Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Summary is based on Wikipedia content
Bleak House is the
ninth novel by
Charles Dickens, published in twenty
monthly installments between March 1852
and September 1853.
It is one of Dickens's best and most
complete novels, containing one of the
most vast, complex and engaging array of
characters and sub-plots in all his
In the Bleak House, Dickens writes
both through the narrative of the
novel's beautiful heroine, Esther
Summerson, and as an
Memorable characters include the
menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn, the
friendly but depressive John Jarndyce
and the childish Harold Skimpole.
The plot involves a long-running
legal dispute (Jarndyce and Jarndyce)
which has deep consequences for all
implicated and includes a long-winded
will, monies and land neighboring the
Manor of Marr in South Yorkshire.
Dickens's attack on the flaws of the
British judiciary system is in part
based on his own experiences as a law
clerk. He portrays a harsh depiction of
the slow, arcane Chancery law and
process of frustration with the system.
There are many twists and turns and
unearthing in the true past of Lady
Dedlock, Esther and Nemo.
Much criticism about Bleak House
centres around its unique narrative
structure: it is told both by an
unidentified, third-person narrator and
a first-person narrator, Esther
Summerson. The third-person narrator
speaks in the present tense, ranging
widely across geographic and social
space (from the aristocratic Dedlock
estate to the desperately poor Tom-All-Alone's
in London), and gives full rein to
Dickens's desire to satirize the English
chancery system -- though this
narrator's perceptiveness has limits,
stopping at the outside to describe
characters' appearances and behavior
without any pretence of grasping or
revealing their inner lives. Esther
Summerson tells her own story in the
past tense (like David in
David Copperfield or Pip in
Great Expectations), and her
narrative voice is characterized by
modesty, consciousness of her own
limits, and willingness to disclose to
us her own thoughts and feelings. These
two narrative strands almost never
intersect, but they do run in parallel.
Many scholars regard this narrative
structure as the most complex and
brilliant that Dickens ever created.
Esther's portion of the narrative is
an interesting case study of the
Victorian ideal of feminine modesty. She
introduces herself thus: "I have a great
deal of difficulty in beginning to write
my portion of these pages, for I know I
am not clever" (Chap. 3).
This claim is almost immediately
belied by the astute moral judgment and
satiric observation that characterize
her pages, and it remains unclear how
much knowledge she withholds from her
narration, or why someone who has chosen
to relate the story of her life should
be so coy about her own central place in
In the same introductory chapter, she
writes: "It seems so curious to me to be
obliged to write all this about myself!
As if this narrative were the narrative
of MY life! But my little body will soon
fall into the background now".
Dickens claimed in the Preface to the
volume edition of Bleak House (it
was initially released in parts) that he
had "purposely dwelt upon the romantic
side of familiar things". And some
remarkable things do happen.
The nineteenth century saw the
increasing triumph of the scientific
world-view and of technology rooted in
scientific advances. Scientific and
technological research and discovery
were regarded as among the highest forms
of human endeavor.
Being able to listen to one of
Charles Dicken's greatest novels' in
unabridged audio is a treat and
If you like Charles Dicken's, don't
miss this one in an audio book. You can
listen online, download or purchase the
CD-ROM that can be collected and
listened to again and again.
Esther Summerson is raised by Miss
Barbary (Lady Dedlock's (Esther's
mother) spartan sister).
When Miss Barbary dies, John Jarndyce
becomes Esther's guardian; and after she
attends school in Reading for six years,
she goes to live with him at Bleak
House, along with his other two wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare.
Esther shares similar interests with Jarndyce in the affairs of the endlessly
tangled law case of Jarndyce versus
Richard and Ada fall in love with
each other; and though Mr. Jarndyce does
not oppose their marrying, he does
stipulate that Richard must choose
a profession first.
Lady Dedlock is alerted quite
innocently that her long lost lover,
Capt. Hawdon (who is known as "Nemo")
has just died.
The saga begins when Lady Dedlock
takes the time to investigate Nemo's
as her French maid. She pays Jo, a
street sweeper who knew "Nemo" to take
her to Nemo's grave.
Her solicitor, Tulkinghorn realizes
the secret and begins to watch Lady
Dedlock's every move - he even enlists
the aid of her maid, who herself detests
Hortense (the maid) and Tulkinghorn
(the solicitor) discover the truth about
Lady Dedlock's past. However, Tulkinghorn rejects
Hortense's involvement; and, she feeling ill
used by both Lady Dedlock and
Tulkinghorn, Hortense shoots and kills
Tulkinghorn; then attempts to frame Lady
Dedlock for his murder.
Inspector Bucket is called in to
investigate the murder. He suspects Lady
Dedlock, even after an arrest of George
Rouncewell who is the only person known
to be with Tulkinghorn on the night of
Sir Leicester suffers a stroke due to
the stress of the investigation of his
wife (Lady Dedlock), and the revelation of her affair
Inspector Bucket discovers the real
murderer being Hortense, yet finds Lady
Dedlock dead outside the cemetery where
Hawdon, (Nemo), (Esther's father) is
John Jarndyce falls in love with
Esther and they plan to marry even though
she loves someone else (Dr. Woodcourt).
Richard and Ada become secretly
married. Richard spends and loses all his
resources on trying to push Jarndyce and
Jarndyce to a conclusion in his and Ada's favor; however, he
of his money and his health in the
Esther becomes ill and disfigured
while her mother, Lady Dedlock is alive
and not knowing she is her mother runs
into her. Esther learns later the truth
about Lady Dedlock and her father (Nemo).
Lady Dedlock discovers Esther's
identity as her daughter and has to fend
off the manipulations of Mr. Tulkinghorn.
At the end, when she dies, she is
disgraced in her own mind, convinced
that her aristocratic husband can never
forgive her moral failings.
The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is
at last concluded, when the disputed
estate has been completely absorbed by
the legal fees accrued in the case.
Allan Woodcourt, a freind of
Richard's and a physician, traveling on
different missions is a kind, caring man
who falls in love with Esther. She in
turn loves him but feels unable to
respond to his advances because of her
commitment to John Jarndyce. All is
resolved happily at the end and they
The above brief Summary and Synopsis
do no justice to avail you of the
intrigue and unfolding of events in
Charles Dickens', "The Bleak House".
I have never read the book; yet when
listening to the different audio books
created from this novel, I stand on my
judgment that this is one of Dicken's
Esther Summerson is the right type
and style of heroine to keep you
interested in the outcome of her life,
emotions and friends.
The murder investigation adds to the
intrigue and mystery for the extra
flavor of spice in entertainment.
I did not agree with the negative
illness that Esther lives through, but
there I go again; wanting life to be
perfect and expecting to enjoy a perfect
I accepted her illness as a bit
tragic; however, I overcame my immediate
melancholy as the positive progression
in her recovery and happiness extended.
If you enjoyed Charles Dickens', A
Christmas Carol, you will further enjoy,
The Bleak House.
This definitely is another of
Dickens' writings that should be
experienced for he provides excitement,
interest, history and a tale that is
Dickens can write with imagery; and
you are able to visualize the scene and
surroundings including his characters
ornaments as well as personalities.
The Bleak House is especially
stimulating when enjoyed by audio.
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