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Connectedness and the double narrative in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" - an apparent contradiction

Hausarbeit 2004 16 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur



1 Introduction

2 Connectedness and the double narrative in Charles Dickens’s Bleak HouseAn apparent contradiction
2.1 Connectedness: Links between Chancery, the upper, middle and working classes and Tom-all-Alone’s
2.1.1 An account of the historical context: Dickens and the Victorian grievances
2.1.2 Local connectedness
2.1.3 Physical and lingual connectedness
2.1.4 Family ties and thematic connectedness
2.2 Apparent discontinuity: the double narrative
2.2.1 The third person narrator
2.2.2 Esther as a character and as a narrator
2.2.3 The superimposition of the two narratives

3 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“This contrast between disconnection and universal relationship is […] a central aspect of Bleak House. On the one hand, everything seems so separate, so isolated. But on the other hand everything is related to everything else,” writes Jeremy Hawthorn (63). Indeed, Charles Dickens introduces throughout his novel (published between 1852 and 53) various people, places, and circumstances that seem to lack a common centre to which they can be related. The fact that there are two tellers - an anonymous 3rd person narrator and Esther - contributes to the episodic and disconnected impression of the Bleak House world. As one goes through the text, however, one will be surprised to pick up hints that suggest relatedness. Mrs Smallweed turns out to be Krook’s sister, for example. However, the relations to be uncovered are not only restricted to family matters. There seems to be a connectedness on a wider range: between the slum “Tom-all-Alone’s”, the Dedlocks’ mansion “Chesney Wold”, John Jarndyce’s “Bleak House”, the brick-makers’ hovel, and Chancery (Storey 18).

The aim of the present paper is to show that the dual narrative does not undercut the idea of connectedness despite its divisive appearance. Some subtasks will pave the way for this conclusion. I will first give some examples of how major elements of the novel are interlinked. Chancery will prove as the emblem of the corruption that has spread far beyond the doors of the law courts and touches upon all the social classes. Tom-all-Alone’s and the aristocracy, poor and rich, have secrete links, some created voluntarily, some created less voluntarily.

Second, I will characterise the two narrators separately, with Esther being analysed both in her narrating function and in her role as a character of Bleak House. The analysis of the effect of combining the two tellers will lead to a result different from that of a mere glance at the of surface of the structure. I will show how the narrators’ accounts are juxtaposed and thereby reinforce each other, and how their unification yields what Graham Storey calls a “third dimension”, an overlapping of two different view points causing a deeper perception of the Bleak House world (20). However, I will also show a negative interpretation of the relationship between the two narrators by following Patricia Ingham’s essay on deixis in Bleak House.

Finally, all the relationships will hint at a system within which the holders of the ties are kept: “Dickens wanted […] the reader to perceive the world of Bleak House in terms of surface disconnection and isolation, and underlying unity […] Bleak House stands or falls as a portrayal as a system” (Hawthorn 63). My thesis is that Bleak House teaches the reader how to combine apparently loose and disconnected elements and look at them as a system. This task posed and carried out by the plot of the novel is simultaneously mirrored in its form. The double narration sends the reader on a quest to find Esther and the 3rd person narrator as two sides of one coin, independent in terms of their nature, but relating to a common situation.

2 Connectedness and the double narrative in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House – An apparent contradiction

2.1 Connectedness – Links between Chancery, the upper, middle and working classes and Tom-all-Alone’s

2.1.1 An account of the historical context: Dickens and the Victorian grievances

Dickens, like several other 19th century writers, tried to brand the grievances of his time. Excessive child labour, bad sanitary conditions in the slums and the negative side effects of the industrialisation became topics which were depicted and criticised in many novels of the time (Nünning 9). Dickens was particularly concerned with five issues, all of which have found their way into Bleak House (Storey 1): First, there is Chancery with its lawsuits going on for ages and with the costs exceeding the value of the originally contested object. The consequences of such complex cases are mirrored in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Miss Flite, Gridley and Richard are only some of the victims which fall prey to a system which John Jarndyce describes as a “an infernal country-dance of costs and fees and nonsense and corruption” (88; ch. 8).

Second, Dickens raises his voice against “the establishment […] of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England”, which denies the hard facts about reality and seeks to promote an obtrusive amount of religious learning (Storey 1 and 4). When Mrs Pardiggle vistits the brickmakers’ hovel, she reads eagerly from a religious book and does not notice that it is of little use to people whose most important need is a trifle like clean water (98-99; ch. 8). The fact that a baby is dying during her self-complacent speeches escapes her notice completely.

Third, Dickens criticises “political misgovernment” (Storey 1). He ridicules the aristocratic politicians by juggling the first letter of their names: Lord Coodle, Sir Thomas Doodle and Boodle (Storey 4). The reason for his attack is “the belief of a view aristocratic families in their sacred right to govern the country – and exclude all others, however able”, which even lead to two weeks of no government in 1851 because the party leader believed that no one else was fit for his office (Storey 5).

The forth target of Dickens’s criticism is the bad sanitary conditions of the London slums. Tom-all-Alone’s and the paupers’ graveyard, based on St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, are places from which diseases spread out and contaminate their surroundings (Storey 6). If Chancery prospers psychical wretchedness, the slums can be seen as its counterpart creating physical dangers. It is another centre of corruption.

The fifth issue is labelled “Telescopic philanthropy”, which is also the title of chapter four in Bleak House. It criticises Exeter Hall, “the centre of evangelical missionary activity in London” (Storey 8). Mrs Jellyby is modelled on a woman called Mrs Caroline Chisholm. Dickens supported her social project for emigrants to Australia, but he abhorred the sight of her neglected children and household (Storey 8). Like Mrs Pardiggle, she seems to be blind to the urgent social needs of her direct surroundings. The message is therefore the following: “Charity […] must begin at home” (Storey 9).

Those five issues provide the basis for the Bleak House world. As the plot of the novel proceeds, it becomes more and more obvious that the failure to tackle any of the problems can result in a damage which affects the entire society. If one part is out of order, the whole must suffer, and be it also with delay. Dickens therefore promotes the idea of relatedness, of open and secret relations between people and places of different social status. In the following pages, I will deal with the various ways in which Dickens depicts connectedness.



ISBN (eBook)
500 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Warwick
English grade: 65 / USA letter
Connectedness Charles Dickens Bleak House English Century Novel



Titel: Connectedness and the double narrative in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" - an apparent contradiction