by Charles Dickens
Bleak House Principles Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Sir Leicester Dedlock is only a baronet, but there is no mightier baronet than he. His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might get on without hills but would be done up without Dedlocks. He would on the whole admit nature to be a good idea (a little low, perhaps, when not enclosed with a park-fence), but an idea dependent for its execution on your great county families. He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man. (2.35)
Props for that tonally perfect, very Dickensian string of adjectives at the end. Shmoop's loving how the last adjective totally makes us question all the ones that came before it. Like, which quality makes him unreasonable? Is it unreasonable to be truthful?
[Mrs. Jellyby] told us a great deal that was interesting about Borrioboola-Gha and the natives, and received so many letters that Richard, who sat by her, saw four envelopes in the gravy at once. Some of the letters were proceedings of ladies' committees or resolutions of ladies' meetings, which she read to us; others were applications from people excited in various ways about the cultivation of coffee, and natives; others required answers, and these she sent her eldest daughter from the table three or four times to write. She was full of business and undoubtedly was, as she had told us, devoted to the cause. [...] Mrs. Jellyby, sitting in quite a nest of waste paper, drank coffee all the evening and dictated at intervals to her eldest daughter. She also held a discussion with Mr. Quale, of which the subject seemed to be--if I understood it--the brotherhood of humanity, and gave utterance to some beautiful sentiments. I was not so attentive an auditor as I might have wished to be, however, for Peepy and the other children came flocking about Ada and me in a corner of the drawing-room to ask for another story; so we sat down among them and told them in whispers "Puss in Boots" and I don't know what else until Mrs. Jellyby, accidentally remembering them, sent them to bed. (4.52-55)
Well, we'll say this for good old Mrs. Jellyby – she sticks to her principles through thick and thin. There's a nice comparison here between the stories Mrs. Jellyby tells her children (she dictates letters to Caddy and talks about the "brotherhood of humanity") and the far more appropriate stories Esther tells them ("Puss in Boots" is a fairy tale about an awesomely clever talking cat.)
The notes revived in Richard and Ada a general impression that they both had, without quite knowing how they came by it, that their cousin Jarndyce could never bear acknowledgments for any kindness he performed and that sooner than receive any he would resort to the most singular expedients and evasions or would even run away. Ada dimly remembered to have heard her mother tell, when she was a very little child, that he had once done her an act of uncommon generosity and that on her going to his house to thank him, he happened to see her through a window coming to the door, and immediately escaped by the back gate, and was not heard of for three months. (6.12)
This is kind of bizarre behavior, right? Maybe Shmoop can shed a little light on it. There was a pretty lively debate in the 19th century about whether a truly generous or altruistic action was possible. If the giver received pleasant feelings of being generous and noble, wasn't generosity to some degree self-interested? (Which, OK, whatever.) So Jarndyce is trying really hard to at least keep the external gratitude to a minimum.