Study Guide

Bleak House Quotes

By Charles Dickens

  • Identity

    Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence. (1.7)

    The idea of a person whose existence is legally denied is a terrifying thought. Later this idea will mined for full effect by Kafka and other writers of the absurd and fantastical.

    What the destitute subject of such an offer tried to say, I need not repeat. What she did say, I could more easily tell, if it were worth the telling. What she felt, and will feel to her dying hour, I could never relate. (3.52)

    This is Esther talking about herself in the third person, when Kenge offers her the opportunity to go live with Jarndyce. It's one of the few moments when the novel really registers the huge disconnect between Esther as the young girl in the story and Esther as the grownup who is telling the story. Here it is so hard for the latter to remember the former that she is forced to talk about herself as though she were a completely different, unknowable person.

    "And Mr. Jellyby, sir?" suggested Richard.

    "Ah! Mr. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, "is--a--I don't know that I can describe him to you better than by saying that he is the husband of Mrs. Jellyby."

    "A nonentity, sir?" said Richard with a droll look.

    "I don't say that," returned Mr. Kenge gravely. "I can't say that, indeed, for I know nothing whatever OF Mr. Jellyby. I never, to my knowledge, had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Jellyby. He may be a very superior man, but he is, so to speak, merged--merged--in the more shining qualities of his wife." (4.5-8)

    This is all very telling about Mr. Jellyby's unremarkableness, of course. But what really cinches the joke here is that in the 19th century, a married woman had no legal existence of her own; for the sake of the law, a married woman was considered merged into the identity of her husband. This legal framework, called "couverture," precluded women from being able to own their own property, voting, becoming owners or partners in businesses, and so on. Here the joke is that with the Jellybys, it's Mr. Jellyby who has "merged" with his wife, so it is his identity that has been erased by hers.

    The present representative of the Dedlocks is an excellent master. He supposes all his dependents to be utterly bereft of individual characters, intentions, or opinions, and is persuaded that he was born to supersede the necessity of their having any. If he were to make a discovery to the contrary, he would be simply stunned--would never recover himself, most likely, except to gasp and die [...] if Sir Leicester Dedlock ever saw [Mrs. Rouncewell's older son] when he came to Chesney Wold to visit his mother, or ever thought of him afterwards, it is certain that he only regarded him as one of a body of some odd thousand conspirators, swarthy and grim, who were in the habit of turning out by torchlight two or three nights in the week for unlawful purposes. (7.8-9)

    Nice. And probably a good call about the way most landed aristocrats thought of the many people who worked for them on their huge estates – as just one giant mass of indistinguishable people. Is it just us, or does Sir Dedlock really evolve into a much more sympathetic person as the novel goes on? Would we expect to read such a dismissive description of him later in the novel?

    "You are clever enough to be the good little woman of our lives here, my dear," he returned playfully; "the little old woman of the child's (I don't mean Skimpole's) rhyme:

    "'Little old woman, and whither so high?'
    'To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.'

    "You will sweep them so neatly out of OUR sky in the course of your housekeeping, Esther, that one of these days we shall have to abandon the growlery and nail up the door."

    This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and Little Old Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame Durden, and so many names of that sort that my own name soon became quite lost among them. (8.35-38)

    So this is probably meant to be cute, right? Aww, look, they've nicknamed her and made her part of the family. But really, aren't these nicknames totally horrible and inappropriate for a beautiful 20-year-old woman? And not only that, the line about her own name disappearing is creeptastic.

    Richard said he was ready for anything. When Mr. Jarndyce doubted whether he might not already be too old to enter the Navy, Richard said he had thought of that, and perhaps he was. When Mr. Jarndyce asked him what he thought of the Army, Richard said he had thought of that, too, and it wasn't a bad idea. When Mr. Jarndyce advised him to try and decide within himself whether his old preference for the sea was an ordinary boyish inclination or a strong impulse, Richard answered, Well he really HAD tried very often, and he couldn't make out. [...] I thought it much to be regretted that Richard's education had not counteracted those influences or directed his character. He had been eight years at a public school and had learnt, I understood, to make Latin verses of several sorts in the most admirable manner. But I never heard that it had been anybody's business to find out what his natural bent was, or where his failings lay, or to adapt any kind of knowledge to HIM. [...] I did doubt whether Richard would not have profited by some one studying him a little, instead of his studying them quite so much. (13.1-3)

    What do you think about Esther's argument about what school should be? She thinks Richard's indecisiveness is because of his useless liberal arts degree – that's why he can't get a job or even think about what kind of work he might want to do. Does that sound like a familiar argument? Shmoop thinks there are people still arguing this exact thing today.

    And, very strangely, there was something quickened within me, associated with the lonely days at my godmother's; yes, away even to the days when I had stood on tiptoe to dress myself at my little glass after dressing my doll. And this, although I had never seen this lady's face before in all my life--I was quite sure of it-- absolutely certain [...] the lady was Lady Dedlock. But why her face should be, in a confused way, like a broken glass to me, in which I saw scraps of old remembrances, and why I should be so fluttered and troubled (for I was still) by having casually met her eyes, I could not think.

    I felt it to be an unmeaning weakness in me and tried to overcome it by attending to the words I heard. Then, very strangely, I seemed to hear them, not in the reader's voice, but in the well- remembered voice of my godmother. This made me think, did Lady Dedlock's face accidentally resemble my godmother's? [...] I, little Esther Summerson, the child who lived a life apart and on whose birthday there was no rejoicing--seemed to arise before my own eyes, evoked out of the past by some power in this fashionable lady, whom I not only entertained no fancy that I had ever seen, but whom I perfectly well knew I had never seen until that hour. (18.43-45)

    Here Ester has a sudden flash of recognition and intuition. She's starting to put the pieces together about her true identity.

    Dare I [Esther] hint at that worse time when, strung together somewhere in great black space, there was a flaming necklace, or ring, or starry circle of some kind, of which I was one of the beads! And when my only prayer was to be taken off from the rest and when it was such inexplicable agony and misery to be a part of the dreadful thing? (35.5)

    This is an interesting hallucination. Esther is part of a necklace, chained together with many other beads just like her. They cannot help but all be next to each other and tied together. To be dead is to be free from all those other beads. That's a pretty good metaphor for the kind of closed social space that this novel is.

    "Do you know," Lady Dedlock asks her, signing to her to bring her chair nearer, "do you know, Rosa, that I am different to you from what I am to any one?"

    "Yes, my Lady. Much kinder. But then I often think I know you as you really are."

    "You often think you know me as I really am? Poor child, poor child!"

    She says it with a kind of scorn--though not of Rosa--and sits brooding, looking dreamily at her.

    "Do you think, Rosa, you are any relief or comfort to me? Do you suppose your being young and natural, and fond of me and grateful to me, makes it any pleasure to me to have you near me?"

    "I don't know, my Lady; I can scarcely hope so. But with all my heart, I wish it was so."

    "It is so, little one." (48.12-18)

    When Lady Dedlock suddenly feels she can no longer fully repress all the maternal instincts and feelings she has long buried, she cleverly makes Rosa the object of her affection. This gives her newfound emotions an outlet and makes them seem a little less suspect to the people around her.

    "Yes," says the man, coming in and closing the door. "I was going down the street here when I happened to stop and look in at the musical instruments in the shop-window--a friend of mine is in want of a second-hand wiolinceller of a good tone--and I saw a party enjoying themselves, and I thought it was you in the corner; I thought I couldn't be mistaken. How goes the world with you, George, at the present moment? Pretty smooth? And with you, ma'am? And with you, governor? And Lord," says Mr. Bucket, opening his arms, "here's children too! You may do anything with me if you only show me children. Give us a kiss, my pets. No occasion to inquire who YOUR father and mother is. Never saw such a likeness in my life!" [...] "A friend of mine has had nineteen of 'em, ma'am, all by one mother, and she's still as fresh and rosy as the morning. Not so much so as yourself, but, upon my soul, she comes near you! And what do you call these, my darling?" pursues Mr. Bucket, pinching Malta's cheeks. "These are peaches, these are. Bless your heart!" [...] These blandishments have entirely won the family heart. Mrs. Bagnet forgets the day to the extent of filling a pipe and a glass for Mr. Bucket and waiting upon him hospitably. She would be glad to receive so pleasant a character under any circumstances, but she tells him that as a friend of George's she is particularly glad to see him this evening, for George has not been in his usual spirits. (49.57-61)

    This is the first time we see Bucket's smooth ability to become instant friends with anybody. We think he does genuinely have some of the emotions he pretends to have. It would be hard to know how to act with little kids, for instance, without actually liking them. So he both likes this fresh-faced, happy family and is also putting on a show to keep tabs on George.

  • Appearances

    Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds. [...] The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

    Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth. (1.2-5)

    This is a pretty cool transformation of a literal fog into a metaphorical one. At first the narrator is describing actual fog and how it covers the whole city. But then, slowly, the fog turns into a metaphor of confusion and unintelligibility. Suddenly the narrator describes the Court of Chancery as being in the middle of the thickest fog. Dickens is great at this kind of thing: pulling out some visual detail about a place and turning it into a metaphor for the place as a whole.

    Lady Dedlock as one of a class--as one of the leaders and representatives of her little world. She supposes herself to be an inscrutable Being, quite out of the reach and ken of ordinary mortals--seeing herself in her glass, where indeed she looks so. Yet every dim little star revolving about her, from her maid to the manager of the Italian Opera, knows her weaknesses, prejudices, follies, haughtinesses, and caprices and lives upon as accurate a calculation and as nice a measure of her moral nature as her dressmaker takes of her physical proportions. Is a new dress, a new custom, a new singer, a new dancer, a new form of jewelry, a new dwarf or giant, a new chapel, a new anything, to be set up? There are deferential people in a dozen callings whom my Lady Dedlock suspects of nothing but prostration before her, who can tell you how to manage her as if she were a baby, who do nothing but nurse her all their lives, who, humbly affecting to follow with profound subservience, lead her and her whole troop after them. (2.13)

    This a great passage describing the different ways Lady Dedlock looks depending on who is doing the looking. To herself, in the mirror, she looks totally aloof, powerful, and mysterious. To her "little world" she is a representative who "leads" her troop. But to the various salespeople and tradesmen who provide goods and services to her, she's a "baby" who is easily fooled into buying whatever it is they want to sell her. They all know what buttons to push to get her to do anything.

    But a portrait over the chimney-piece, painted by the fashionable artist of the day, acts upon him like a charm. He recovers in a moment. He stares at it with uncommon interest; he seems to be fixed and fascinated by it.

    "Dear me!" says Mr. Guppy. "Who's that?"

    "The picture over the fire-place," says Rosa, "is the portrait of the present Lady Dedlock. It is considered a perfect likeness, and the best work of the master."[...]

    "It's unaccountable to me," he says, still staring at the portrait, "how well I know that picture! I'm dashed," adds Mr. Guppy, looking round, "if I don't think I must have had a dream of that picture, you know!"

    As no one present takes any especial interest in Mr. Guppy's dreams, the probability is not pursued. But he still remains so absorbed by the portrait that he stands immovable before it until the young gardener has closed the shutters, when he comes out of the room in a dazed state that is an odd though a sufficient substitute for interest and follows into the succeeding rooms with a confused stare, as if he were looking everywhere for Lady Dedlock again. (7.37-45)

    What do you think about the idea of a painting being "a perfect likeness"? Is that even possible? What does it say about Lady Dedlock that she is able to be painted exactly – unlike Sir Dedlock, for instance, who is later described as hating a particularly bad portrait of himself?

    We all conceived a prepossession in [Boythorn's] favour, for there was a sterling quality in this laugh, and in his vigorous, healthy voice, and in the roundness and fullness with which he uttered every word he spoke, and in the very fury of his superlatives, which seemed to go off like blank cannons and hurt nothing. But we were hardly prepared to have it so confirmed by his appearance when Mr. Jarndyce presented him. He was not only a very handsome old gentleman--upright and stalwart as he had been described to us-- with a massive grey head, a fine composure of face when silent, a figure that might have become corpulent but for his being so continually in earnest that he gave it no rest, and a chin that might have subsided into a double chin but for the vehement emphasis in which it was constantly required to assist; but he was such a true gentleman in his manner, so chivalrously polite, his face was lighted by a smile of so much sweetness and tenderness, and it seemed so plain that he had nothing to hide, but showed himself exactly as he was. [...] [He had] a very little canary, who was so tame that he was brought down by Mr. Boythorn's man, on his forefinger, and after taking a gentle flight round the room, alighted on his master's head. To hear Mr. Boythorn presently expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to have a good illustration of his character, I thought. (9.37-40)

    So here are two competing descriptions. First is Esther's actual description of Boythorn's body, head, chin, and smile. Then there's the description that says he's a man who yells with seeming violence while a tiny pet bird sits on his head. Which is the better, more informative image?

    During this dialogue Mr. Tulkinghorn has stood aloof by the old portmanteau, with his hands behind him, equally removed, to all appearance, from all three kinds of interest exhibited near the bed--from the young surgeon's professional interest in death, noticeable as being quite apart from his remarks on the deceased as an individual; from the old man's unction; and the little crazy woman's awe. His imperturbable face has been as inexpressive as his rusty clothes. One could not even say he has been thinking all this while. He has shown neither patience nor impatience, nor attention nor abstraction. He has shown nothing but his shell. As easily might the tone of a delicate musical instrument be inferred from its case, as the tone of Mr. Tulkinghorn from his case. (11.34)

    Tulkinghorn is like a black hole, sucking in the air and light around him. Notice how the faces of everyone else show at least some signs of life: the doctor is all professional doing his doings, the woman is scared and shocked, the old man is obsequious. But Tulkinghorn can't even be said to be alive, from this description.

    [Mr. Turveydrop] was a fat old gentleman with a false complexion, false teeth, false whiskers, and a wig. He had a fur collar, and he had a padded breast to his coat, which only wanted a star or a broad blue ribbon to be complete. He was pinched in, and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear. He had such a neckcloth on (puffing his very eyes out of their natural shape), and his chin and even his ears so sunk into it, that it seemed as though be must inevitably double up if it were cast loose. He had under his arm a hat of great size and weight, shelving downward from the crown to the brim, and in his hand a pair of white gloves with which he flapped it as he stood poised on one leg in a high-shouldered, round-elbowed state of elegance not to be surpassed. He had a cane, he had an eye-glass, he had a snuff-box, he had rings, he had wristbands, he had everything but any touch of nature; he was not like youth, he was not like age, he was not like anything in the world but a model of Deportment. (14.71)

    This might be the first time Esther really doesn't pull any punches: she lets Mr. Turveydrop have it for his totally horrible and ridiculous appearance. This sounds a lot more like the adult Esther narrating than the child Esther actually registering this guy for the first time. If he hadn't turned out to be such an awful person, would she have been a little nicer to him here?

    There is only one judge in town. Even he only comes twice a week to sit in chambers. If the country folks of those assize towns on his circuit could see him now! No full-bottomed wig, no red petticoats, no fur, no javelin-men, no white wands. Merely a close-shaved gentleman in white trousers and a white hat, with sea-bronze on the judicial countenance, and a strip of bark peeled by the solar rays from the judicial nose, who calls in at the shellfish shop as he comes along and drinks iced ginger-beer! (19.3)

    This is what happens to the super-formality of the Court during summer recess. It's interesting to think about how much of the Court's or the Chancellor's authority comes from fancy appearance – the wigs, the clothes, the guys who stand and pretend to guard him. This also gives us a nice separation of the man from the office: see, this judge is just a regular guy who likes to eat shrimp and whose sunburn is peeling. It's only the dehumanized legal figure "Chancellor" who can't acknowledge Gridley's existence.

    Mrs. Smallweed, following her usual instinct, breaks out with "Fifteen hundred pound. Fifteen hundred pound in a black box, fifteen hundred pound locked up, fifteen hundred pound put away and hid!" Her worthy husband, setting aside his bread and butter, immediately discharges the cushion at her, crushes her against the side of her chair, and falls back in his own, overpowered. His appearance, after visiting Mrs. Smallweed with one of these admonitions, is particularly impressive and not wholly prepossessing, firstly because the exertion generally twists his black skull-cap over one eye and gives him an air of goblin rakishness, secondly because he mutters violent imprecations against Mrs. Smallweed, and thirdly because the contrast between those powerful expressions and his powerless figure is suggestive of a baleful old malignant who would be very wicked if he could. All this, however, is so common in the Smallweed family circle that it produces no impression. The old gentleman is merely shaken and has his internal feathers beaten up, the cushion is restored to its usual place beside him, and the old lady, perhaps with her cap adjusted and perhaps not, is planted in her chair again, ready to be bowled down like a ninepin. (21.48)

    Isn't it strange how often the Smallweeds are compared to inanimate objects? Shmoop's betting it happens more with them than with any of the other characters. They're already sort of repetitive and puppet-like in the things they say: Mrs. Smallweed is always yelling about hidden money, and Mr. Smallweed is constantly calling her a "brimstone beast". Here, though, he is first a goblin, then a pillow. She is first a bowling pin, then a plant.

    I went up to the glass upon the dressing-table. There was a little muslin curtain drawn across it. I drew it back and stood for a moment looking through such a veil of my own hair that I could see nothing else. Then I put my hair aside and looked at the reflection in the mirror, encouraged by seeing how placidly it looked at me. I was very much changed--oh, very, very much. At first my face was so strange to me that I think I should have put my hands before it and started back but for the encouragement I have mentioned. Very soon it became more familiar, and then I knew the extent of the alteration in it better than I had done at first. It was not like what I had expected, but I had expected nothing definite, and I dare say anything definite would have surprised me.

    I had never been a beauty and had never thought myself one, but I had been very different from this. It was all gone now. Heaven was so good to me that I could let it go with a few not bitter tears and could stand there arranging my hair for the night quite thankfully.

    One thing troubled me, and I considered it for a long time before I went to sleep. I had kept Mr. Woodcourt's flowers. When they were withered I had dried them and put them in a book that I was fond of. Nobody knew this, not even Ada. I was doubtful whether I had a right to preserve what he had sent to one so different--whether it was generous towards him to do it. I wished to be generous to him, even in the secret depths of my heart, which he would never know, because I could have loved him--could have been devoted to him. At last I came to the conclusion that I might keep them if I treasured them only as a remembrance of what was irrevocably past and gone, never to be looked back on any more, in any other light. I hope this may not seem trivial. I was very much in earnest. (36.4-7)

    There's a nice parallel and echo here between the way Esther talks about the clear line before and after her disfigurement ("it was all gone now") and the way she decides to think about the flowers (a keepsake of "what was irrevocably past and gone"). Now that everything has changed, she feels safe to admit that she is in love with Woodcourt. She also can express her gratitude that she still has a small part of her good looks (her hair).

    [Mr. Turveydrop] would come into the room once a day, all but blessing it--showing a condescension, and a patronage, and a grace of manner in dispensing the light of his high-shouldered presence from which I might have supposed him (if I had not known better) to have been the benefactor of Caddy's life.

    "My Caroline," he would say, making the nearest approach that he could to bending over her. "Tell me that you are better to-day."

    "Oh, much better, thank you, Mr. Turveydrop," Caddy would reply.

    "Delighted! Enchanted! And our dear Miss Summerson. She is not quite prostrated by fatigue?" Here he would crease up his eyelids and kiss his fingers to me, though I am happy to say he had ceased to be particular in his attentions since I had been so altered.

    "Not at all," I would assure him.

    "Charming! We must take care of our dear Caroline, Miss Summerson. We must spare nothing that will restore her. We must nourish her. My dear Caroline"--he would turn to his daughter-in-law with infinite generosity and protection--"want for nothing, my love. Frame a wish and gratify it, my daughter. Everything this house contains, everything my room contains, is at your service, my dear. Do not," he would sometimes add in a burst of deportment, "even allow my simple requirements to be considered if they should at any time interfere with your own, my Caroline. Your necessities are greater than mine."

    He had established such a long prescriptive right to this deportment (his son's inheritance from his mother) that I several times knew both Caddy and her husband to be melted to tears by these affectionate self-sacrifices. (50.26-34)

    Which is better, Mr. Turveydrop's totally feigned and delusional pretense of being important and self-sacrificing while he's actually a passive-aggressive leech, or Skimpole's admission that he wants what he wants and that you have to give it to him? Does Turveydrop's method somehow allow his enablers to save face? Do Skimpole's enablers get the feeling of doing a good deed as their reward?

  • Principles

    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.

    Rick, the world is before you; and it is most probable that as you enter it, so it will receive you. Trust in nothing but in Providence and your own efforts. Never separate the two, like the heathen waggoner. Constancy in love is a good thing, but it means nothing, and is nothing, without constancy in every kind of effort. If you had the abilities of all the great men, past and present, you could do nothing well without sincerely meaning it and setting about it. If you entertain the supposition that any real success, in great things or in small, ever was or could be, ever will or can be, wrested from Fortune by fits and starts, leave that wrong idea here or leave your cousin Ada here. (13.119)

    The problem with principles is that they can only come from within, so this speech Jarndyce busts out with as Richard is leaving for his doctor apprenticeship is useless. Still, it's good advice, meaning basically "apply yourself, doofus."

    "How I hoped you would begin, and how go on, I told you when we spoke of these things last," said Mr. Jarndyce in a cordial and encouraging manner. "You have not made that beginning yet, but there is a time for all things, and yours is not gone by; rather, it is just now fully come. Make a clear beginning altogether. You two (very young, my dears) are cousins. As yet, you are nothing more. What more may come must come of being worked out, Rick, and no sooner."

    "You are very hard with me, sir," said Richard. "Harder than I could have supposed you would be."

    "My dear boy," said Mr. Jarndyce, "I am harder with myself when I do anything that gives you pain. You have your remedy in your own hands. Ada, it is better for him that he should be free and that there should be no youthful engagement between you. Rick, it is better for her, much better; you owe it to her. Come! Each of you will do what is best for the other, if not what is best for yourselves." (24.21-27)

    Yeah, like we just said – no amount of good advice is worth anything unless it's internalized. So we're back to square one with Richard here. Jarndyce switches tactics, this time going with "try not to drag the woman you love down with you," but this doesn't really work either.

    "George," says Mr. Bagnet. "You know me. It's my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained. Wait till the greens is off her mind. Then we'll consult. Whatever the old girl says, do--do it!"

    "I intend to, Mat," replies the other. "I would sooner take her opinion than that of a college." [...]

    "She is a treasure!" exclaims Mr. George.

    "She's more. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained. [...] I never saw the old girl's equal. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained!" (27.85-95)

    Dickens took a lot of flak for Esther's superhuman perfection, but what about Mrs. Bagnet? Shmoop is really intimidated by how crazily awesome a mother, wife, and businessperson she is. Is there a connection between Bagnet's principle to never tell his wife how perfect she is and Jarndyce's principle to avoid being thanked for stuff?

    "My dear Caddy!" said Mr. Jellyby, looking slowly round from the wail. It was the first time, I think, I ever heard him say three words together.

    "Yes, Pa!" cried Caddy, going to him and embracing him affectionately.

    "My dear Caddy," said Mr. Jellyby. "Never have--"

    "Not Prince, Pa?" faltered Caddy. "Not have Prince?"

    "Yes, my dear," said Mr. Jellyby. "Have him, certainly. But, never have--"

    I mentioned in my account of our first visit in Thavies Inn that Richard described Mr. Jellyby as frequently opening his mouth after dinner without saying anything. It was a habit of his. He opened his mouth now a great many times and shook his head in a melancholy manner.

    "What do you wish me not to have? Don't have what, dear Pa?" asked Caddy, coaxing him, with her arms round his neck.

    "Never have a mission, my dear child." (30.75-82)

    Oh jeez, what a totally destroyed guy Mr. Jellyby is! Still, it's one of the oldest tricks in the book: if you have a character who remains almost entirely silent, the one thing that comes out of his mouth will be totally revelatory. Is there any better summary for how the Jellybys went off the rails?

    "But is the secret safe so far?" I asked. "Is it safe now, dearest mother?"

    "No," replied my mother. "It has been very near discovery. It was saved by an accident. It may be lost by another accident--to-morrow, any day."

    "Do you dread a particular person?"

    "Hush! Do not tremble and cry so much for me. I am not worthy of these tears," said my mother, kissing my hands. "I dread one person very much."

    "An enemy?"

    "Not a friend. One who is too passionless to be either. He is Sir Leicester Dedlock's lawyer, mechanically faithful without attachment, and very jealous of the profit, privilege, and reputation of being master of the mysteries of great houses." [...]

    "Has he so little pity or compunction?"

    "He has none, and no anger. He is indifferent to everything but his calling. His calling is the acquisition of secrets and the holding possession of such power as they give him, with no sharer or opponent in it." (36.39-50)

    Many characters try to figure out what principles are driving Tulkinghorn. Here Lady Dedlock paints him as an unstoppable, barely human form of evil, "mechanical" and "indifferent." The scariest bad guys tend to be motiveless and emotionless – think Shakespeare's Iago from Othello, the Borg from Star Trek, or that planet-brain from Solaris. The less we understand them, the scarier they are.

    The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble. (39.4-6)

    This really threw down the gauntlet when Dickens printed it. There were a bazillion letters to the editor in the Times complaining about how unfair this was, how it paints lawyers with too broad a brush, how lawyers are totally principled and honest people, and any number of other indignant declarations. And yet the bad reputation of lawyers persists to this day.

    "I would rather be hanged in my own way. And I mean to be! I don't intend to say," looking round upon us with his powerful arms akimbo and his dark eyebrows raised, "that I am more partial to being hanged than another man. What I say is, I must come off clear and full or not at all. Therefore, when I hear stated against me what is true, I say it's true; and when they tell me, 'whatever you say will be used,' I tell them I don't mind that; I mean it to be used. If they can't make me innocent out of the whole truth, they are not likely to do it out of anything less, or anything else. And if they are, it's worth nothing to me." [...]

    "Why, George," exclaimed Mrs. Bagnet, who had been unpacking her basket, in which there was a piece of cold pickled pork, a little tea and sugar, and a brown loaf, "you ought to know it don't. You ought to know it's enough to drive a person wild to hear you. You won't be got off this way, and you won't be got off that way--what do you mean by such picking and choosing? It's stuff and nonsense, George." (52.54-65)

    This is a really great philosophical discussion hidden in very character-driven dialog. George and Mrs. Bagnet are debating whether it's better to stick to principles no matter what, or to be practical and make choices based on the situation at hand. This is still a pretty relevant debate. Check out, for instance, the two different types of Supreme Court judge: conservatives, who believe in "originalism" (basically that there is just one interpretation of the US Constitution) and liberals, who argue that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be reinterpreted according to the times.

  • Duty

    [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.

    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.

    [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?

    "It had been called, before [Tom Jarndyce's] time, the Peaks. He gave it its present name [Bleak House] and lived here shut up, day and night poring over the wicked heaps of papers in the suit and hoping against hope to disentangle it from its mystification and bring it to a close. In the meantime, the place became dilapidated [...] There is, in that city of London there, some property of ours which is much at this day what Bleak House was then [...] a street of perishing blind houses, with their eyes stoned out, without a pane of glass, without so much as a window-frame, with the bare blank shutters tumbling from their hinges and falling asunder, the iron rails peeling away in flakes of rust, the chimneys sinking in, the stone steps to every door (and every door might be death's door) turning stagnant green, the very crutches on which the ruins are propped decaying." (8.22-26)

    So wait, does the Jarndyce lawsuit secretly deal with the property we know as Tom-all-Alone's? Are those slums so horrible because they don't belong to anyone, so no one is responsible for their upkeep?

    "It has been observed that [Mrs. Jellyby's] young family are excluded from participation in the objects to which she is devoted. She may be right, she may be wrong; but, right or wrong, this is not my course with MY [Mrs. Pardiggle's] young family. I take them everywhere. [...] They attend matins with me (very prettily done) at half-past six o'clock in the morning all the year round, including of course the depth of winter," said Mrs. Pardiggle rapidly, "and they are with me during the revolving duties of the day. I am a School lady, I am a Visiting lady, I am a Reading lady, I am a Distributing lady; I am on the local Linen Box Committee and many general committees; and my canvassing alone is very extensive--perhaps no one's more so. But they are my companions everywhere; and by these means they acquire that knowledge of the poor, and that capacity of doing charitable business in general--in short, that taste for the sort of thing--which will render them in after life a service to their neighbours and a satisfaction to themselves. My young family are not frivolous; they expend the entire amount of their allowance in subscriptions, under my direction; and they have attended as many public meetings and listened to as many lectures, orations, and discussions as generally fall to the lot of few grown people. Alfred (five), who, as I mentioned, has of his own election joined the Infant Bonds of Joy, was one of the very few children who manifested consciousness on that occasion after a fervid address of two hours from the chairman of the evening." (8.62-65)

    Usually the idea of duty is a positive and life-affirming one in the novel. People who see to their duties – like Jo's sweeping the steps to Nemo's cemetery – tend to be emotionally and morally superior to those who shirk them. But here we've got duty used as a weapon and borderline child abuse.

    "We have here among us, my friends," says Chadband, "a Gentile and a heathen [...] a brother and a boy. [...] When this young hardened heathen told us a story of a cock, and of a bull, and of a lady, and of a sovereign, was THAT the Terewth? No. Or if it was partly, was it wholly and entirely? No, my friends, no!" [...] All this time Jo has been standing on the spot where he woke up, ever picking his cap and putting bits of fur in his mouth. He spits them out with a remorseful air, for he feels that it is in his nature to be an unimprovable reprobate and that it's no good HIS trying to keep awake, for HE won't never know nothink. [...] Jo never heard of any such book [the Bible]. Its compilers and the Reverend Chadband are all one to him, except that he knows the Reverend Chadband and would rather run away from him for an hour than hear him talk for five minutes. "It an't no good my waiting here no longer," thinks Jo. "Mr. Snagsby an't a-going to say nothink to me to-night." And downstairs he shuffles.

    But downstairs is the charitable Guster, holding by the handrail of the kitchen stairs and warding off a fit, as yet doubtfully, the same having been induced by Mrs. Snagsby's screaming. She has her own supper of bread and cheese to hand to Jo, with whom she ventures to interchange a word or so for the first time.

    "Here's something to eat, poor boy," says Guster. (25.19-46)

    First of all, when Chadband says "Terewth," we're meant to sound it out – it's his totally obnoxious pronunciation of the word "truth." So the contrast between Chadband yelling at Jo (in a way that's not only shaming but also totally over the boy's head) and Guster feeding him is pretty self-explanatory. There is a bit of a contradiction here, though, because what Guster does is not enough. Jo does need to know about Jesus and the Bible, according to the narrator, and it's someone's duty to teach him. So Chadband apparently has the right idea – the problem is that he's a pompous jerk.

    Mr. Tulkinghorn comes and goes pretty often, there being estate business to do, leases to be renewed, and so on. He sees my Lady pretty often, too; and he and she are as composed, and as indifferent, and take as little heed of one another, as ever. Yet it may be that my Lady fears this Mr. Tulkinghorn and that he knows it. It may be that he pursues her doggedly and steadily, with no touch of compunction, remorse, or pity. It may be that her beauty and all the state and brilliancy surrounding her only gives him the greater zest for what he is set upon and makes him the more inflexible in it. Whether he be cold and cruel, whether immovable in what he has made his duty, whether absorbed in love of power, whether determined to have nothing hidden from him in ground where he has burrowed among secrets all his life, whether he in his heart despises the splendour of which he is a distant beam, whether he is always treasuring up slights and offences in the affability of his gorgeous clients--whether he be any of this, or all of this, it may be that my Lady had better have five thousand pairs of fashionable eyes upon her, in distrustful vigilance, than the two eyes of this rusty lawyer with his wisp of neckcloth and his dull black breeches tied with ribbons at the knees. (29.3)

    Finally we get some answers about Tulkinghorn. Here is a whole bunch of possible explanations for why he does what he does – and apparently feels he is duty-bound to do. It might be for all these reasons or just for some of them, but the narrator pretty strongly argues that it's at least one thing from this list. What's interesting is that as soon as he has understandable motivations, Tulkinghorn is immediately made more human. Now he has "zeal" and gets offended by insults rather than just being some kind of evil machine.

    "Mr. Carstone has laid down the principle of watching his own interests," said Mr. Vholes, "and when a client lays down his own principle, and it is not immoral, it devolves upon me to carry it out. I wish in business to be exact and open. I am a widower with three daughters--Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my desire is so to discharge the duties of life as to leave them a good name. This appears to be a pleasant spot, miss."

    [...] I asked Mr. Vholes if he would like to live altogether in the country.

    "There, miss," said he, "you touch me on a tender string. My health is not good (my digestion being much impaired), and if I had only myself to consider, I should take refuge in rural habits, especially as the cares of business have prevented me from ever coming much into contact with general society, and particularly with ladies' society, which I have most wished to mix in. But with my three daughters, Emma, Jane, and Caroline--and my aged father--I cannot afford to be selfish. It is true I have no longer to maintain a dear grandmother who died in her hundred and second year, but enough remains to render it indispensable that the mill should be always going." (37.138-145)

    What's great about Dickens is that nothing is ever totally, completely cut and dry. So all along we've been told that you have to take care of your family and your house before you even start thinking about anything else – your primary duty is deal with your domestic situation. So what do we make of Vholes, here, who is clearly a negative, weird, vampiric character but is totally devoted to his kids and his dad?

    Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, right reverends and wrong reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day. (47.140)

    Dickens has a message for us here: Yeah, you lazy, good-for-nothing readers. Now get off your butts and do something to make things better!

    "Now, George," says Mr. Bucket, "duty is duty, and friendship is friendship. I never want the two to clash if I can help it. I have endeavoured to make things pleasant to-night, and I put it to you whether I have done it or not. You must consider yourself in custody, George."

    "Custody? What for?" returns the trooper, thunderstruck.

    "Now, George," says Mr. Bucket, urging a sensible view of the case upon him with his fat forefinger, "duty, as you know very well, is one thing, and conversation is another. It's my duty to inform you that any observations you may make will be liable to be used against you. Therefore, George, be careful what you say. You don't happen to have heard of a murder?" [...] With his upholsterer manner, as if the trooper were a window to be fitted up, he takes from his pocket a pair of handcuffs. "This is a serious charge, George, and such is my duty." [...] Mr. Bucket adjusts them in a moment. "How do you find them? Are they comfortable? If not, say so, for I wish to make things as pleasant as is consistent with my duty, and I've got another pair in my pocket." This remark he offers like a most respectable tradesman anxious to execute an order neatly and to the perfect satisfaction of his customer. (49.94-111)

    There's an interesting clash here. Bucket is fixated on telling George the difference between content and manner. He sounds like a "friend" and is talking like this is a "conversation," but in reality he's acting totally out of his duty as a cop. Meanwhile, the narrator is coming at this from a different angle, comparing Bucket to an "upholsterer" or a "tradesman" trying to please a customer rather than someone with legal power over George. Is this difference in style and substance what makes us like Bucket?

  • Guilt and Blame

    […] instead of finding Mr. Skimpole stretched upon the bed or prostrate on the floor, I found him standing before the fire smiling at Richard, while Richard, with a face of great embarrassment, looked at a person on the sofa, in a white great-coat, with smooth hair upon his head and not much of it, which he was wiping smoother and making less of with a pocket-handkerchief. [...] "Mr. Skimpole," said Richard to me, "has a delicacy in applying to my cousin Jarndyce because he has lately--I think, sir, I understood you that you had lately--" [...] Richard and I looked at one another again. It was a most singular thing that the arrest was our embarrassment and not Mr. Skimpole's. He observed us with a genial interest, but there seemed, if I may venture on such a contradiction, nothing selfish in it. He had entirely washed his hands of the difficulty, and it had become ours. (6.90-106)

    Wow, that's some powerful social conditioning right there. Someone clearly has to feel ashamed in this situation, and if Skimpole isn't going to do it then Richard and Esther will step right up.

    I sat down and said after a little effort to be as calm as I ought to be, "One of my earliest remembrances, guardian, is of these words: 'Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace, and you were hers. The time will come, and soon enough, when you will understand this better, and will feel it too, as no one save a woman can.'" I had covered my face with my hands in repeating the words, but I took them away now with a better kind of shame, I hope, and told him that to him I owed the blessing that I had from my childhood to that hour never, never, never felt it. (17.96)

    Miss Barbary is a master of psychological abuse. She inflicts Esther with guilt for having been born, guilt for intruding into her godmother's life, guilt for whatever nameless thing happened to her mother, sexual guilt before the fact (since this horrible thing is only known by women), and the anticipation of more guilt ("soon enough"). Man!

    "It's brought into my head, master," returns the woman, her eyes filling with tears, "when I look down at the child lying so. If it was never to wake no more, you'd think me mad, I should take on so. I know that very well. I was with Jenny when she lost hers--warn't I, Jenny?--and I know how she grieved. But look around you at this place. Look at them," glancing at the sleepers on the ground. "Look at the boy you're waiting for, who's gone out to do me a good turn. Think of the children that your business lays with often and often, and that YOU see grow up! [...] I have been a-thinking, being over-tired to-night and not well with the ague, of all the many things that'll come in his way. My master will be against it, and he'll be beat, and see me beat, and made to fear his home, and perhaps to stray wild. If I work for him ever so much, and ever so hard, there's no one to help me; and if he should be turned bad 'spite of all I could do, and the time should come when I should sit by him in his sleep, made hard and changed, an't it likely I should think of him as he lies in my lap now and wish he had died as Jenny's child died!" (22.83-85)

    Yeesh. Shmoop dares you not to tear up a little at this one. Liz feels so prematurely guilty about the horrible life her child will lead that she wishes him dead, despite how insane with grief this would leave her. Then, of course, she feels horrible for even thinking such a thing. Not easy to be a mom in the slums of Victorian London!

    "I [Richard] was born into this unfinished contention with all its chances and changes, and it began to unsettle me before I quite knew the difference between a suit at law and a suit of clothes; and it has gone on unsettling me ever since; and here I am now, conscious sometimes that I am but a worthless fellow to love my confiding cousin Ada."

    We were in a solitary place, and he put his hands before his eyes and sobbed as he said the words.

    "Oh, Richard!" said I. "Do not be so moved. You have a noble nature, and Ada's love may make you worthier every day."

    "I know, my dear," he replied, pressing my arm, "I know all that. You mustn't mind my being a little soft now, for I have had all this upon my mind for a long time, and have often meant to speak to you, and have sometimes wanted opportunity and sometimes courage. I know what the thought of Ada ought to do for me, but it doesn't do it. I am too unsettled even for that. I love her most devotedly, and yet I do her wrong, in doing myself wrong, every day and hour." (23.38-45)

    Many of the characters in the novel have opportunities to figure out key things about themselves. Richard is totally self-aware and knows what an idiotic and useless life he is leading, but he still can't stop. Why are characters who understand their problem still not able to solve it?

    "So, Miss Summerson," [Mrs. Woodcourt] would say to me with stately triumph, "this, you see, is the fortune inherited by my son. Wherever my son goes, he can claim kindred with Ap-Kerrig. He may not have money, but he always has what is much better--family, my dear." (30.4)

    Esther is frequently being made to feel bad about various aspects of herself – here because of her questionable birth and parents. Is this a way to tone down how totally and unrealistically perfect her character is?

    "My little woman, why do you look at me in that way? Pray don't do it."

    "I can't help my looks," says Mrs. Snagsby, "and if I could I wouldn't."

    Mr. Snagsby, with his cough of meekness, rejoins, "Wouldn't you really, my dear?" and meditates. Then coughs his cough of trouble and says, "This is a dreadful mystery, my love! [...] Don't for goodness' sake speak to me with that bitter expression and look at me in that searching way! I beg and entreat of you not to do it. Good Lord, you don't suppose that I would go spontaneously combusting any person, my dear?"

    "I can't say," returns Mrs. Snagsby.

    On a hasty review of his unfortunate position, Mr. Snagsby "can't say" either. He is not prepared positively to deny that he may have had something to do with it. He has had something--he don't know what--to do with so much in this connexion that is mysterious that it is possible he may even be implicated, without knowing it, in the present transaction. [...] Mr. Snagsby casts his eye forlornly round the bar, gives Messrs. Weevle and Guppy good morning, assures them of the satisfaction with which he sees them uninjured, and accompanies Mrs. Snagsby from the Sol's Arms. Before night his doubt whether he may not be responsible for some inconceivable part in the catastrophe which is the talk of the whole neighbourhood is almost resolved into certainty by Mrs. Snagsby's pertinacity in that fixed gaze. His mental sufferings are so great that he entertains wandering ideas of delivering himself up to justice and requiring to be cleared if innocent and punished with the utmost rigour of the law if guilty. (23.15-37)

    Snagsby is probably the best evidence for how heavy a layer of surveillance, dread, and general self-policing lies over the world of this novel. He is totally confused about what is going on, but even his confusion somehow transforms itself into feelings of guilt (as opposed to, say, curiosity).

    "I must keep this secret, if by any means it can be kept, not wholly for myself. I have a husband, wretched and dishonouring creature that I am!"

    These words [Lady Dedlock] uttered with a suppressed cry of despair, more terrible in its sound than any shriek. Covering her face with her hands, she shrank down in my embrace as if she were unwilling that I should touch her; nor could I, by my utmost persuasions or by any endearments I could use, prevail upon her to rise. She said, no, no, no, she could only speak to me so; she must be proud and disdainful everywhere else; she would be humbled and ashamed there, in the only natural moments of her life. (36.36-37)

    So Shmoop has read a bunch of Dickens's other novels, and it's a little weird that Lady Dedlock's guilt comes out as a fear that Esther will touch her. Why is it weird? Because in several of the other novels, the women who don't want to be touched when they are feeling guilty are prostitutes (see Little Dorrit for example, or Oliver Twist).

    I must say for Mr. Guppy that the snuffling manner he had had upon him improved very much. He seemed truly glad to be able to do something I asked, and he looked ashamed. [...] must do Mr. Guppy the further justice of saying that he had looked more and more ashamed and that he looked most ashamed and very earnest when he now replied with a burning face, "Upon my word and honour, upon my life, upon my soul, Miss Summerson, as I am a living man, I'll act according to your wish! I'll never go another step in opposition to it. I'll take my oath to it if it will be any satisfaction to you. In what I promise at this present time touching the matters now in question," continued Mr. Guppy rapidly, as if he were repeating a familiar form of words, "I speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." (38.68-70)

    Why is Guppy so terrified that Esther might insist on their engagement? Well, back then engagements were legally binding, and men who broke them off could be sued for damages. The idea was to prevent guys from getting engaged, sleeping with their fiancées, then running off leaving behind what Victorians considered damaged goods. Yeah, double yuck.

    Jo is brought in. He is not one of Mrs. Pardiggle's Tockahoopo Indians; he is not one of Mrs. Jellyby's lambs, being wholly unconnected with Borrioboola-Gha; he is not softened by distance and unfamiliarity; he is not a genuine foreign-grown savage; he is the ordinary home-made article. Dirty, ugly, disagreeable to all the senses, in body a common creature of the common streets, only in soul a heathen. Homely filth begrimes him, homely parasites devour him, homely sores are in him, homely rags are on him; native ignorance, the growth of English soil and climate, sinks his immortal nature lower than the beasts that perish. Stand forth, Jo, in uncompromising colours! From the sole of thy foot to the crown of thy head, there is nothing interesting about thee.

    He shuffles slowly into Mr. George's gallery and stands huddled together in a bundle, looking all about the floor. He seems to know that they have an inclination to shrink from him, partly for what he is and partly for what he has caused. He, too, shrinks from them. He is not of the same order of things, not of the same place in creation. He is of no order and no place, neither of the beasts nor of humanity. (47.39-40)

    There is a nice contrast here. The narrator spends a lot of time describing Jo like something you could buy from a store – he's an "article" (meaning a piece of goods), he's "home-made", everything about him is "homely" (meaning "from home" back then, not ugly). Or maybe he's like a zoo exhibit – "lower than beasts," "grown on English soil." But a beat later, Jo feels guilty for infecting Charley and then Esther with his contagious fever. In our eyes, this restores his humanity, but in his eyes his crime makes him lower than animals.

    "And mind once more, ma'am [Mrs. Rouncewell], what you had best do on finding George to be your own son is to make him--for your sake--have every sort of help to put himself in the right and clear himself of a charge of which he is as innocent as you or me. It won't do to have truth and justice on his side; he must have law and lawyers," exclaims the old girl, apparently persuaded that the latter form a separate establishment and have dissolved partnership with truth and justice for ever and a day. (55.10)

    For Dickens, the legal system has nothing to do with truth or justice. George's guilt or innocence is irrelevant; he just needs to be sure he gets a good lawyer.

  • Rules and Order

    Well may the court be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the fog hang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may the stained-glass windows lose their colour and admit no light of day into the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to the roof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks into the lantern that has no light in it and where the attendant wigs are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give--who does not often give--the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!" (1.6)

    Of course the Court is totally dysfunctional and whatever rules it has are completely useless in the face of the nonsensical, dragged-out cases. And yet, isn't there a kind of order in the way the Chancery is tying all the bad institutions together here? Madhouses, cemeteries, blighted lands, beggars – all now neatly connected through this one institution.

    Under cover of the night, the feeble-minded beadle comes flitting about Chancery Lane with his summonses, in which every juror's name is wrongly spelt, and nothing rightly spelt but the beadle's own name, which nobody can read or wants to know. [...] At the appointed hour arrives the coroner, for whom the jurymen are waiting. [...] He takes a Windsor-chair at the head of a long table formed of several short tables put together and ornamented with glutinous rings in endless involutions, made by pots and glasses. As many of the jury as can crowd together at the table sit there. The rest get among the spittoons and pipes or lean against the piano. Over the coroner's head is a small iron garland, the pendant handle of a bell, which rather gives the majesty of the court the appearance of going to be hanged presently. [The Inquest officials] go out in a loose procession, something after the manner of a straggling funeral, and make their inspection in Mr. Krook's back second floor, from which a few of the jurymen retire pale and precipitately. The beadle is very careful that two gentlemen not very neat about the cuffs and buttons (for whose accommodation he has provided a special little table near the coroner in the Harmonic Meeting Room) should see all that is to be seen. For they are the public chroniclers of such inquiries by the line; and he is not superior to the universal human infirmity, but hopes to read in print what "Mooney, the active and intelligent beadle of the district," said and did. (11.60-71)

    Here is another confused, disorderly, and fairly useless court, assembled to determine whether Nemo's death was an accident or a suicide.

    Name, Jo. Nothing else that he knows on. Don't know that everybody has two names. Never heerd of sich a think. Don't know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for HIM. HE don't find no fault with it. Spell it? No. HE can't spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school. What's home? Knows a broom's a broom, and knows it's wicked to tell a lie. Don't recollect who told him about the broom or about the lie, but knows both. Can't exactly say what'll be done to him arter he's dead if he tells a lie to the gentlemen here, but believes it'll be something wery bad to punish him, and serve him right--and so he'll tell the truth.

    "This won't do, gentlemen!" says the coroner with a melancholy shake of the head.

    "Don't you think you can receive his evidence, sir?" asks an attentive juryman.

    "Out of the question," says the coroner. "You have heard the boy. 'Can't exactly say' won't do, you know. We can't take THAT in a court of justice, gentlemen. It's terrible depravity. Put the boy aside." (11.79-82)

    With heavy irony we see that the inquest court is so totally backwards that it dismisses the one witness who would actually be able to tell them something – anything at all – about the dead guy. Jo has grown up in a system that failed to teach him about the Bible and its rules about right and wrong. Now that same system decides that because he doesn't know those things, he can't have a civic life.

    The old man, looking up at the cages after another look at us, went through the list.

    "Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach. That's the whole collection," said the old man, "all cooped up together, by my noble and learned brother."

    "This is a bitter wind!" muttered my guardian.

    "When my noble and learned brother gives his judgment, they're to be let go free," said Krook, winking at us again. "And then," he added, whispering and grinning, "if that ever was to happen--which it won't--the birds that have never been caged would kill 'em." (14.151-154)

    In a way Miss Flite's rules about her birds (the first rule of the birds is that you do not talk about the birds!) is about as arbitrary as Chancery. It's about as fair and makes just about as much sense.

    "There again!" said Mr. Gridley with no diminution of his rage. "The system! I am told on all hands, it's the system. I mustn't look to individuals. It's the system. I mustn't go into court and say, 'My Lord, I beg to know this from you--is this right or wrong? Have you the face to tell me I have received justice and therefore am dismissed?' My Lord knows nothing of it. He sits there to administer the system. I mustn't go to Mr. Tulkinghorn, the solicitor in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and say to him when he makes me furious by being so cool and satisfied--as they all do, for I know they gain by it while I lose, don't I?--I mustn't say to him, 'I will have something out of some one for my ruin, by fair means or foul!' HE is not responsible. It's the system. (15.112)

    Gridley's raving against the system has kind of a modern-day sound, doesn't it? What do you think about this distinction (which is made in other places in the novel, too) – that it's not the individuals that are the problem (the judge himself might be nice enough) but the giant institution as a whole. How could you fix such a big thing? Is this a copout?

    The house, though a little disorderly in comparison with the garden, was a real old house with settles in the chimney of the brick-floored kitchen and great beams across the ceilings. On one side of it was the terrible piece of ground in dispute, where Mr. Boythorn maintained a sentry in a smock-frock day and night, whose duty was supposed to be, in cases of aggression, immediately to ring a large bell hung up there for the purpose, to unchain a great bull-dog established in a kennel as his ally, and generally to deal destruction on the enemy. Not content with these precautions, Mr. Boythorn had himself composed and posted there, on painted boards to which his name was attached in large letters, the following solemn warnings: "Beware of the bull-dog. He is most ferocious. Lawrence Boythorn." "The blunderbus is loaded with slugs. Lawrence Boythorn." "Man-traps and spring-guns are set here at all times of the day and night. Lawrence Boythorn." "Take notice. That any person or persons audaciously presuming to trespass on this property will be punished with the utmost severity of private chastisement and prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Lawrence Boythorn." These he showed us from the drawing-room window, while his bird was hopping about his head, and he laughed, "Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha!" to that extent as he pointed them out that I really thought he would have hurt himself. (18.35-37)

    Here is a nice example of someone taking the law into his own hands. We do know that Boythorn and Dedlock have been suing and countersuing each other for a long time, but here we see firsthand that, however those lawsuits come out, the enforcement still rests with the people involved.

    I think it came on "for further directions"--about some bill of costs, to the best of my understanding, which was confused enough. But I counted twenty-three gentlemen in wigs who said they were "in it," and none of them appeared to understand it much better than I. They chatted about it with the Lord Chancellor, and contradicted and explained among themselves, and some of them said it was this way, and some of them said it was that way, and some of them jocosely proposed to read huge volumes of affidavits, and there was more buzzing and laughing, and everybody concerned was in a state of idle entertainment, and nothing could be made of it by anybody. After an hour or so of this, and a good many speeches being begun and cut short, it was "referred back for the present," as Mr. Kenge said, and the papers were bundled up again before the clerks had finished bringing them in. (24.87-88)

    Look at the way Esther struggles to figure out what's going on in the Court. She tries to be as specific as possible: there is the official, technical language that she is trying to use in context and also define ("for further directions," "in it," "referred back for the present"); and she has counted the number of solicitors ("twenty-three") and timed the proceedings ("an hour or so"). She gives up on describing the actual content of the speeches: all we see is the confusion of some people arguing this way and some "that way." Then she changes tactics and works on the emotional description: check out her shock at the way the lawyers are laughing at something that so tragically affects the lives of people she knows.

    "My dear," said she as she carefully folded up her scarf and gloves, "my brave physician ought to have a title bestowed upon him. And no doubt he will. You are of that opinion?"

    That he well deserved one, yes. That he would ever have one, no.

    "Why not, Fitz Jarndyce?" she asked rather sharply.

    I said it was not the custom in England to confer titles on men distinguished by peaceful services, however good and great, unless occasionally when they consisted of the accumulation of some very large amount of money.

    "Why, good gracious," said Miss Flite, "how can you say that? Surely you know, my dear, that all the greatest ornaments of England in knowledge, imagination, active humanity, and improvement of every sort are added to its nobility! Look round you, my dear, and consider. YOU must be rambling a little now, I think, if you don't know that this is the great reason why titles will always last in the land!"

    I am afraid she believed what she said, for there were moments when she was very mad indeed. (35.112-117)

    Sometimes the novel goes into full-on mockery mode. This passage is meant to be read tongue-in-cheek, because back then England really didn't regularly give titles for non-military achievements – something Dickens clearly thinks is "very mad indeed." Why? Well let's see, who would stand to get such a title for excellence and general awesomeness if they were given out to people for "imagination" and "active humanity"?

    "Miss Summerson," stammered Mr. Guppy, "I--I--beg your pardon, but in our profession--we--we--find it necessary to be explicit. You have referred to an occasion, miss, when I--when I did myself the honour of making a declaration which-- [...] My intention was to remark, miss," said Mr. Guppy, "dear me-- something bronchial, I think--hem!--to remark that you was so good on that occasion as to repel and repudiate that declaration. You-- you wouldn't perhaps object to admit that? Though no witnesses are present, it might be a satisfaction to--to your mind--if you was to put in that admission."

    "There can be no doubt," said I, "that I declined your proposal without any reservation or qualification whatever, Mr. Guppy."

    "Thank you, miss," he returned, measuring the table with his troubled hands. "So far that's satisfactory, and it does you credit. Er--this is certainly bronchial!--must be in the tubes-- er--you wouldn't perhaps be offended if I was to mention--not that it's necessary, for your own good sense or any person's sense must show 'em that--if I was to mention that such declaration on my part was final, and there terminated?

    "I quite understand that," said I.

    "Perhaps--er--it may not be worth the form, but it might be a satisfaction to your mind--perhaps you wouldn't object to admit that, miss?" said Mr. Guppy.

    "I admit it most fully and freely," said I.

    "Thank you," returned Mr. Guppy. "Very honourable, I am sure. I regret that my arrangements in life, combined with circumstances over which I have no control, will put it out of my power ever to fall back upon that offer or to renew it in any shape or form whatever, but it will ever be a retrospect entwined--er--with friendship's bowers." Mr. Guppy's bronchitis came to his relief and stopped his measurement of the table. (38.51-61)

    This is the scene where Guppy wants to make sure the disfigured Esther is not going to hold him to his offer to marry her. Shmoop is loving that he needs her to rephrase everything she says in more legal terms. "I understand" isn't good enough, so she has to rephrase it to the more formal "I admit." It's always funny to see Guppy speak as though examining a witness, and this conversation takes this to a hilarious new extreme.

    "Look, mistress, this is the key of my wine-cellar. It is a large key, but the keys of prisons are larger. In this city there are houses of correction (where the treadmills are, for women), the gates of which are very strong and heavy, and no doubt the keys too. I am afraid a lady of your spirit and activity would find it an inconvenience to have one of those keys turned upon her for any length of time. [...] the law is so despotic here that it interferes to prevent any of our good English citizens from being troubled, even by a lady's visits against his desire. And on his complaining that he is so troubled, it takes hold of the troublesome lady and shuts her up in prison under hard discipline." (42.64-68)

    This is Tulkinghorn threatening Hortense. Here he admits to her that he could have her locked up (totally illegally) for as long as he wants to. Some of his bravado here probably has to do with the fact that she's a foreigner, with fewer civil rights in England. But some also has to do with the fact the she is a woman, with inherently less power than him. Even if she were to go to the police, whose story would they believe?

  • Poverty

    Then the active and intelligent [beadle], who has got into the morning papers as such, comes with his pauper company to Mr. Krook's and bears off the body of our dear brother here departed to a hemmed-in churchyard, pestiferous and obscene, whence malignant diseases are communicated to the bodies of our dear brothers and sisters who have not departed, while our dear brothers and sisters who hang about official back-stairs--would to heaven they HAD departed!--are very complacent and agreeable. Into a beastly scrap of ground which a Turk would reject as a savage abomination and a Caffre would shudder at, they bring our dear brother here departed to receive Christian burial.

    With houses looking on, on every side, save where a reeking little tunnel of a court gives access to the iron gate--with every villainy of life in action close on death, and every poisonous element of death in action close on life--here they lower our dear brother down a foot or two, here sow him in corruption, to be raised in corruption: an avenging ghost at many a sick-bedside, a shameful testimony to future ages how civilization and barbarism walked this boastful island together. (11.96-97)

    This is a pretty powerful indictment, right? There are a lot of reasons this passage is so powerful. There's the language of course. The horror of the burial ground contrasted and beaten home with the repetition of "dear brothers and sisters" (a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer's burial service). The not particularly politically correct point that Christian people shouldn't do to their dead what those who practice "inferior" religions (Turks, Caffres) would never do. And then, going along with the best science of the time, the idea that cemeteries are disease ridden and generate contagious miasma. This was just two years before the germ theory of disease came into widespread knowledge, when John Snow showed that the London cholera epidemic of 1854 could only statistically be explained by contagion through germs. Before that, the belief was that disease spread through "miasma," a kind of bad air that came from dirty places.

    In a poor room with a sloping ceiling and containing very little furniture was a mite of a boy, some five or six years old, nursing and hushing a heavy child of eighteen months. There was no fire, though the weather was cold; both children were wrapped in some poor shawls and tippets as a substitute. [...] We were looking at one another and at these two children when there came into the room a very little girl, childish in figure but shrewd and older-looking in the face--pretty-faced too--wearing a womanly sort of bonnet much too large for her and drying her bare arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers were white and wrinkled with washing, and the soap-suds were yet smoking which she wiped off her arms. [...]

    "Oh, here's Charley!" said the boy.

    The child he was nursing stretched forth its arms and cried out to be taken by Charley. The little girl took it, in a womanly sort of manner belonging to the apron and the bonnet, and stood looking at us over the burden that clung to her most affectionately.

    "Is it possible," whispered my guardian as we put a chair for the little creature and got her to sit down with her load, the boy keeping close to her, holding to her apron, "that this child works for the rest? Look at this! For God's sake, look at this!"

    It was a thing to look at. The three children close together, and two of them relying solely on the third, and the third so young and yet with an air of age and steadiness that sat so strangely on the childish figure. (15.47-61)

    OK, so not to rain on the sadness parade here or anything, but this passage comes a little too close to "poverty tourism" for our liking. There are so many details, and Esther and Jarndyce stand and stare at these kids for so long, that it starts to feel a little bit like feeding time at the zoo. Or maybe Shmoop's getting a little cynical in its old age.

    Jo lives--that is to say, Jo has not yet died--in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone's. [...] It must be a strange state to be like Jo! To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and at the corners of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows! To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postmen deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language--to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb! It must be very puzzling to see the good company going to the churches on Sundays, with their books in their hands, and to think (for perhaps Jo does think at odd times) what does it all mean, and if it means anything to anybody, how comes it that it means nothing to me? To be hustled, and jostled, and moved on; and really to feel that it would appear to be perfectly true that I have no business here, or there, or anywhere; and yet to be perplexed by the consideration that I am here somehow, too, and everybody overlooked me until I became the creature that I am! It must be a strange state, not merely to be told that I am scarcely human (as in the case of my offering myself for a witness), but to feel it of my own knowledge all my life! To see the horses, dogs, and cattle go by me and to know that in ignorance I belong to them and not to the superior beings in my shape, whose delicacy I offend! Jo's ideas of a criminal trial, or a judge, or a bishop, or a government, or that inestimable jewel to him (if he only knew it) the Constitution, should be strange! His whole material and immaterial life is wonderfully strange; his death, the strangest thing of all. (16.8-12)

    This is kind of an amazing passage. For one brief paragraph, Jo suddenly gets to be the narrator of the novel. Notice how the text switches from talking about Jo in the third person ("Jo lives," "it must be strange to be like Jo") to trying to imagine his inner monologue in the first person ("I have no business here," "I am here somehow"). This isn't really in character, since Jo doesn't really know half these words, but it's pretty startling to suddenly get a glimpse inside Jo's head as he wonders what the point of his life is and thinks about how he's like a dog.

    When they come at last to Tom-all-Alone's, Mr. Bucket stops for a moment at the corner and takes a lighted bull's-eye from the constable on duty there, who then accompanies him with his own particular bull's-eye at his waist. Between his two conductors, Mr. Snagsby passes along the middle of a villainous street, undrained, unventilated, deep in black mud and corrupt water-- though the roads are dry elsewhere--and reeking with such smells and sights that he, who has lived in London all his life, can scarce believe his senses. Branching from this street and its heaps of ruins are other streets and courts so infamous that Mr. Snagsby sickens in body and mind and feels as if he were going every moment deeper down into the infernal gulf. (22.52)

    OK, just so we're all clear about what's going on here: this description has been really toned down for the sensitive Victorian audience. They of course knew what all the euphemisms really stood for, but it's one thing to know a word is implied and another to see it in print. Or something. In any case, the "undrained" street where there is "corrupt water" means there is actually raw sewage (excrement, people) dumped in the street because there are no sewers. So the "unventilated" smells Snagsby is smelling are basically just giant piles of poop. Oh, and the "infernal gulf" is hell – which in the popular imagination smells like brimstone, a.k.a. sulfur. And sulfur smells, yet again, like human waste.

    "Now, is it not a horrible reflection," said my guardian, to whom I had hastily explained the unavailing efforts of the two women, "is it not a horrible reflection," walking up and down and rumpling his hair, "that if this wretched creature [Jo] were a convicted prisoner, his hospital would be wide open to him, and he would be as well taken care of as any sick boy in the kingdom?"

    "My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, "you'll pardon the simplicity of the question, coming as it does from a creature who is perfectly simple in worldly matters, but why ISN'T he a prisoner then? [...] I confess I don't see why our young friend, in his degree, should not seek to invest himself with such poetry as is open to him. He is no doubt born with an appetite--probably, when he is in a safer state of health, he has an excellent appetite. Very well. At our young friend's natural dinner hour, most likely about noon, our young friend says in effect to society, 'I am hungry; will you have the goodness to produce your spoon and feed me?' Society, which has taken upon itself the general arrangement of the whole system of spoons and professes to have a spoon for our young friend, does NOT produce that spoon; and our young friend, therefore, says 'You really must excuse me if I seize it.' [...] In the meantime," said Mr. Skimpole cheerfully, "as Miss Summerson, with her practical good sense, observes, he is getting worse. Therefore I recommend your turning him out before he gets still worse."
    The amiable face with which he said it, I think I shall never forget. (31.75-83)

    So is this an argument against the welfare state? Because if we had lots of social welfare, then people like Skimpole would just do exactly what he is describing here and demand to be fed by society's spoon? Or is the problem that the only available welfare in Victorian England was punitive – so only bad guys in prison got food and medical care on the state's dime, while the "deserving poor" got nothing?

    "George," says Mrs. Bagnet, using both her arms for emphasis and occasionally bringing down her open hands upon her knees. "If you have allowed anything wrong to come to that security of Lignum's, and if you have let him in for it, and if you have put us in danger of being sold up--and I see sold up in your face, George, as plain as print--you have done a shameful action and have deceived us cruelly. [...] George, I am ashamed of you! George, I couldn't have believed you would have done it! I always knew you to be a rolling stone that gathered no moss, but I never thought you would have taken away what little moss there was for Bagnet and the children to lie upon. You know what a hard-working, steady-going chap he is. You know what Quebec and Malta and Woolwich are, and I never did think you would, or could, have had the heart to serve us so. Oh, George!" Mrs. Bagnet gathers up her cloak to wipe her eyes on in a very genuine manner, "How could you do it?" (34.38-40)

    This is what happens when you've got an economic system where regular people don't have access to legal credit. George had to borrow money to start up his shooting gallery business. He had no collateral, so he got Bagnet to be the co-signer on the loan. That's all well and good, but when your lender is the loan shark Smallweed rather than your local neighborhood bank – well, friends, you've got trouble right here in River City.

    [Richard] was writing at a table, with a great confusion of clothes, tin cases, books, boots, brushes, and portmanteaus strewn all about the floor. He was only half dressed--in plain clothes, I observed, not in uniform--and his hair was unbrushed, and he looked as wild as his room. (45.33)

    This is what poverty looks like when the person has kind of slowly become broke rather than being born destitute. Richard still has the trappings of the middle class – lots of unpawned stuff still lying around, potentially brushable hair, a choice of clothes. We don't see any of that for the born-poor characters.

    Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning [the bums of Tom-all-Alone's], and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. (46.2-3)

    Ooh, packed passage – lots of good stuff going on here. First of all, check out the personification of poverty! Personification is giving an inanimate object human-like qualities. So here we've got the whole problem of Tom-all-Alone's – the people, the slum, the dirt, the whole shebang – lumped into one pretend guy, "Tom." But what does it mean that the politicians think of all the poor as one big horrible mass of grossness? They don't really seem all that committed to seeing the humanity and individuality of these people.

    OK, second, here's a nice list of all the options for dealing with the poor back in the day. "Constables or beadles" can be used to force them the heck out of Dodge. We can try to get them into mainstream society through "bell-ringing" (forcibly converting them), through "figures" (political economy... and for some info about how Dickens felt about this, check out Shmoop's Hard Times Learning Guide), or through "taste" (touchy-feely liberal programs that try to develop the aesthetic senses). Another option is to make them "split trusses" (a.k.a. work on the ever-expanding railroads) or do "stone-breaking" (what it sounds like – making gravel out of big rocks...always a popular pastime for prison chain gangs as well).

    "Now, Miss Summerson," he said to me as we walked quickly away. "They've got her ladyship's watch among 'em. That's a positive fact."

    "You saw it?" I exclaimed.

    "Just as good as saw it," he returned. "Else why should he talk about his 'twenty minutes past' and about his having no watch to tell the time by? Twenty minutes! He don't usually cut his time so fine as that. If he comes to half-hours, it's as much as HE does. Now, you see, either her ladyship gave him that watch or he took it. I think she gave it him. (57.96-98)

    This is how we know that Bucket is awesome at his job. He knows these brickmakers are poor, so when he hears them refer offhandedly to a precise time, he immediately realizes they must have gotten hold of a watch. That's some Sherlock Holmes stuff right there, 35 years before that detective's debut.

    The days when I frequented that miserable corner which my dear girl [Ada] brightened can never fade in my remembrance. I never see it, and I never wish to see it now; I have been there only once since, but in my memory there is a mournful glory shining on the place which will shine for ever. (61.1)

    How different the tone is when Esther is describing the dump where Ada and Richard live, although it most likely is not that much better than Miss Flite's place.

  • Respect and Reputation

    Sir Leicester receives the gout as a troublesome demon, but still a demon of the patrician order. All the Dedlocks, in the direct male line, through a course of time during and beyond which the memory of man goeth not to the contrary, have had the gout. It can be proved, sir. Other men's fathers may have died of the rheumatism or may have taken base contagion from the tainted blood of the sick vulgar, but the Dedlock family have communicated something exclusive even to the levelling process of dying by dying of their own family gout. It has come down through the illustrious line like the plate, or the pictures, or the place in Lincolnshire. It is among their dignities. Sir Leicester is perhaps not wholly without an impression, though he has never resolved it into words, that the angel of death in the discharge of his necessary duties may observe to the shades of the aristocracy, "My lords and gentlemen, I have the honour to present to you another Dedlock certified to have arrived per the family gout." (16.2)

    You've got to love a guy who is so into getting the respect he deserves that he even classifies diseases into those that are appropriate or inappropriate to a man of his social stature. That's either totally ridiculous or kind of secretly awesome.

    Mrs. Woodcourt, after expatiating to us on the fame of her great kinsman, said that no doubt wherever her son Allan went he would remember his pedigree and would on no account form an alliance below it. She told him that there were many handsome English ladies in India who went out on speculation, and that there were some to be picked up with property, but that neither charms nor wealth would suffice for the descendant from such a line without birth, which must ever be the first consideration. She talked so much about birth that for a moment I half fancied, and with pain-- But what an idle fancy to suppose that she could think or care what MINE was! (17.112)

    So can we talk about the horror that is this woman? And that she's going to be Esther's mother-in-law? To sit there and constantly talk about how important birth is to the Woodcourt family and how high-born they are – seriously, even if Esther weren't totally into Woodcourt, this would be pretty shockingly rude.

    "Ha'n't you no relations, now," asks Grandfather Smallweed with a twinkle in his eyes, "who would pay off this little principal or who would lend you a good name or two that I could persuade my friend in the city to make you a further advance upon? Two good names would be sufficient for my friend in the city. Ha'n't you no such relations, Mr. George?"

    Mr. George, still composedly smoking, replies, "If I had, I shouldn't trouble them. I have been trouble enough to my belongings in my day. It MAY be a very good sort of penitence in a vagabond, who has wasted the best time of his life, to go back then to decent people that he never was a credit to and live upon them, but it's not my sort. The best kind of amends then for having gone away is to keep away, in my opinion." (21.18-19)

    George's credit rating suffers because he can't (or doesn't) give any references. Back in the day, before social security numbers, credit scores, and background checks, there really wasn't much to go on to evaluate someone's credit risk. It was usually just reputation-based – and you can imagine how accurate an assessment that would be. Obviously moneylenders are almost always horrible, evil characters in Victorian novels, but you can sympathize a little with how unsupported they were in their business, and the kind of financial risk out there in the days before modern banking products. OK, that's it for our finance lesson.

    "And it is a remarkable example of the confusion into which the present age has fallen; of the obliteration of landmarks, the opening of floodgates, and the uprooting of distinctions," says Sir Leicester with stately gloom, "that I have been informed by Mr. Tulkinghorn that Mrs. Rouncewell's son has been invited to go into Parliament. [...] He is called, I believe--an--ironmaster." Sir Leicester says it slowly and with gravity and doubt, as not being sure but that he is called a lead-mistress or that the right word may be some other word expressive of some other relationship to some other metal. (28.23-27)

    Sir Dedlock is floored by the idea that Rouncewell would be allowed into Parliament alongside him. Granted, they'd be in different houses: as a member of the aristocracy Dedlock is in the House of Lords, while as a commoner Rouncewell would be in the House of Commons. But still. Also, the euphemisms are great – "uprooting of distinctions" means "he should be kissing my boots." And finally we get a good sense of what Sir Dedlock values – birth – when he calls a clearly quite wealthy factory owner and iron magnate "Mrs. Rouncewell's son," a.k.a. someone born to be a servant.

    "[Mr. Rouncewell] arrived this evening shortly before dinner and requested in a very becoming note"--Sir Leicester, with his habitual regard to truth, dwells upon it--"I am bound to say, in a very becoming and well-expressed note, the favour of a short interview with yourself and myself on the subject of this young girl." [...] Mr. Rouncewell is a little over fifty perhaps, of a good figure, like his mother, and has a clear voice, a broad forehead from which his dark hair has retired, and a shrewd though open face. He is a responsible-looking gentleman dressed in black, portly enough, but strong and active. Has a perfectly natural and easy air and is not in the least embarrassed by the great presence into which he comes. [...] Sir Leicester is content enough that the ironmaster should feel that there is no hurry there; there, in that ancient house, rooted in that quiet park, where the ivy and the moss have had time to mature, and the gnarled and warted elms and the umbrageous oaks stand deep in the fern and leaves of a hundred years; and where the sun-dial on the terrace has dumbly recorded for centuries that time which was as much the property of every Dedlock--while he lasted-- as the house and lands. Sir Leicester sits down in an easy-chair, opposing his repose and that of Chesney Wold to the restless flights of ironmasters. (28.30-38)

    The text slows down here nicely to imitate the gradual, calm, long flow of Sir Dedlock's thoughts as they wander around the estate of Chesney Wold. This is in contrast with Rouncewell, who is all action and fast movement.

    Out of the court, and a long way out of it, there is considerable excitement too, for men of science and philosophy come to look, and carriages set down doctors at the corner who arrive with the same intent, and there is more learned talk about inflammable gases and phosphuretted hydrogen than the court has ever imagined. Some of these authorities (of course the wisest) hold with indignation that the deceased had no business to die in the alleged manner; and being reminded by other authorities of a certain inquiry into the evidence for such deaths reprinted in the sixth volume of the Philosophical Transactions; and also of a book not quite unknown on English medical jurisprudence; and likewise of the Italian case of the Countess Cornelia Baudi as set forth in detail by one Bianchini, prebendary of Verona, who wrote a scholarly work or so and was occasionally heard of in his time as having gleams of reason in him; and also of the testimony of Messrs. Fodere and Mere, two pestilent Frenchmen who WOULD investigate the subject; and further, of the corroborative testimony of Monsieur Le Cat, a rather celebrated French surgeon once upon a time, who had the unpoliteness to live in a house where such a case occurred and even to write an account of it--still they regard the late Mr. Krook's obstinacy in going out of the world by any such by-way as wholly unjustifiable and personally offensive. (23.91-92)

    It's not often that novelists need to make scholarly citations in their novels, but here that's just what we've got. All those names and books and bits of research Dickens cites are real-life people who claim that there's such a thing as human spontaneous combustion. Krook had combusted in the previously published part of the novel, and that nonsense was so viciously and immediately attacked by readers that the next chapter tried to restore Dickens's own reputation.

    Charley and I had reason to call [the village at Chesney Wold] the most friendly of villages, I am sure, for in a week's time the people were so glad to see us go by, though ever so frequently in the course of a day, that there were faces of greeting in every cottage. I had known many of the grown people before and almost all the children, but now the very steeple began to wear a familiar and affectionate look. Among my new friends was an old woman who lived in such a little thatched and whitewashed dwelling that when the outside shutter was turned up on its hinges, it shut up the whole house-front. This old lady had a grandson who was a sailor, and I wrote a letter to him for her and drew at the top of it the chimney-corner in which she had brought him up and where his old stool yet occupied its old place. This was considered by the whole village the most wonderful achievement in the world. [...] There were many little occurrences which suggested to me, with great consolation, how natural it is to gentle hearts to be considerate and delicate towards any inferiority. One of these particularly touched me. I happened to stroll into the little church when a marriage was just concluded, and the young couple had to sign the register.

    The bridegroom, to whom the pen was handed first, made a rude cross for his mark; the bride, who came next, did the same. Now, I had known the bride when I was last there, not only as the prettiest girl in the place, but as having quite distinguished herself in the school, and I could not help looking at her with some surprise. She came aside and whispered to me, while tears of honest love and admiration stood in her bright eyes, "He's a dear good fellow, miss; but he can't write yet--he's going to learn of me--and I wouldn't shame him for the world!" Why, what had I to fear, I thought, when there was this nobility in the soul of a labouring man's daughter! (36.13-15)

    One of the morals of the novel might be something like, "be nice and keep up your good reputation as best you can, because who knows when you'll need people to respect and admire you." Imagine if Esther hadn't made all these friends the last time she was down here and just came out of nowhere with her scary-looking scars. (They really would be scary – Google "smallpox scars" if you dare). We're betting it wouldn't have been such a love-fest.

    "You see, my dear, to save expense I ought to know something of the piano, and I ought to know something of the kit too, and consequently I have to practise those two instruments as well as the details of our profession. [...] that part of the work is, at first, a little discouraging, I must allow. But I have a very good ear, and I am used to drudgery--I have to thank Ma for that, at all events-- and where there's a will there's a way, you know, Esther, the world over." Saying these words, Caddy laughingly sat down at a little jingling square piano and really rattled off a quadrille with great spirit. Then she good-humouredly and blushingly got up again, and while she still laughed herself, said, "Don't laugh at me, please; that's a dear girl!"

    I would sooner have cried, but I did neither. I encouraged her and praised her with all my heart. For I conscientiously believed, dancing-master's wife though she was, and dancing-mistress though in her limited ambition she aspired to be, she had struck out a natural, wholesome, loving course of industry and perseverance that was quite as good as a mission. (38.21-22)

    This is actually a pretty kind thing for the novel to point out. Success isn't only achieved by those who go out there and change the world; normal, middle-of-the-road lives that are well-lived deserve our respect as well.

    England has been in a dreadful state for some weeks. Lord Coodle would go out, Sir Thomas Doodle wouldn't come in, and there being nobody in Great Britain (to speak of) except Coodle and Doodle, there has been no government. It is a mercy that the hostile meeting between those two great men, which at one time seemed inevitable, did not come off, because if both pistols had taken effect, and Coodle and Doodle had killed each other, it is to be presumed that England must have waited to be governed until young Coodle and young Doodle, now in frocks and long stockings, were grown up. This stupendous national calamity, however, was averted by Lord Coodle's making the timely discovery that if in the heat of debate he had said that he scorned and despised the whole ignoble career of Sir Thomas Doodle, he had merely meant to say that party differences should never induce him to withhold from it the tribute of his warmest admiration; while it as opportunely turned out, on the other hand, that Sir Thomas Doodle had in his own bosom expressly booked Lord Coodle to go down to posterity as the mirror of virtue and honour. (40.1)

    Ah, politicians. It's nice to know their reputation as liars and hypocrites has been around so long.

    "That is very true. If in my knowledge of the secret I do what I can to spare an innocent girl (especially, remembering your own reference to her when you told my story to the assembled guests at Chesney Wold) from the taint of my impending shame, I act upon a resolution I have taken. Nothing in the world, and no one in the world, could shake it or could move me." This she says with great deliberation and distinctness and with no more outward passion than himself. As for him, he methodically discusses his matter of business as if she were any insensible instrument used in business.

    "Really? Then you see, Lady Dedlock," he returns, "you are not to be trusted. You have put the case in a perfectly plain way, and according to the literal fact; and that being the case, you are not to be trusted. [...] As to sparing the girl, of what importance or value is she? Spare! Lady Dedlock, here is a family name compromised. One might have supposed that the course was straight on--over everything, neither to the right nor to the left, regardless of all considerations in the way, sparing nothing, treading everything under foot." (48.101-105)

    It's interesting...when Lady Dedlock and Tulkinghorn are talking here about the "innocent girl" who should be "spared," they mean Rosa, the maid. But the way the dialogue is structured, they could just as easily be talking about Esther and how her life would be affected if this secret were to come out. A nice double-entendre. Oh, and check out how Tulkinghorn totally doesn't care about human life. He treats Lady Dedlock like an object of "business," and Rosa should just be a thing trod "under foot."

  • Love

    An ugly woman, very poorly clothed, hurried in while I was glancing at them, and coming straight up to the mother, said, "Jenny! Jenny!" The mother rose on being so addressed and fell upon the woman's neck.

    She also had upon her face and arms the marks of ill usage. She had no kind of grace about her, but the grace of sympathy; but when she condoled with the woman, and her own tears fell, she wanted no beauty. I say condoled, but her only words were "Jenny! Jenny!" All the rest was in the tone in which she said them.

    I thought it very touching to see these two women, coarse and shabby and beaten, so united; to see what they could be to one another; to see how they felt for one another, how the heart of each to each was softened by the hard trials of their lives. I think the best side of such people is almost hidden from us. What the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves and God. (8.106-108)

    Jenny and Liz's love for each other is one of the novel's true notes of grace. It lifts them out of the realm of Tom-all-Alone's and the rest of the poor miserables, and elevating them to a kind of saintly level. Notice how they are always cradling babies, like a kind of double Madonna and child painting.

    I asked my guardian as we sat at the backgammon board whether Mr. Boythorn had ever been married. [...] "You are right, little woman," he answered. "He was all but married once. Long ago. And once."

    "Did the lady die?"

    "No--but she died to him. That time has had its influence on all his later life." [...] when I was awakened by Mr. Boythorn's lusty snoring; and I tried to do that very difficult thing, imagine old people young again and invested with the graces of youth. But I fell asleep before I had succeeded, and dreamed of the days when I lived in my godmother's house. (9.58-69)

    This is such a wonderful human moment – a young Esther trying to imagine what an old dude like Boythorn was like as a young man. It just feels like exactly the kind of thought you might have in that half-awake half-asleep state.

    It was at the theatre that I began to be made uncomfortable again by Mr. Guppy [...] with his hair flattened down upon his head and woe depicted in his face, looking up at me. I felt all through the performance that he never looked at the actors but constantly looked at me, and always with a carefully prepared expression of the deepest misery and the profoundest dejection.

    It quite spoiled my pleasure for that night because it was so very embarrassing and so very ridiculous. But from that time forth, we never went to the play without my seeing Mr. Guppy in the pit, [...] I really cannot express how uneasy this made me. [...] to know that that absurd figure was always gazing at me, and always in that demonstrative state of despondency, put such a constraint upon me that I did not like to laugh at the play, or to cry at it, or to move, or to speak. I seemed able to do nothing naturally. [...] Sometimes I thought of telling Mr. Jarndyce. Then I feared that the young man would lose his situation and that I might ruin him. Sometimes I thought of confiding in Richard, but was deterred by the possibility of his fighting Mr. Guppy and giving him black eyes. Sometimes I thought, should I frown at him or shake my head. Then I felt I could not do it. Sometimes I considered whether I should write to his mother, but that ended in my being convinced that to open a correspondence would be to make the matter worse. I always came to the conclusion, finally, that I could do nothing. (13.34-37)

    It's a little chilling, isn't it, that Esther has no recourse but to be stalked by this ridiculous guy? Here it's played for laughs because he's so pathetic and clearly not dangerous, but still. Shmoop thinks there's a larger point to be made here about how powerless Esther feels in this situation despite her extreme discomfort. Is she right not to take action? Why do you think she dismisses all the possibilities in favor of "doing nothing"?

    They brought a chair on either side of me, and put me between them, and really seemed to have fallen in love with me instead of one another, they were so confiding, and so trustful, and so fond of me. They went on in their own wild way for a little while--I never stopped them; I enjoyed it too much myself-- and then we gradually fell to considering how young they were, and how there must be a lapse of several years before this early love could come to anything, and how it could come to happiness only if it were real and lasting and inspired them with a steady resolution to do their duty to each other, with constancy, fortitude, and perseverance, each always for the other's sake. Well! Richard said that he would work his fingers to the bone for Ada, and Ada said that she would work her fingers to the bone for Richard, and they called me all sorts of endearing and sensible names, and we sat there, advising and talking, half the night. (13.100)

    There is a lot of this odd setup, where Esther is somehow the middleman in the Ada-Richard relationship. She talks to Richard on Ada's behalf, brings his letters to her, and here she is literally sitting between them as they talk about their love for each other. What's the deal with that? Shmoop doesn't really get it; what do you think?

    [Gridley] drew the hand Miss Flite held through her arm and brought her something nearer to him.

    "This ends it. Of all my old associations, of all my old pursuits and hopes, of all the living and the dead world, this one poor soul alone comes natural to me, and I am fit for. There is a tie of many suffering years between us two, and it is the only tie I ever had on earth that Chancery has not broken." (24.141-142)

    The connection Gridley and Miss Flite form as two rejected Chancery suitors is rather sweet and moving. Platonic love between men and women is so rare in novels that it seems worth pointing out when it does occur.

    "Shall I tell you what I always think of you and the fortune yet to come for you, my love?" said Mrs. Woodcourt. [...] "Why, then, it is that you will marry some one very rich and very worthy, much older--five and twenty years, perhaps--than yourself. And you will be an excellent wife, and much beloved, and very happy."

    "That is a good fortune," said I. "But why is it to be mine?"

    "My dear," she returned, "there's suitability in it--you are so busy, and so neat, and so peculiarly situated altogether that there's suitability in it, and it will come to pass. And nobody, my love, will congratulate you more sincerely on such a marriage than I shall."

    It was curious that this should make me uncomfortable, but I think it did. I know it did. It made me for some part of that night uncomfortable. [...] And after all, what did it matter to me, and why did it matter to me? Why could not I, going up to bed with my basket of keys, stop to sit down by her fire and accommodate myself for a little while to her, at least as well as to anybody else, and not trouble myself about the harmless things she said to me? Impelled towards her, as I certainly was, for I was very anxious that she should like me and was very glad indeed that she did, why should I harp afterwards, with actual distress and pain, on every word she said and weigh it over and over again in twenty scales? Why was it so worrying to me to have her in our house, and confidential to me every night, when I yet felt that it was better and safer somehow that she should be there than anywhere else? These were perplexities and contradictions that I could not account for. At least, if I could--but I shall come to all that by and by, and it is mere idleness to go on about it now. (30.30-37)

    What do you make of Esther's weirdly hiding the fact that she and Woodcourt had feelings for each other at this point? Especially since she's writing from a future in which they've been married for seven years and have two kids? Does that long passage about Mrs. Woodcourt's opinions of her sound a little too coy? Shmoop is smelling some kind of narrative rat here, but it's hard to say exactly what it might be.

    And now I must part with the little secret I have thus far tried to keep. I had thought, sometimes, that Mr. Woodcourt loved me and that if he had been richer he would perhaps have told me that he loved me before he went away. I had thought, sometimes, that if he had done so, I should have been glad of it. But how much better it was now that this had never happened! What should I have suffered if I had had to write to him and tell him that the poor face he had known as mine was quite gone from me and that I freely released him from his bondage to one whom he had never seen!

    Oh, it was so much better as it was! With a great pang mercifully spared me, I could take back to my heart my childish prayer to be all he had so brightly shown himself; and there was nothing to be undone: no chain for me to break or for him to drag; and I could go, please God, my lowly way along the path of duty, and he could go his nobler way upon its broader road; and though we were apart upon the journey, I might aspire to meet him, unselfishly, innocently, better far than he had thought me when I found some favour in his eyes, at the journey's end. (35.118-119)

    Again, check out how Esther uses "duty" as a shield to bash away the less convenient emotions that she can't quite handle. She convinces herself that there's no way Woodcourt would ever love her with her face all scarred. She's got herself so convinced that she totally misreads the emotions on his face when she sees him again.

    I looked at her, but I could not see her, I could not hear her, I could not draw my breath. The beating of my heart was so violent and wild that I felt as if my life were breaking from me. But when she caught me to her breast, kissed me, wept over me, compassionated me, and called me back to myself; when she fell down on her knees and cried to me, "Oh, my child, my child, I am your wicked and unhappy mother! Oh, try to forgive me!"--when I saw her at my feet on the bare earth in her great agony of mind, I felt, through all my tumult of emotion, a burst of gratitude to the providence of God that I was so changed as that I never could disgrace her by any trace of likeness, as that nobody could ever now look at me and look at her and remotely think of any near tie between us. [...] my heart overflowed with love for her, that it was natural love which nothing in the past had changed or could change. (36.32-33)

    Now that Esther no longer looks like her mother, she can fully love her and move on to life as a separate being. Or are we getting a little to psychoanalytical here? In any case, these are some hardcore, primal, raw emotions.

    It is the old girl's birthday, and that is the greatest holiday and reddest-letter day in Mr. Bagnet's calendar. The auspicious event is always commemorated according to certain forms settled and prescribed by Mr. Bagnet some years since. Mr. Bagnet, being deeply convinced that to have a pair of fowls for dinner is to attain the highest pitch of imperial luxury, invariably goes forth himself very early in the morning of this day to buy a pair; he is, as invariably, taken in by the vendor and installed in the possession of the oldest inhabitants of any coop in Europe. Returning with these triumphs of toughness tied up in a clean blue and white cotton handkerchief (essential to the arrangements), he in a casual manner invites Mrs. Bagnet to declare at breakfast what she would like for dinner. Mrs. Bagnet, by a coincidence never known to fail, replying fowls, Mr. Bagnet instantly produces his bundle from a place of concealment amidst general amazement and rejoicing. He further requires that the old girl shall do nothing all day long but sit in her very best gown and be served by himself and the young people. As he is not illustrious for his cookery, this may be supposed to be a matter of state rather than enjoyment on the old girl's part, but she keeps her state with all imaginable cheerfulness. (49.4)

    Don't you love how the stereotypical Mother's Day or mom's birthday tradition is exactly the same now as it was over 150 years ago? Seriously, note for note, exactly the same. Hmm... actually, that doesn't say anything too great about how far along mothers have come in terms of work-life balance or their role within the family.

    My darling [Ada] rose, put off her bonnet, kneeled down beside him with her golden hair falling like sunlight on his head, clasped her two arms round his neck, and turned her face to me. Oh, what a loving and devoted face I saw!

    "Esther, dear," she said very quietly, "I am not going home again. [...] Never any more. I am going to stay with my dear husband. We have been married above two months. Go home without me, my own Esther; I shall never go home any more!" With those words my darling drew his head down on her breast and held it there. And if ever in my life I saw a love that nothing but death could change, I saw it then before me. [...] "My pet," said I. "My love. My poor, poor girl!" I pitied her so much. I was very fond of Richard, but the impulse that I had upon me was to pity her so much. (51.65-70)

    There are some very complex dynamics going on here. Ada is happy to be married to Richard but feels guilty about lying to Jarndyce and sad about leaving Esther. Esther is happy for the couple, but she can't stop loving Ada like a child/sister enough to let her go. Growing up is hard to do and often disappointing.

  • Language and Communication

    [Krook] touched me on the arm to stay me, and chalked the letter J upon the wall--in a very curious manner, beginning with the end of the letter and shaping it backward. It was a capital letter, not a printed one, but just such a letter as any clerk in Messrs. Kenge and Carboy's office would have made.

    "Can you read it?" he asked me with a keen glance.

    "Surely," said I. "It's very plain."

    "What is it?"


    With another glance at me, and a glance at the door, he rubbed it out and turned an "a" in its place (not a capital letter this time), and said, "What's that?"

    I told him. He then rubbed that out and turned the letter "r," and asked me the same question. He went on quickly until he had formed in the same curious manner, beginning at the ends and bottoms of the letters, the word Jarndyce, without once leaving two letters on the wall together.

    "What does that spell?" he asked me.

    When I told him, he laughed. In the same odd way, yet with the same rapidity, he then produced singly, and rubbed out singly, the letters forming the words Bleak House. These, in some astonishment, I also read; and he laughed again.

    "Hi!" said the old man, laying aside the chalk. "I have a turn for copying from memory, you see, miss, though I can neither read nor write." (5.79-88)

    This passage works well in combination with the paragraph about how horrible it must be for Jo not to be able to read or write. Literacy was quite a divide back then, when such a huge proportion of the population was fully or functionally illiterate. Writing and documents have so much power in the novel that not being able to understand them is a tremendous disadvantage for people who already have plenty of disadvantages.

    We were all enchanted. I felt it a merited tribute to the engaging qualities of Ada and Richard that Mr. Skimpole, seeing them for the first time, should he so unreserved and should lay himself out to be so exquisitely agreeable. They (and especially Richard) were naturally pleased, for similar reasons, and considered it no common privilege to be so freely confided in by such an attractive man. The more we listened, the more gaily Mr. Skimpole talked. And what with his fine hilarious manner and his engaging candour and his genial way of lightly tossing his own weaknesses about, as if he had said, "I am a child, you know! You are designing people compared with me" (he really made me consider myself in that light) "but I am gay and innocent; forget your worldly arts and play with me!" the effect was absolutely dazzling. (6.75-76)

    Skimpole can really talk a good game. With Skimpole, we have to keep in mind that he can schmooze and charm everyone he comes across. This is probably how he gets all these tradesmen to sell him stuff on credit.

    "I wants it done, and over. I wants a end of these liberties took with my place. I wants an end of being drawed like a badger. Now you're a-going to poll-pry and question according to custom--I know what you're a-going to be up to. Well! You haven't got no occasion to be up to it. I'll save you the trouble. Is my daughter a-washin? Yes, she IS a-washin. Look at the water. Smell it! That's wot we drinks. How do you like it, and what do you think of gin instead! An't my place dirty? Yes, it is dirty-- it's nat'rally dirty, and it's nat'rally onwholesome; and we've had five dirty and onwholesome children, as is all dead infants, and so much the better for them, and for us besides. Have I read the little book wot you left? No, I an't read the little book wot you left. There an't nobody here as knows how to read it; and if there wos, it wouldn't be suitable to me. It's a book fit for a babby, and I'm not a babby. If you was to leave me a doll, I shouldn't nuss it. How have I been conducting of myself? Why, I've been drunk for three days; and I'da been drunk four if I'da had the money. Don't I never mean for to go to church? No, I don't never mean for to go to church. I shouldn't be expected there, if I did; the beadle's too gen-teel for me. And how did my wife get that black eye? Why, I give it her; and if she says I didn't, she's a lie!" (8.91-93)

    This is quite an extraordinary speech to put in the mouth of the brickmaker that Ada and Esther go visit with Mrs. Pardiggle. In a way, he is just as defiant about his lifestyle and choices as Sir Dedlock is about his, which was a progressive way to portray a miserable and destitute guy back in the day. His argument for getting the horrible Mrs. Pardiggle to leave him alone is pretty sound, too – it's not like she's going to make anyone's life better in that hovel.

    "My [Skimpole's] butcher says to me he wants that little bill. It's a part of the pleasant unconscious poetry of the man's nature that he always calls it a 'little' bill--to make the payment appear easy to both of us. I reply to the butcher, 'My good friend, if you knew it, you are paid. You haven't had the trouble of coming to ask for the little bill. You are paid. I mean it. [...] '"

    "But, suppose," said my guardian, laughing, "he had meant the meat in the bill, instead of providing it?"

    "My dear Jarndyce," he returned, "you surprise me. You take the butcher's position. A butcher I once dealt with occupied that very ground. Says he, 'Sir, why did you eat spring lamb at eighteen pence a pound?' 'Why did I eat spring lamb at eighteen pence a pound, my honest friend?' said I, naturally amazed by the question. 'I like spring lamb!' This was so far convincing. 'Well, sir,' says he, 'I wish I had meant the lamb as you mean the money!' 'My good fellow,' said I, 'pray let us reason like intellectual beings. How could that be? It was impossible. You HAD got the lamb, and I have NOT got the money. You couldn't really mean the lamb without sending it in, whereas I can, and do, really mean the money without paying it!' He had not a word. There was an end of the subject." (15.6-9)

    This, boys and girls, is a type of argument called "sophistry": it seems logical and sound on its face, but in reality it's total baloney. Skimpole is an ace at this kind of double talk, and for some reason Jarndyce eats it up. It's a funny detail that he close-reads his butcher's conversation, noting that the butcher calls the bill "little" regardless of how much it actually is to make the transaction more pleasant.

    "My friends," says he, "what is this which we now behold as being spread before us? Refreshment. Do we need refreshment then, my friends? We do. And why do we need refreshment, my friends? Because we are but mortal, because we are but sinful, because we are but of the earth, because we are not of the air. Can we fly, my friends? We cannot. Why can we not fly, my friends?"

    Mr. Snagsby, presuming on the success of his last point, ventures to observe in a cheerful and rather knowing tone, "No wings." But is immediately frowned down by Mrs. Snagsby.

    "I say, my friends," pursues Mr. Chadband, utterly rejecting and obliterating Mr. Snagsby's suggestion, "why can we not fly? Is it because we are calculated to walk? It is. Could we walk, my friends, without strength? We could not. What should we do without strength, my friends? Our legs would refuse to bear us, our knees would double up, our ankles would turn over, and we should come to the ground. Then from whence, my friends, in a human point of view, do we derive the strength that is necessary to our limbs? Is it," says Chadband, glancing over the table, "from bread in various forms, from butter which is churned from the milk which is yielded unto us by the cow, from the eggs which are laid by the fowl, from ham, from tongue, from sausage, and from such like? It is. Then let us partake of the good things which are set before us!" (19.38-41)

    Chadband's totally strange way of talking has Dickens poking fun at a style of public speaking that was popular at the time. It's sort of the opposite of the Socratic method, where questions are asked in order to get some deep thoughts and meaningful discussion going. Here, when Snagsby tries to answer Chadband, he is made to shut up because all of these questions (besides being completely ridiculous) only have one correct answer – Chadband's.

    "You see, Mr. Snagsby," says Mr. Bucket, accompanying him to the door and shaking hands with him over and over again, "what I like in you is that you're a man it's of no use pumping; that's what you are. When you know you have done a right thing, you put it away, and it's done with and gone, and there's an end of it. That's what YOU do."

    "That is certainly what I endeavour to do, sir," returns Mr. Snagsby.

    "No, you don't do yourself justice. It an't what you endeavour to do," says Mr. Bucket, shaking hands with him and blessing him in the tenderest manner, "it's what you do. That's what I estimate in a man in your way of business." (22.136-138)

    Bucket has several interesting modes of speaking. In this one, he forcibly praises the person he's speaking to because that person is about to act in the way that Bucket... ahem... really, really strongly suggests (with some threat implied if that suggestion isn't taken closely to heart). It's easy to imagine this kind of thing working well on the weaker-minded – kind of like the Force and the whole "these aren't the droids you're looking for."

    [Mrs. Woodcourt] was such a sharp little lady and used to sit with her hands folded in each other looking so very watchful while she talked to me that perhaps I found that rather irksome. Or perhaps it was her being so upright and trim, though I don't think it was that, because I thought that quaintly pleasant. Nor can it have been the general expression of her face, which was very sparkling and pretty for an old lady. I don't know what it was. Or at least if I do now, I thought I did not then. Or at least--but it don't matter. (30.2)

    Esther's waffling over the Woodcourt issue is sometimes confusing, sometimes unrealistic, and generally too much for Shmoop. There, we said it.

    We knew afterwards what we suspected then, that [Jarndyce] did not trust to time until he had often tried to open Richard's eyes. That he had written to him, gone to him, talked with him, tried every gentle and persuasive art his kindness could devise. Our poor devoted Richard was deaf and blind to all. If he were wrong, he would make amends when the Chancery suit was over. If he were groping in the dark, he could not do better than do his utmost to clear away those clouds in which so much was confused and obscured. Suspicion and misunderstanding were the fault of the suit? Then let him work the suit out and come through it to his right mind. This was his unvarying reply. Jarndyce and Jarndyce had obtained such possession of his whole nature that it was impossible to place any consideration before him which he did not, with a distorted kind of reason, make a new argument in favour of his doing what he did. (43.4)

    Richard's new penchant for being really argumentative and circular in his logic is a fascinating development. It makes sense when you realize that his thoughts are now being shaped by Chancery (known for its circular and nonsensical arguments) and Skimpole's sophistry. This discussion with Jarndyce is a neat mixture of the two.

    But [Jarndyce] did not hint to me that when I had been better looking he had had this same proceeding in his thoughts and had refrained from it. That when my old face was gone from me, and I had no attractions, he could love me just as well as in my fairer days. That the discovery of my birth gave him no shock. That his generosity rose above my disfigurement and my inheritance of shame. That the more I stood in need of such fidelity, the more firmly I might trust in him to the last. [...] Still I cried very much, not only in the fullness of my heart after reading the letter, not only in the strangeness of the prospect-- for it was strange though I had expected the contents--but as if something for which there was no name or distinct idea were indefinitely lost to me. I was very happy, very thankful, very hopeful; but I cried very much.

    By and by I went to my old glass. My eyes were red and swollen, and I said, "Oh, Esther, Esther, can that be you!" I am afraid the face in the glass was going to cry again at this reproach, but I held up my finger at it, and it stopped. (44.36-40)

    Dickens is very interested in the psychology of repression and the way people manage to totally dissociate themselves from feelings they don't want to acknowledge having. Here it feels like Jarndyce kind of knows that Esther is going to need a time-out after he proposes. He does it by letter rather than face to face so he doesn't have to see her initial reaction. And sure enough, she gets herself under control by talking to her reflection as though it were a totally different person: check out how "it stopped" crying when "I held up my finger."

    For many years the persistent Roman [painting of Allegory in Tulkinghorn's office] has been pointing, with no particular meaning, from that ceiling. It is not likely that he has any new meaning in him to-night. Once pointing, always pointing--like any Roman, or even Briton, with a single idea. There he is, no doubt, in his impossible attitude, pointing, unavailingly, all night long. Moonlight, darkness, dawn, sunrise, day. There he is still, eagerly pointing, and no one minds him.

    But a little after the coming of the day come people to clean the rooms. And either the Roman has some new meaning in him, not expressed before, or the foremost of them goes wild, for looking up at his outstretched hand and looking down at what is below it, that person shrieks [...]

    He is pointing at a table with a bottle (nearly full of wine) and a glass upon it and two candles that were blown out suddenly soon after being lighted. He is pointing at an empty chair and at a stain upon the ground before it that might be almost covered with a hand. [...]

    the Roman, pointing from the ceiling shall point, so long as dust and damp and spiders spare him, with far greater significance than he ever had in Mr. Tulkinghorn's time, and with a deadly meaning. For Mr. Tulkinghorn's time is over for evermore, and the Roman pointed at the murderous hand uplifted against his life, and pointed helplessly at him, from night to morning, lying face downward on the floor, shot through the heart. (48.133-147)

    Why do we see Tulkinghorn's murder through the eyes of this painting above his desk? Does this bring us in closer somehow? Or does it keep us at arm's length? Are we supposed sympathize with Tulkinghorn, or does Dickens think we're in danger of getting too emotionally involved with him?