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Bleak House

Bleak House

by Charles Dickens

Duty Quotes Page 1

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

[Jarndyce] asked me what I thought of Mrs. Jellyby.

"She exerts herself very much for Africa, sir," I said.

"Nobly!" returned Mr. Jarndyce. "But you answer like Ada." Whom I had not heard. "You all think something else, I see."

"We rather thought," said I, glancing at Richard and Ada, who entreated me with their eyes to speak, "that perhaps she was a little unmindful of her home."

"Floored!" cried Mr. Jarndyce.

I was rather alarmed again.

"Well! I want to know your real thoughts, my dear. I may have sent you there on purpose."

"We thought that, perhaps," said I, hesitating, "it is right to begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them." (6.21-28)

This might be as good a summary as we ever get of Dickens's opinions about foreign aid: domestic charity should always trump foreign philanthropy.

Quote #2

All this and a great deal more he told us, not only with the utmost brilliancy and enjoyment, but with a certain vivacious candour-- speaking of himself as if he were not at all his own affair, as if Skimpole were a third person, as if he knew that Skimpole had his singularities but still had his claims too, which were the general business of the community and must not be slighted. He was quite enchanting. If I felt at all confused at that early time in endeavouring to reconcile anything he said with anything I had thought about the duties and accountabilities of life (which I am far from sure of), I was confused by not exactly understanding why he was free of them. That he WAS free of them, I scarcely doubted; he was so very clear about it himself. (6.71)

One of the many things that prove how big a liar Skimpole is is the fact that he knows there are duties he's shirking. If he really were a naïve and innocent child, he wouldn't know any better. Just ask any five-year-old.

Quote #3

[The idle dream of Jarndyce being Esther's father] was all gone now, I remembered, getting up from the fire. It was not for me to muse over bygones, but to act with a cheerful spirit and a grateful heart. So I said to myself, "Esther, Esther, Esther! Duty, my dear!" and gave my little basket of housekeeping keys such a shake that they sounded like little bells and rang me hopefully to bed. (6.160)

For the first time (but not the last), Esther concentrates on duty as a way to avoid unpleasant emotions. Bells are a nice sonic image there, with many connotations – for example church bells, but also the bells that cows wear. Anything else come up for you when you think about a bell sound?

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