Study Guide

Bleak House Love

By Charles Dickens

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Although many seemingly positive values and emotions are questioned in Bleak House – generosity, honesty, friendship, and even justice each come in for some criticism – love is never portrayed as an impossible, unattainable, or somehow false state. Parents unconditionally love even the most wayward of children, and in turn children are devoted to even deeply flawed parents. Even romantic love, often shown in literature to be a fleeting sensation or a state too commonly confused with simple lust, is in Bleak House a semi-permanent emotion, available both to the high and the low.

Questions About Love

  1. How would the novel be different if Esther had ended up marrying Jarndyce? How would that change how we see her? How we see him?
  2. We see many marriages where love has clearly been long-lasting and deep – for example, the Bagnets', the Dedlocks', the Snagsbys', and the Woodcourts'. Is love shown to be capable of overcoming negative emotions? If so, how? If not, why not? Does a long-lasting love help or hinder the emotional health of those who have it and those who are the objects of it?
  3. Who are the best and worst parents? Who are the best and worst children? How are the criteria for good parenting different from the criteria for being the best child? How are they the same?

Chew on This

Many of the marriages and love affairs in the novel are repetitions of similar parental actions. For instance, Caddy marries a weak and subservient man, in the mold of Mrs. Jellyby and Mr. Jellyby. Esther almost marries a kind older man whom she doesn't love but who can provide material comforts over the true love she feels for Woodcourt, just as her mother married Sir Dedlock rather than Captain Hawdon. Progress in the novel occurs when these cycles are broken, or at least adjusted.

There is so little cynicism about love in the novel that those who are not capable of forming loving attachments to family or romantic partners are never given the opportunity to do so. They are not even shown to have any desire for such relationships.

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