© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Bleak House

Bleak House


by Charles Dickens

Character Clues

Character Analysis


Like many of Dickens's novels, Bleak House is pretty much the Ministry of Silly Names. Every random character gets a name that has some kind of significance. So let's check some of them out, shall we?

For black humor, we've got the opposing parties in government. One is made up of Buffy, Cuffy, Duffy, etc., and the other's got Boodle, Coodle, Doodle, and so on. Talk about the lesser of two evils. Giving the politicians rhyming alphabetical names reduces them to completely insignificant, nonsense people.

Then, for deeper meaning, there are the portmanteau names. A portmanteau is a single word made out of two separate words – for example, Spanglish (Spanish + English). Take Tulkinghorn. What words come to mind when you think about that name? Tulking sounds like hulking, sulking, bulking – all heavy, mean, menacing words. And horns are not exactly known for their gentleness, either.

Let's compare that with, say, Woodcourt. Wood suggests trees, woodland areas, forests. Court, as a noun, suggests chivalry, knighthood, and kingship; as a verb it means to woo romantically. That sounds about right for him. Can you think of other names like this? What do you make of Carstone? Rouncewell?

Physical Appearance

Looks are always important in Victorian novels. They definitely have that simplistic, fairy-tale notion that good people are pretty and bad people are ugly. In Bleak House, appearance actually makes the wheels of the plot turn. Esther looks so much like her mother that, even after her face is marred by scars, she still reminds Mr. George of Lady Dedlock just by the way she bends down. Those are some strong genes!

Meanwhile, the way minor characters look says a lot about what kind of people they are. Smallweed is all twisted up and contorted on the outside, just like he's disfigured and perverse on the inside. Mrs. Bagnet looks hale, cheerful, and strong, and she acts that way too, doing good things without too much consideration for her own comfort. And Krook is disgusting, oily, and looks like dry paper. No wonder he spontaneously combusts!