Study Guide

Caddy Jellyby in Bleak House

By Charles Dickens

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Caddy Jellyby

The put-upon daughter of the crazed philanthropist Mrs. Jellyby, Caddy aspires to a more normal home life. After getting engaged and learning about housekeeping from Esther, she becomes a successful wife, mother, and business owner.

Dickens has gotten a pretty bad rap for his portrayal of women. It's true that he's got kind of a ham-fisted approach to the "lovely, asexual, selfless young woman" thing, a character that appears over and over in his novels. But then again, when you look at the sidelines, you see other, far more interesting women doing some pretty powerful things.

Take Caddy, for example. Sure, it's kind of a bummer that when we first meet her she seems to just be fixated on becoming a housewife. But after getting schooled in the fine arts of closet-arranging by Esther, what does she do? She becomes a wife, a mother to a deaf child (before standardized sign language existed), and a dancing teacher and accompanist. She eventually runs her own business (the dancing school) and takes in apprentices, a sign of a business's success back then. Well done, Caddy, well done.

The last we see her, she's become all hustle-and-bustle – a younger version of Mrs. Bagnet, who is another extraordinarily capable woman. What's more, Caddy is clearly the stronger spouse (by the end, Prince can't even teach dancing any more), and this is not at all shown to be a problem, unlike, say, the unequal marriage of the Jellybys. All of this seems pretty forward-looking to us. Obviously Caddy is not running for Parliament or anything, but still – she's a highly positive portrait of a non-passive woman.

Caddy Jellyby in Bleak House Study Group

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