens’ day. Dickens’ awareness of the richness and variability of language, and his willingness to question the social institutions and customs of his day, both lead the reader to consider these theoretical approaches.Dickens employs a host of musical, comical, telling, and puzzling names for his characters. A representative list includes Tulkinghorn, Clare, Summerson, Dedlock, Snagsby, Nemo, Krook, Flite, Tangle, Barbary, Rouncewell, Jarndyce, Skimpole, Vholes, Woodcourt, Smallweed, Turveydrop, Guppy, Boythorn, Jellyby, Badger, Bucket, and even the minimally named Jo. The names deliver a shifting and information-filled story of the characters’ personalities, occupations, looks, manners, and what may lie beneath the exterior they present to the world. Jacques Derrida, the founder of deconstructive philosophy, thought that “language is not the reliable tool of communication we believe it to be, but rather a fluid, ambiguous domain of complex experience in which ideologies program us without our being aware of them” (Tyson 249). So what might these names, and other aspects of Dickens’s text, tell us about the novel, perhaps in ways that are not obvious but are still recognized and internalized by the reader?If the sign is the name for the character in a novel, and the “signifier” is the “letters written or pronounced as a unit” of that word, then the “signified” is the idea the reader has in mind of the character (251). Every reader will have a different idea of the character in a novel, even if they read the exact same words. Take, for example, the first description in the novel of Caddy Jellyby:But what principally struck us was a jaded and unhealthy-looking though by no means plain girl, at the writing-table, who sat biting the feather of her pen, and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink. And, from her tumbled hair to her pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper condition or its right place. (Dickens 85)This description would no doubt create a picture of Caddy Jellyby in the reader’s mind. The “signified” would be that picture, but, according to Derrida, it is really “chains of signifiers” (Tyson 252). The description might create an image of a Caucasian, English girl for a reader who knows that the vast majority of the inhabitants of 1850s England were Anglo-Saxon. However, a reader of another race or ethnicity, even with that same historical knowledge, might immediately think of a teenaged girl of his or her own ethnicity, especially one of his or her acquaintance who shared characteristics with Caddy Jellyby, such as a downtrodden or disheveled appearance. Furthermore, simple phrases such as “by no means plain girl” are value judgments that can inspire wildly different ideas in readers’ heads. One readers’ idea of “no means plain” could mean, by that person’s taste, beautiful; it could also mean, to another reader, an average-looking person of an image created by that reader’s experience. Obviously, those tastes and experience-created images of personal appearance will vary. And even down to such mundane descriptions as “tumbled hair”, the mental images can vary widely, too. Tumbled how? Is it falling from pins, or simply disheveled? Of what color, texture, thickness, and length is it? The permutations of the mental image of Caddy Jellyby are nearly limitless. The idea in the readers’ mind is informed not only by the words on the page and the concept that those words create (the “signifiers”), but also the readers’ own knowledge and experience. In addition, those “signified” images can change during the reading of the text, according to the reader’s feelings and perception of the story and the characters, and the “chain of signifiers”. This is possible, too, by the evocative images created by proper names. Krook, for example, the proprietor of a rag-and-bone shop and Miss Flite and Mr. Nemo’s landlord, is described as a repulsive, dirty, aged, and drunken illiterate: … an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap was carrying about in the shop. … He was short, cadaverous, and withered; with his head sunk sideways between his shoulders, and the breath issuing in visible smoke from his mouth, as if he were on fire within. His throat, chin, and eyebrows were so frosted with white hairs, and so gnarled with veins and puckered skin, that he looked from his breast upward, like some old root in a fall of snow. (Dickens 99-100)His name, directly insulting to him, implies that he is dishonest in his dealings, and perhaps “crooked” in personal morality, too. But Dickens has chosen such a richly descriptive word and assigned it to such an enigmatic character that it is possible to have many mental images merely from the contemplation of the name. “Krook” could be read with the sense of “crook your finger”, which might conjure up the idea of a bleary-eyed old man ominously beckoning someone. This could continue the negative imagery Dickens begins. Or “crook” could have the nature connotation of “crook of a tree,” such as what is implied by “some old root in a fall of snow.” This implies age, solidity, permanence, and immovability–all things amply demonstrated by the character of Krook in the novel. Other readings could include “crooked,” meaning crippled or deformed in some way. Since his “head is sunk sideways between his shoulders,” it could mean that he was suffering from some kind of physical impairment. This may incite sympathy for the character where none previously existed. One must remember, however, that this probably would have been different than the reaction of the contemporary readers of Bleak House, for the attitude toward physical disability has changed drastically. In Dickens’ time, crippled individuals were often derided and feared, or used as a subject of mockery, as is the semi-comic figure of Phil Squod in this same novel. Again, the “chain of signifiers” is not only continued but mutable, according to time and place. Further readings abound in this one single word for this relatively minor, though pivotal, character. Both a shepherd and a bishop carry a crook–a staff with a curved end meant for defense and for corralling the flock, literally in the former case and symbolically in the latter. This usually implies a gentle or kind person, a reference cemented in Christian English speakers (which most of Dickens’s readers were) with the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd … thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Bible Gateway, italics mine). Krook is hardly a shepherdly or kindly figure, so this belies the reality of the characterization. But the “mental trace left behind by the play of signifiers” (Tyson 253) cannot help but suggest this reading, even if only unconsciously, in the reader’s mind. Just because the meaning does not exactly coordinate with the nature of the character does not mean that the image of a shepherd’s crook (or any other meaning of the word) is not, however fleetingly, suggested. Perhaps it could also be seen as a sort of ironic cognomen, since this illiterate loner was hardly the guide of any group of people or animals. Yet it also could be a commentary on what Krook could have been if anyone had “shepherded” him more carefully. Perhaps he would not have become the reclusive, slightly mad owner of a rag-and-bone shop who died of spontaneous human combustion while hoarding an extremely important document, never knowing what it meant. The irony of that possession is that Krook, who hoarded and hid the will for so long, caused the destruction of people’s lives. It could be argued that if someone had paid a little more attention to him, “shepherded” him into a more social existence, the will would have been discovered years before. There is also another reading of “crook,” the “device on some musical wind instruments for changing the pitch, consisting of a piece of tubing inserted into the main tube” (Dictionary.com). A musician conversant with this implement might use this tool every day, and immediately think of it when first reading about Krook. The fact that this small object can change the pitch of an instrument drastically might suggest to the reader that this character, though seemingly unimportant, could affect all the characters in the novel. That reading would be particularly sensible in terms of plot resolution. After all, Krook held the key (or the “crook”) to changing the status of most of the major characters in the novel (Ada, Richard, Mr. Jarndyce, Esther, and even Lady Dedlock). This reading, if the deconstruction of the name took place at the beginning of the novel, would substantially change the tone of the reading throughout. The reader might immediately pay more attention to Krook’s peculiarities, and might well guess his secret long before it is revealed at the end of the novel. By the same token, reading his name as “crook in the road” could mean that Krook was the means by which the plot changes, and if that “crook” was taken earlier, rather than after Krook’s death, then the Jarndyce suit would have been resolved earlier, as well. This leads us to yet another reading of “Krook.” There is, of course, the metal hook called a crook. This is an obvious reference to the deformity and subhuman nature of Krook. Despite living in the teeming metropolis of London, he lives a life apart. He is separate–unloved, uncared for, friendless. He is even unable to read the words around him, despite living amid documents piled up like wastepaper all through his shop. The crook, or hook, could have been a reference to his mental disability (as in, his illiteracy), and also the menacing nature of his appearance. Yet the idea that he was dishonest, a “crook” in the slang term, is never suggested in Bleak House. Krook was merely peculiar, perhaps repulsive, but certainly not criminal. He is simply outside of the customary ideas of what is socially acceptable. Thus, Krook’s name, immediately evocative of several differing and sometimes contradictory meanings, can lead to several different “fleeting, continually changing play[s] of signifiers” (Tyson 252). This array of meanings is only the beginning of what might be suggested purely by deconstructing one characters’ name. The individual experience, the “sliding accumulation of signifieds” (Tyson 252) which could create another set of entirely different meanings comes into play whenever the name is read. If the text is “really an indefinite, undecidable, plural, conflicting array of possible meanings” (259), then all of these readings are valid and useful. A new historical approach to a satirical novel like Bleak House gives the critic two fertile fields of inquiry. First, there is the nature of the institutions, people, and events of the Dickensian era. There is also the opportunity to analyze what Dickens thought about these institutions and social customs. Not only is our approach an attempt to discover hidden, formerly forgotten, repressed, or underrepresented versions of reality, but also the views of a main satirist of the time can be examined to show what he thought about what was happening in his own day, including his own ideologies, biases, prejudices, errors, distortions, hopes, and desires. We now will focus briefly on what Dickens thought was wrong with the Court of Chancery, and how that affected the society in which he lived. Considering that Bleak House is a “continuum with other historical and cultural texts from the same period” (Tyson 299), we might assume several things: The Court of Chancery was almost as corrupt and inefficient as Dickens’s grotesque portrayal; there was an audience for this kind of satire, and therefore people of his day knew something about the inefficiency of the Court and disliked it; that there were victims of the court, such as Mr. Gridley, Miss Flite, and Richard Carstone, who, perhaps not quite as blatantly as Dickens painted them, nevertheless wasted their lives “in Chancery”; and there was no hope, at least not directly, of changing the system in any kind of rapid way. Dickens creates a subversive mood in the novel, continually recording the excesses of Chancery but consistently deriding them. This is the Court of Chancery; which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire; which has its worn out lunatic in every madhouse, and its dead in every churchyard; which has its ruined suitor, with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress, borrowing and begging through the round of every man’s acquaintance; which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give – who does not often give – the warning, ‘Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here!’ (Dickens 51) When viewing this passage, one must ask, how much was Dickens really speaking with a subversive voice? Were the oppressed, the “ruined suitors” in agreement with him? Did he really attack an institution which caused widespread grief and poverty (“decaying houses and blighted lands”), or was this just the concern of the propertied few? It would seem that, in a society where financial mobility was not as easy as it is in contemporary America, that the inheritance customs concerning property and money would be very important. This was a society that cared very much about handed-down money, and people’s entire lives and fortunes were often decided by their birth. Therefore, the malfunctioning of such a body as the Court of Chancery, which decided (among other things) difficult cases of what Americans call probate, would cause consternation among people who had property to pass down. Perhaps Dickens overstates the “blighted lands”, for certainly many cases of probate must have been handled properly, in or out of Chancery. Also, Chancery would only concern the middle and upper classes. The consumption of an estate in legal fees would not concern a homeless orphan such as Jo, for example. Yet Dickens makes the case that it did affect him, as it provided Tom-all-alone’s, which Jo used as a flophouse and where he contracted the disease that killed him and scarred Esther. Thus, Dickens paints the Chancery as something of importance for the entire country. He may have been overstating the case for comic and satiric effect, but it also shows his own bias as a middle-class man concerned with passing down his own money to his heirs. Women, the homeless, the working poor, the illiterate, farm tenants, servants, and anyone else not owning property would probably not be as concerned with the workings of the Court of Chancery as Charles Dickens, the middle-class, homeowning author was. Rather, it was an example of Dickens’s own bias. Through Jo and Jenny and other working-class characters, he makes the case as best he can that the ill-functioning Court of Chancery is bad for the whole of England, not just the propertied few. The very title of the novel, Bleak House, is meant as a metaphor for Chancery. Though it is the name of not only one but two houses (Jarndyce’s home, and the new house built for Esther and Dr. Woodcourt), the houses thus named are not bleak. They are happy family homes. The Bleak House could be Tom-all-Alone’s (a “decaying house” left over from John Jarndyce’s dead relative Tom Jarndyce, in which the wretched homeless of London congregate), or it could be the Court of Chancery. Of course, this metaphor could be expanded to the whole of England, for Dickens has many more satirical targets in this novel that just the Court. Even so, it is clear that the bleak houses are not Jarndyce’s or Esther’s homes. Thus, Dickens again displays his own bias. He is willing to think that the experience of the literate, middle- and upper-class people of a country is an experience shared by everyone else in that country. The individual identity, too, of some of the people in Bleak House is tied up utterly in what the social customs of their day dictated. “Personal identity – like historical events, texts, and artifacts – is shaped by and shapes the culture in which it emerges” (Tyson 290). Miss Flite, for example, is completely controlled by her (never resolved) Chancery suit. She has mortgaged her whole life–her youth, her possible family, her future–on the gamble of the Court of Chancery. She says, acutely aware of her fate, “I was a ward myself. I was not mad at the time … I had youth and hope. I believe, beauty. It matters very little now. Neither of the three served, or saved me” (Dickens 81). Miss Flite, who considers it “an honour” to attend court regularly, has entirely bound up her sense of self in the Court of Chancery. In this she is adhering to two contemporary ideas. First, she believes that women of “good” family (meaning middle class or higher) should not have a profession of their own; second, she thinks that inherited family money was the best kind of money. Miss Flite recounts later that her brother and sister also were ruined by the suit, but she has persevered. She considers it not only her duty and “honour” to press her Chancery suit “with her documents,” but she has gone so far as to “wafer” (that is, use a legal seal to adhere) to the walls of her poor room “a few old prints from books, of Chancellors and barristers” (103) as the only decoration. Miss Flite sees as her only way of adhering to the “respectable” path is to follow her fruitless suit in Chancery. In this, she is affected by the culture that surrounds her. However, she has mutated it, as personalities do, into something different. Her sister, for example, cannot bear the genteel but extreme poverty in which Miss Flite lives; it seems that she became a prostitute. In contrast, Miss Flite has chosen to adhere to one of the cultural mores of her time, creating a new identity based on what the culture around her considered proper. That she mutated it, until that very culture called her “mad,” is the sadness of her own narrative. Dickens created Miss Flite to comment on his own perception of what was wrong with his society, namely the Court of Chancery. Therefore, he created a person whose individual identity, based on a flawed cultural institution, was twisted and skewed so that that her very culture called her “mad.” It is an example of his own bias that he chose a genteel woman as his main example, although he also includes Gridley (the man from Shropshire) as a more rustic example. But these gentle souls are ruined by Chancery, which is Dickens’ point. He sees it as a great system victimizing all its subjects. Dickens was more of a voice for oppressed groups in his day than many of his contemporaries. His portrait of Jo–with not only his dress and condition, but also his illiterate speech, recorded in exact detail–is a moving picture of social injustice. This orphan is not the blameless, downtrodden youth of some romantic stories. He has failings which would be likely in someone of such debased condition, such as illness, furtiveness, unwillingness to stay in one place, and errors in judgment. Even so, he is a realistic and extremely pathetic figure. That Dickens was willing to place a person of such underrepresented and oppressed state at the center of his novel, to be read by his mainly middle- and upper-class public, shows he tried to be less biased than perhaps many of his peers.Works CitedBible Gateway.com. King James Version Bible. Accessed 3/29/07. Gospel Communications International, Copyright 1995-2007.
Tensions Between Different Kinds Of Justice In Dickens’ Work
“I have the honour to attend Court regularly. With my documents. I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment.” Bleak House.In a novel so acutely dedicated to exposing the real and actual misery of its characters, very little of it arises from the literal application of the frequent bouts of disease alone. Certainly disease and apocalyptic imagery is present – Esther’s smallpox disfigurement, Joe’s fatal pestilential illness, Caddy’s child, born deaf and mute, Miss Flite’s “Day of Judgment”, Krook’s combustion, Tom-all-Alone’s “revenge”, Richard Carstone’s untimely death literally from heartbreak and exhaustion, and Sir Leicester Dedlock’s metaphorical “floodgates” and actual stroke – but this endless string of tragedy tends to terminate rather than augur the larger metaphorical illness that afflicts all characters alike, regardless of social status or economic strength. In a society unseasoned with the ways of a quick and efficient justice system, and in the novel’s complicated plot with its dozens of characters enveloped by adultery, blackmail, murder, and plenty of fog and mud that characterise the turgid moral atmosphere, the Court of Chancery becomes the largest disburser of illness, disease and death. From its opening sentences, this institution of justice is linked with the symbols of obfuscation – fog and mud: “Never can there come a fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day…” But the Court is not just blind and inefficient towards serving the cause of justice. Its work is much more sinister: “This is the Court of Chancery … which gives to monied might, the means of abundantly wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give-the warning, ‘Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here!'” Evidently, the corrupt and life-destroying Court of Chancery has little interest in justice and more in making “…business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings.” That ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ bears a close phonetic resemblance with the disconcertingly panoptic term ‘John Doe’ is perhaps not mere co-incidence, but in fact a hint that Jarndyce’s interminable imbroglio in the courts of justice can easily develop into a situation fatally affecting just about anyone, right from the Gridleys to the Dedlocks. It certainly did have whole generations being born into it, while others were dying out of it. As pernicious as the severest of maladies, lawyers and the legal system are depicted as physical embodiments of parasitic diseases that, like Gridley’s and Richard’s death prove, consume all that comes within their path. Tulkinghorn is portrayed as “a dark, cold object” and “like a machine” who jealously guards aristocratic family secrets and has become rich administering marriage settlements and wills. Mr. Vholes looks at Richard predatorily, “as if he were making a lingering meal of him with his eyes as well as with his professional appetite.” “In a general way,” says George, “I object to the breed.” This inhuman parasitism extends out through society to characters like the Smallweeds whose “God was Compound Interest. [Their patriarch] lived for it, married it, died of it,” and who are also variously described as animals of prey such as “a money-getting species of spider, who spun webs to catch unwary flies.” The link between lawyers of Chancery and the Smallweeds as social parasites is rendered exact by the analogy of “lawyers [who] lie like maggots in nuts” and Mr. Smallweed’s grandfather who valued only “grubs” and “never bred a single butterfly.”It is revealed that the notorious slum, Tom-all-Alone’s, “a ruinous place…a swarm of misery [where] decay is far advanced” is also a property in Chancery, part of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, and indeed the narrator claims the suit itself “had laid the street waste”. Thus, the heart of the Jarndyce case, which is the heart of Chancery is Tom-all-Alone’s, a site of decay, misery, and disease. The third-person narrator skillfully links these three worlds through plot and complex language early on and continues to intensify these connections throughout the work. The Dedlock mystery and the Chancery case each suck in and consume the unaware or the unwilling, and expand until they affect not only the lives of the major parties or the voluntary snoopers, but of bystanders like Jo, Snagsby, George and Boythorn. Esther’s childhood and her mother’s marriage are passed in bleak houses; Jo lives among the crumbling tenements that are themselves part of the legacy of the house of Jarndyce; the curtains of the chaotic Jellyby lodgings are pinned up with forks; and the legal, judicial and political system each seem locked into its own bizarre routines of circular repetition. Miss Flite, Gridley and Richard form the inner circle of this pervasive system of disease, decay and death that demonstrates “the human waste and suffering generated by the Court.” But Jo is also a victim of both Chancery and of the society at large. Of these four, only Miss Flite is still alive at the novel’s dÃ©nouement, her insanity provides an ironic protection from the greater insanity of Chancery. But her collection of caged birds (to which she later adds “the two wards of Jarndyce”), symbolizing the victims of Chancery, and her many prescient comments serve as omens of Richard’ fate. And her concern with the “Great Seal” suggests that in this society true justice may only be had in the after-life. (“I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment. I have discovered that the sixth seal mentioned in the Revelations is the Great Seal. It has been open a long time!”) The same is true of Gridley who indignantly rails against “the system” of Chancery and vows “I will accuse the individual workers of that system against me, face to face, before the great eternal bar.” Yet Gridley’s impotent rage only hastens his death. The deadening effects of the injustice that infects Bleak House society can be seen most vividly in the portrayals of various key characters. The descriptions of Krook and his Rag and Bottle Shop are meant to function as a grim moral parallel with the Lord Chancellor and Chancery. Mr. Krook attests, “I have so many old parchments and papers in my stock. And I have a liking for rust and must and cobwebs…And I can’t bear to part with anything once I lay hold of or to alter anything, or to have any sweeping, nor scouring, nor cleaning…that’s why I’ve got the ill name of Chancery. I go to see my…brother pretty well every day, when he sits in the Inn…There’s no great odds betwixt us. We both grub on in a muddle.” Krook’s shop, in its filth and horror, exemplifies in a concrete, physical way the true moral nature of the Court, in the same way that the sheer abundance of neglected children in Bleak House exemplifies the undependable relationship that the Court, as a legal guardian of society, shares with its own wards, the inhabitants of that society.Esther’s orphan-hood (occurring twice over), and the abandonment of parental responsibility is but a microcosm of the wider, institutional abandonment of social responsibility. In different ways, Jo, Esther, Charley, Richard, and Ada are abandoned children. Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, Harold Skimpole, and even Mr. Turveydrop also abandon their children in a sense. Thus, while Esther’s story is that of an absent or lost parent, the central problem is the absence of justice in Chancery. Broken families, neglectful parents, and the loss of love, nurturance, and security reflect the chaos, disorder, and disease in society in the domestic sphere. Or, as Andrew Sanders puts it, Dickens “allows us to appreciate that an avoidance of due responsibility, in whatever sphere men and women act, is a threat to the well-being of society, and a general symptom of a general moral and social decay” And since the Court of Chancery serves as guardian for Richard and Ada, it too can be viewed as a bad parent. Indeed, since Chancery is responsible for the ruin of Tom-all-Alone’s, and Jo was “bred” by the “ruined shelters,” Jo can also be considered a ward of Chancery. The overall impression that emerges from Esther’s personal interaction with children and the victims of Chancery is that there are overwhelming private consequences for public injustice that extends and causes damage all the way through society to the most helpless. Indeed the damage to individual lives engendered by social conditions extends to the next generation. Caddy and Prince Turveydrop’s child is deaf and dumb, and Ada and Richard’s child will be raised without a father. This connection between (in)justice and its impact on the lives of the characters of Bleak House is manifest: “The system which destroys families is run by people who belong to unhappy families themselves: the system reproduces itself by means of the miseries it creates” (Hawthorn)The links established between these various public spheres can best be understood through the symbolic significance of Chancery as representative of the entire society. After all, a Chancery suit is, as Sir Leicester reflects, “a slow, expensive, British, constitutional kind of thing.” Likewise Mr. Kenge declares of Chancery, “This is a great system…and would you wish a great country to have a little system? Now, really, really!” Yet the very nature of Chancery, its methods and its effects is to stifle, bemuse, and consume all who come in contact with it. The lawyers of Chancery work exclusively in their own self-interest and the Court “is simply a socially condoned form of parasitism as is graphically confirmed by the eventual lot of the Jarndyce estate, which is eaten up in costs” (Daleski). Just as a biological parasite eventually weakens and destroys its host, the parasitic corruption of a national institution eventually weakens and destroys the rest of society. Thus, the primary symbol of justice – in Bleak House and Chancery – and its effect on the society is that of disease resulting from moral corruption and social parasitism with death looming not far behind. As Jeremy Hawthorn writes, “Disease is such a powerful symbol for Dickens in Bleak House because it involves different kinds of expressive connections: it arises from specific, concrete and material living conditions, living-conditions which are themselves the cause of particular social realities, and it also links the poor with those rich who wish to disclaim any relationship with or responsibility for them.” In effect, the prevalent social and physical disease created and spread by Chancery is none other than an outgrowth from the warped justice it provides. -X-Bibliography:Daleski, H.M. Bleak House. In Critical Essays on Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, 1989.Galloway, Shirley. Bleak House: Public and Private Worlds, 1997.Hawthorn, Jeremy. Bleak House, 1987.Roberts, Doreen. Bleak HouseSanders, Andrew. Charles Dickens: Resurrectionist. 1982.
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, is chiefly a novel about the consequences of abandonment. Dickens utilizes a mixture of nameless third-person narrative and the personal narrative of Esther Summerson, thereby balancing social criticism with a measure of personal experiences. Esther is only one of several orphans in the novel. In different ways, Jo, Esther, Charley, Richard, and Ada are all abandoned children. Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, Harold Skimpole, and even Mr. Turveydrop also abandon their children by forcing them to endure emotional neglect. Mrs. Jellyby, for example, claims to be a noble philanthropist, yet ignores her own family’s poor quality of life in order to focus on the injustices occuring in far-off Africa. Her “public duties [are her] favorite child.” Here, Dickens highlights the irresponsibility and arbitrariness of choosing to exhaust one’s resources (which are most likely being ineffectually employed) on an abstract problem, rather than on a literal one close at hand. Dickens maintained that people devoted to distant (“telescopic”) philanthropy very often show a tendency to neglect the needs of those around them. In this example, Dickens satirizes Mrs. Jellyby as a misguided “do-gooder.” The portrayal of the Jellyby children (especially the pathetic Peepy) is another variation on one of Dickens’ recurring themes: the vulnerability and suffering of children in a world mismanaged by adults. Using the story of Mrs. Pardiggle, a charity worker whose zeal unfortunately makes her own sons “ferocious with discontent,” Dickens once again contrasts the pretentiousness and emotional shallowness of the professional social activists by situating their character next to a real, deep emotional pain, such as that which occurs following the death of one’s child. Just as Chancery is at the center of the third-person narrative, the central problem of Esther’s story is that of an absent or lost parent. The chaos, disorder, and disease in society are reflected in the domestic sphere by broken families, neglectful parents, and the loss of love, comfort, and security. Esther underscores the theme of the abandonment of parental responsibility, which is analogous to that of the third-person narrative – the institutional abandonment of social responsibility. In Dickens’ Victorian England, people frequently slip though the cracks, as is exemplified by the characters of Jo and Nemo. Dickens uses his characters to illustrate the fact that the neglect of necessary social responsibility is a poison to society, and a symptom of moral decay. He writes of the all-consuming monster of a legal suit:Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; 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. Dickens encourages readers to look at the suit itself, and therefore the entire legal system at Chancery, as an entity that has been responsible for the misguided lives and unfulfilled prospects of many individuals. Richard and Ada are wards of the court, and in a sense Jo is, too, as he was raised in provision houses for the poor. It can thus be said that the legal system and Chancery have also been neglectful guardians. The suggestion made in the comparison between the legal system and the family is that there are overwhelming private consequences for public neglect. The ironic result of the grossly drawn-out suit of Jarndyce verses Jarndyce is, of course, that after so many years of confusing legal jargon and red tape, the cost of the lawyer bills have consumed the entire worth of the suit, leaving nothing to inherit. This point can also be observed symbolically in the doorknobs of the Jellyby household, which go “round and round with the greatest of smoothness,” yet attain “no effect whatsoever on the door.” The world of Bleak House contains many examples of actions (well-meaning or not) which produce no positive effect, or no effect at all. Esther’s position as a narrator shows some of the possible consequences of social neglect, yet her narrative also illustrates the ways in which some people can learn to thrive despite their background. She shows how incumbent it is for each individual to be as fully human as they can be – to choose and to act as much as possible according to their highest aspirations and ideals, regardless of the values and tendencies of the larger society. In Esther’s confessions to her doll, she claims she “would try, as hard as ever I could, to repair the fault I had been born with (of which I confusedly felt guilty and yet innocent), and would strive as I grew up to be industrious, contented, and kind-hearted, and to do some good to some one, and win some love to myself if I could.” Through Esther’s experience of neglect she comes to believe that one does not have a natural right to be loved, and that one must “earn” or “win” it. Although her point of view is unfortunate, the circumstances of the novel tend to support it. The character Jo, who “don’t know no-think,” and does very little for society or a family, finally dies because of his want for necessities, although he is the recipient of several token nurturing gestures. Several assertions are made that the struggle to live even in an atmosphere of death is still a worthwhile and noble pursuit. However, Jo’s fate reveals that this struggle is not always fruitful. Any way the question is posed, a person needs the support of a family to thrive. The perpetrators of abandonment and neglect seem often to have been the victims of such circumstances in their own upbringings. Mr. Skimpole is an excellent example of this: continually portraying himself as an “eternal child,” he escapes the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood, but also does a tremendous disservice to the real children around him. The prime example of this behavior is found when he betrays Jo for a bribe. In the wake of the incident, he protests to Esther: “You know I don’t pretend to be responsible. I never could do it. Responsibility is a thing that has always been above me,” as if not having ever claimed to be good to others relieves him of that responsibility. Dickens clearly believes it is quite unfair for an innocent child to be subject to the care (or lack thereof) of an adult. While the irresponsible adult must accept some of the blame for the child’s condition, neglect is still the byproduct of a society that allows its citizens to suffer abandonment. Through the story’s jumbled legal suits and societal scandals, we learn of the arbitrary nature of the court, and because this poor system is practiced by law, it seems that a poor private structure must inevitably follow.
Dickens and Charity
The England of Charles Dickens was one plagued with disease, pollution, and poverty. This is the England that gave rise to the Salvation Army, the gin craze, and Benthamism, and it is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ Bleak House has much to say about the question of charity. As Esther proceeds through life she is both the recipient of the charity of others as well as a bit of a philanthropist herself. However, it is John Jarndyce who is the central philanthropist in this novel. It is through his assistance that the causes of Miss Barbary, Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, Harold Skimpole, and, indeed, Esther Summerson are furthered. Nevertheless, Dickens does not always paint these characters’ charitable work in the most favorable light. Rather, one gets the feeling that their perspectives are a bit askew, and that they miss much of the good work they could be doing.The first so-called philanthropist with which the reader has contact is Miss Barbary. Esther’s “godmother,” who is in fact her aunt, does much to provide the necessities of life for Esther, albeit through the generosity of Mr. Jarndyce. Nevertheless, the home she and Esther share is not necessarily a happy one. Esther tells us that though Miss Barbary was quite pious — “[s]he went to church three times every Sunday, and to morning prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and to lectures whenever there were lectures –, “she never smiled. She was always grave and strict” (28). It is in this home that Esther spends her early years, a home without friends, birthdays, or very much joy.After the death of Miss Barbary, it is again Jarndyce who comes to the aid of Esther and arranges for her to attend Greenleaf, a boarding school in Reading. While in transit via coach Esther encounters Jarndyce — though she does not know that it is him at the time –, whom she finds to be “very strange” and a bit scary. As Esther begins to cry about her unknown future, Jarndyce attempts to console her with a plum cake and pie, a trick which the reader soon comes to recognize as his standard means of dealing with an adverse situation:”In this paper,” which was nicely folded, “is a piece of the best plum-cake that can be got for money — sugar on the outside an inch thick, like fat on mutton chops. Here’s a little pie (a gem this is, both for size and quality), made in France. And what do you suppose it’s made of? Livers of fat geese. There’s a pie! Now let’s see you eat ’em.””Thank you, sir,” [Esther] replied, “thank you very much indeed, but I hope you won’t be offended; they are too rich for me.” (37-8)Though “[s]uch a man is rich and good, warm-hearted and generous, golden at the core,” what Jarndyce fails to recognize is that Esther does not need an imported pie or the finest cakes “that can be got for money” (Goldfarb 144). What she needs is love, acceptance, and comfort — not a hand-out, no matter how luxurious.Following her six years at Greenleaf, Esther once again finds herself under the influence of John Jarndyce; she is asked to serve in Bleak House, Jarndyce’s home. While en route she and two of Jarndyce’s other wards, Ada and Richard, spend the night at the home of Mrs. Jellyby, yet another cause Jarndyce has chosen to fund. While Mrs. Jellyby spends much time and energy addressing the issue of benefitting Africa, her home is a wreck, and she is abusing her daughter Caddy by forcing her to work so diligently for the cause as well. When Esther brings to the attention of Mr. Jarndyce the fact that “[Mrs. Jellyby] was a little unmindful of her home,” Jarndyce is “floored” (83). Esther suggests that “it is right to begin with the obligations of home […]; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them?” (83). Jarndyce responds: “She means well” (84). Such seems to be the whole of Jarndyce’s philanthropic mission: good intentions and well-meaning are all that is necessary to earn the charitable support of John Jarndyce.While at Bleak House, Esther, Ada, and Richard meet Harold Skimpole, another of Jarndyce’s charity projects and a fine example of his philanthropic mission. A trained doctor, Skimpole has recently opted to live, thanks to the support of Jarndyce, the leisurely life of a dilettante. He manages to get Esther and Richard to contribute to the payment of one of his debts and, indeed, to forego any normal responsibility requisite of a grown-up life. For, “Harold Skimpole loves to see the sun shine; loves to hear the wind blow; loves to watch the changing lights and shadows; loves to hear the birds, those choristers in Nature’s great cathedral. And does it seem to me that I am about to deprive Harold Skimpole of his share in such possessions, which are his only birthright!” (99). Interestingly, it is a doctor, Skimpole, who Jarndyce has enabled to live a life of leisure. In a time and place where there is much suffering and disease — Esther herself becomes afflicted with smallpox — Skimpole should have much to offer to his society. Instead, he lives a comfortable life in Bleak House, allowing others to pay his debts, while he takes time to enjoy the sun shine.Jarndyce’s young wards Esther, Ada, and Richard, are introduced to yet another of his charitable causes while in residence at Bleak House, Mrs. Pardiggle. “[A] formidable style of lady, with spectacles, a prominent nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal of room,” Mrs. Pardiggle takes great concern with her charitable work and with the assistance her five boys provide not so willingly. She is “a School lady, […] a Visiting lady, […] a Reading lady, […] a Distributing lady, […] on the local Linen Box Committee, and many general Committees,” and has done extensive canvassing (125-6). She takes Esther and Ada with her to visit a brickmaker, “a very bad character,” and his family (128). Upon arrival, Esther and Ada see “a woman with a black eye, nursing a poor little gasping baby by the fire; a man, all stained with clay and mud, and looking very dissipated, lying at full length on the ground, smoking a pipe; a powerful young man, fastening a collar on a dog; and a bold girl, doing some kind of washing in very dirty water” (130). To this group, Mrs. Pardiggle, with “not a very friendly sound” warns that she cannot be tired and will continue to make regular visits until the conditions are to her liking. Even though the brickmaker informs her that their situation is as it is, and will not likely be changed by her regular visits, Mrs. Pardiggle is insistent. What Mrs. Pardiggle fails to notice or even take interest in, and that which Esther and Ada do take interest in, is the baby. Upon closer inspection, they discover it is dead.While the brickmaker is unable to rid himself of Mrs Pardiggle, Mr. Jarndyce has relatively little trouble; it has become his standard method of conflict resolution: writing a check. For, “[d]oing good for the sake of doing good is not his guiding impulse in life. He uses money, his unearned money, mostly to protect himself from the tribulations of life” (Goldfarb 145).Perhaps it is Esther, a bit of a charity case herself, who is the most effective humanitarian in Bleak House. Where Miss Barbary provided only the most essential resources to Esther during her early years, when it Esther’s turn to provide a nurturing environment for the young girls at Greenleaf, she provides warmth and compassion alongside the requisite instruction. Though Esther does not have the means to offer rich plum cakes or imported kidney pies, she can offer companionship. And it is that companionship that Mr. Jarndyce comes to value quite highly, eventually asking her to marry him. The same is true in the situation with Mrs. Jellyby. Though Esther takes relatively little interest in the problems plaguing Africa, she does take quite an interest in Caddy, Mrs. Jellyby’s over-worked, neglected daughter, who becomes a dear friend. Even though Esther is suspicious of Harold Skimpole’s lifestyle, she does make the effort to help pay his debts. Furthermore, it is she, not Mrs Pardiggle, who takes an interest in lives of the brickmaker’s family, and, indeed, returns to provide some real assistance. “Nobody could seem at times so self-unmaking as Esther but ultimately she is self-making. She needs to receive enough from the past to be educated and to learn to exert herself, but it is not by inheritance, not by high class, not by Christian […] virtues that she progresses” (Blake 15). Esther in many ways embodies the Utilitarian ideal, but with a compassionate human face.In a world as bleak as that depicted in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, it is no wonder that there are so many examples of people trying to provide for the needs of others. Whether it is Miss Barlaby meeting, through duty, the most essential of Esther’s needs, or John Jarndyce writing a check whenever a cause presents itself, or Mrs. Jellyby tirelessly working towards the betterment of Africa, or Harold Skimpole who has chosen to a live a life dependent on the goodwill of others, or Mrs. Pardiggle who exerts so much time and energy in so many causes that she finds important, everyone seems to be trying to improve the lives of others. Nevertheless, all of these efforts ultimately ring hollow. Indeed, it is Esther who seems to have the greatest impact, without investing any great sum of money, making any great sacrifice, or exerting any great amount of effort. Works CitedBlake, K. “Bleak House, Political Economy, Victorian Studies,” Victorian Literature and Culture, 25:1 (1997), 1-21.Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Penguin, 1996.Goldfarb, Russell M. “John Jarndyce of Bleak House,” Sutdies in the Novel, 12:2 (1980), 144-52.
Jarndyce, Snagsby, and the Varieties of Fatherhood in ‘Bleak House’
With several different families displayed throughout Bleak House, Charles Dickens makes a point to emphasize motherhood, or lack thereof. Charley, a child herself, takes care of her two younger siblings, Liz and Jenny help raise each other’s children and Lady Dedlock is the least motherly figure in her daughter’s life. Many of these characters depict nearly the opposite of what it means to be a mother as they adapt to the situations they face. Yet with this heavy portrayal of poor mothering, Dickens spends less time on the effects of fatherhood in the book. Fathers and father figures such as John Jarndyce and Mr. Snagsby offer a range of different aspects of fatherhood, each with their share of positive and negative traits.
A prominent character throughout the book, John Jarndyce enters Esther’s life in order to take her in after being abandoned by her guardian. He immediately becomes the father figure in her life as he essentially adopts her along with Richard and Ada. From the start, Jarndyce is made out to be a very charitable figure – he supports Esther, Richard and Ada financially, he gives money to Mr. Skimpole and towards the end of the novel, purchases a home for Mr. Woodcourt. In this sense, Jarndyce can be seen as a generous and necessary part of most of the characters’ lives. He is portrayed as a naturally good person, though what is most interesting about his character is that Dickens never reveals why. Any part of what makes Jarndyce who he is hidden. Because of this, his intentions are questionable, even if he perpetuates the stereotypical “good guy” narrative. Thus, however generous and kind-hearted Jarndyce seems, many of his actions in regard to fatherhood are often controversial. In Esther’s life, this is especially true. Jarndyce’s purpose at the start is to solely act as her guardian, which he succeeds at. He immediately takes the role as the lone father figure in her life, making her feel supported and appreciated in a way she had never experienced before. In the beginning of the novel as Esther’s time away at Greenleaf progresses, she is genuinely surprised to see that her guardian had not abandoned her. “…it was so gracious in that Father who had not forgotten about me, to have made my orphan way so smooth and easy…” (Dickens 41). In this sense, Jarndyce becomes a pinnacle individual in Esther’s life. Being raised by her abusive god-mother has certainly done nothing for her character.
Jarndyce’s efforts, however simple or grand they might be, make a distinct impact on her emotional well-being. Esther makes a point in her narratives to describe how grateful she is for Jarndyce and everything he does for her, therefore adding to his generous fatherly guise. Yet as the novel progresses, a line between the roles of father figure and husband are blurred. Jarndyce’s intentions towards Esther become questionable and it becomes clear that perhaps his generosity was displayed in order to make her the mistress of Bleak House. From the start, he asks Esther to call him “guardian” while Ada refers to him as “cousin John,” introducing a measure of ambiguity into Jarndyce’s exact role. Therefore, despite the charitable acts he has performed for her and other characters in the book, his purpose for them can truly never be trusted. This makes Jarndyce not only unreliable, but also an example of a poor father figure. It is easy to see how often he assisted other characters and look past how he manipulated Esther into accepting his marriage proposal. His generosity blinds Esther into believing that she will live a happy life if she marries him, despite her genuine attraction and love for Mr. Woodcourt. Though Jarndyce eventually allows Esther to marry Woodcourt because he realizes that that is where her heart lies, he does even this in a seemingly ill-intentioned way. In what seems like an instant, Jarndyce goes from regarding Esther as his soon-to-be mistress to giving her away to Woodcourt and replacing her with Ada. This action gives way to Jarndyce’s true perpetuation of fatherhood; he is a man that while kind-hearted, ultimately picks and chooses who he cares for.
In direct comparison and contrast, Mr. Snagsby is also a character that cares for those less fortunate, but does it in a way that is truly compassionate. Snagsby spends a large amount of time looking out for his servant, Guster, who has major health issues. He also genuinely cares for Jo, almost like he would a son. Snagsby’s relationship with Jo is very much fatherly, as he consistently gives the boy coins and is regarded as one of his only friends. Though Snagsby cannot ultimately save Jo, he manages to make the boy’s rather unfortunate life as tolerable as he can. When Jo is sick and nearing the end of his life, Snagsby visits him while he is under the care of Mr. Woodcourt. “Mr. Snagsby, touched by the spectacle before him, immediately lays upon the table half-a-crown: that magic balsam of his for all kinds of wounds” (Dickens 730). This gesture beholds so much love and affection for Jo. The boy’s life has certainly not been easy and his death is no more endurable. Jo shares some of these final moments of his life with his respected guardian and friend, giving a significant and meaningful ending to their relationship.
While there are many other examples of fathers and fatherhood woven into the story of Bleak House, there is a true obvious distinction between the manipulation of John Jarnydce and the genuine compassion of Mr. Sangsby. Mr. Snagsby is able to care for Jo in a majorly impactful way despite not being his real father. Mr. Jarndyce, undeterred by the fact that Esther is essentially his adopted daughter, molds her into accepting his marriage proposal. In this sense, throughout the novel, it is truly only the genuinely good-hearted that display what it means to be a father.