Reading & Writing Bleak House

Death and Society in the 19th Century

Apr 23, 2012 by Emma F Loy-Santelli in God

 Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

I apologize for the size of the image. I was unable to make it smaller. 

Jo’s death at the end of the chapter titled “Jo’s Will” includes a very telling piece of social commentary. The narrator brings closure to the street urchin’s death by saying “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” (p. 734). In this way, the narrator seems to be attempting to stress the importance of Jo’s life, and the tragedy of his passing. The message is that, though Jo was a nobody from the lowest level of society, his life was still important and his death should be acknowledged by all. The final line completes this idea, by suggesting that Jo is a representation of all of the poor, disregarded people of society. The narrator’s words suggest the idea that every life is special, and every death should be mourned.
            This scene immediately brought to mind a painting by Gustave Courbet called Un enterrement à Ornans (A Burial at Ornans). Courbet, a French realist painter, produced this piece in 1849— four years before the publication of Bleak House (Gustave Courbet, http://www.musee-orsay.fr). The painting depicts a funeral taking place in a grey, desolate landscape. The mourners seem disinterested in the proceedings, and many are even turning to leave. The message Courbet is sending is that death is a common, normal occurrence that has no sense of romance or drama to it. People die and are buried, and the world goes on. This is in direct opposition to the narrator's declaration after Jo's death. Courbet was pointing out a reality of life at the time (and one which, arguably, is still applicable today), and Dickens was making an effort to fight against that reality. The painting is a blatant, unpleasant truth, and emphasizes the significance of Dickens’s desire for the world to change its attitude toward death and suffering.   
 

Dual Narratives

Apr 23, 2012 by Kassandra Torres in God

Something that really interested me throughout this novel was the dual narrative aspect of it. As I was reading the book I often times found myself questioning the credibility of the story itself. We have the omniscient narrator but we also have Esther’s narrative. When I really sat down to think about this in class It was interesting to compare this with other books we have read. One of my classmates brought this up an idea during class about the constant competition between Esther and the omniscient narrator. We see this in other novels as well such as Dangerous Liaisons. In this specific novel we see constant competition between the different narrators and this in part makes us question who is really telling the truth. But at the same time the reader is able to tell who is actually telling the truth since there are so many perspectives. Some character within the novel may be oblivious to their surroundings but we as readers know that something else is actually occurring. In Bleak House we get the sense of competition from both of these narrators. The omniscient narrator serves as an outside observant in some way and therefore we feel like we can trust it but when it comes to Esther I personally sense this distrust. She says a lot of things that are partially true in a sense and in addition she tends to beat around the bush as well. Overall I feel like a dual narrative affects the credibility of the story as a whole. When compared to Dangerous Liaisons as I did previously more than one narrative allows us to have more than one perspective on the story and therefore ewe have a bigger picture of what is actually going on. But again, the consequence of this is the credibility of certain characters. 

Marriage in Bleak House

Mar 31, 2012 by Vickiana Tejada in God

In chapter 30 (Esther’s Narrative) Dickens’s feminist viewpoint is very evident. During Caddy’s wedding Esther states that Miss Wisk says, “…that the idea of woman’s mission lying chiefly in the narrow sphere of Home was an outrageous slander on the part of her Tyrant, Man” (p. 482). I think that this is a very powerful statement for a woman to make at the time period in which this story takes place. By capitalizing both the word Tyrant and Man, Dickens is doing more than just making a correlation between the two words he is making them synonymous. However, Dickens also seems to contradict himself because he makes Mr. Jellyby’s character very unauthoritative and dependent because his wife neglects him—usually it is the woman who is put in this position of instability and extreme emotion. It is interesting that Dickens gives a female character the authority to say such a statement and then makes Mr. Jellyby the opposite of a Tyrant. Mr. Jellyby is in this state of depression because of Mrs. Jellyby’s inattention to him, the children and the house. Mrs. Jellyby is not a Tyrant, however, because she isn’t forcefully controlling the actions of anyone she is just completely disregarding her children, her home, and her duties as a wife.

 

The topic of marriage is very relevant and present in this novel, especially in this chapter. We see how marriage affects several of the characters in Bleak House in this chapter. Initially we see Esther’s struggle with simply admitting to herself that she is so affected with Mrs. Woodstock’s stay at the house because she has feelings for her son, and it makes her anxious to have his very judgmental mother in the house where she lives. Then when Mrs. Woodstock tells Esther that she believes Esther will marry someone well off and have a great marriage, Esther becomes extremely uncomfortable and flustered. I think that this is because she unconsciously hopes that she might be able to marry Mr. Woodstock, or because the idea of marriage makes her anxious for reasons she is unsure of. Marriage only stresses her out when it is in regards to herself however; she is very enthusiastic about it when it has to do with either Ada and Richard or Caddy. Esther has a romantic intimacy complex that she doesn’t understand.

 

Mistaken Identities in Bleak House and The Moonstone

Mar 29, 2012 by Hannah R Leffingwell in God

In chapters 30-33, I noticed many similarities between Bleak House and The MoonstoneFirst of all, Esther begins to be unsure of what she should say in her narrative.  When describing Mrs. Woodcourt’s impression on her, she admits “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” (470).  We get a sense of Esther’s narrative purpose; her aim seems to be avoiding outright judgments of others and pushing aside her own subjective opinions in deference to objective descriptions of plot.  This intention, however, is just as easily undermined in Esther’s narrative as it was in Miss. Clack’s, even a few paragraphs later when Esther admits that she “had my doubts about their caring so very much for Morgan ap Kerrig in India and Chine; but of course I never expressed them”(470).

Aside from instances of Esther “giving herself away,” another similarity to The Moonstone presents itself in the form of Jo.  Before meeting Jo, Esther explains that she “had for a moment an undefinable impression of myself as being something different from what I then was” (489).  This brief confusion of self turns into external confusion when Jo insists that Esther “looks to me the t’other one.  It ain’t the bonnet, nor yet it ain’t the gownd, but she looks to me the t’other one” (490).  This realization echoes the experiences of Franklin Blake being recognized as the person who stole the moonstone.  Interestingly, Blake’s role in the theft cannot be concluded solely from his nightgown (which could be worn by anyone else) but by Rachel’s having seen him.  For Jo, Esther’s clothes are not the deciding factor in linking her to Lady Dedlock, but rather her likeness to Lady Dedlock’s face.  In both these instances, material possessions become inferior signifiers in comparison to character (as manifested in physical features).  This same struggle presented itself in Evelina, when her sole means of proving her heritage is her face.  What do these works say about the role of physical appearance in the formation of character and vice versa?  How does this contribute to the importance of “knowing” somebody (as Betteradge claims to “know” Rachel)?

Mr. George and Phil

Mar 27, 2012 by Vickiana Tejada in God


The chapter Sharpshooters was very reminiscent of the first chapter of Bleak House because the omniscient narrator begins with a very detailed description of the setting and uses a lot of repetition. Similarly to the first chapter the narrators gloomy manner of describing the setting is also present in the Sharpshooters chapter. In the chapter In Chancery the narrator states, “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” (p.14). The narrator uses the same format in Sharpshooters when he states, “Behind dingy blind and curtain, in upper story garret, skulking more or less under false names, false hair, false titles, false jewellery, and false histories, a colony of brigands lie in their first sleep” (p. 417). 

Another interesting aspect of this chapter is the relationship between Mr. George and Phil. The relationship the narrator describes between Mr. George and Phil serves to demonstrate the dichotomy of the master, servant relationship and it also serves to show the loyalty aspect of that relationship and the difference in class between the two men. The narrator reveals the former through the conversation between Mr. George and Phil. The conversation begins when Mr. George asks Phil about his dream. Phil then goes on to explain that he thinks he dreamt of the countryside, but wasn’t sure because he’d never been, then Mr. George goes on to say that he was born in the country. We can see a class difference between the two because Mr. George has been able to travel to, but Phil hasn’t. Moreover, we see the class difference in the way each man speaks. Phil speaks a poor man’s English, while Mr. George speaks very proper English.

When the two men recount the first time they became acquainted, their is a sense of gratitude in Phil’s words that emanate gratitude to his master. Phil says, “‘Let ‘em knock me well about the head. I don’t mind! If they want a light-weight, to be throwed for practice...let ‘em throw me. They won’t hurt me. I have been throwed, all sorts of styles, all my life!’...Phill Squod shoulders his way round the sides of the gallery, and abruptly tacking off at his commander, makes a butt at him with his head, intended to express devotion to his service” (p. 422). The former testify’s to the idea that servants are extraordinarily loyal to their masters and are willing to suffer for them at their own will because of the gratitude the servants feel towards their masters.

Master and Man (and the Old Girl Too)

Mar 26, 2012 by Annavictoria Ellsworth in God

I was really struck by the relationship between Phil and Mr George.  While it was a distinctly unequal relationship- Phil is absolutely obedient to Mr George in all things- it still savored strongly of reciprocity.  Mr George gets a servant: someone who obeys him, who makes breakfast while he bathes for half an hour, who minds his business when he’s out smoking pipes at the Smallweeds. Phil also either receives or believes that he receives a great deal from Mr George.  It seemed to me that Phil was feeding off of or absorbing the health and uprightness of Mr George.  As Mr George completes his militant toilette Phil looks on “as if it were enough washing for him to see all that done, and sufficient renovation, for one day, to take in all the superfluous health his master throws off’ (418). As Phil and Mr George describe their (love at first sight) meeting, Phil describes Mr George speaking to him as “like a glass of something hot” (422).   Phil is consuming Mr George’s excess vitality.  Thus the relationship, though unequal does furnish both parties with benefits.  I think I didn’t expect Dickens to present such a strong argument for servant-master relationships.  

I also want to talk about the unequal relationship between Mr and Mrs Bagnet.  Mrs Bagnet is mentally superior to Mr Bagnet, a fact which he is well aware of and respects, but can never acknowledge to his wife because “Discipline must be maintained.” I found this both comic and tragic.  The repetition of the refrain and its ultra-military character make it funny.  On the hand, the way discipline is maintained is tragic.  First of all, Mr Bagnet is sacrificing honesty in his marriage-he can’t acknowledge to his wife what they both must know, that he relies on her completely due to her superior mind.  Second of all, there is the fact that acknowledging that

the woman is better equipped than the man is dangerous to discipline and order. These are both fairly modern complaints, so I think the scene may have been meant to run more comic than anything else.  In any case, Phil and Mr George and the Bagnets still provide some of the healthiest, happiest domestic arrangements (short of those at Bleak House).  

The Convergence of Plot Lines

Mar 26, 2012 by Emma F Loy-Santelli in God

The four chapters in this section contain the merging of several major plotlines that have been, up until now, moving along independently of each other, and only occasionally and briefly interacting. The thickness and depth of the story made it such that, while I had started to develop suspicions concerning how these plotlines were related, I was kept guessing right up until the moment when they were all pulled together. This once again demonstrated to me Dickens’ immense skill at constructing and manipulating his stories.           

             The plot convergence begins in Chapter 26, “Sharpshooters”, when Mr. Smallweed enters Mr. George’s shooting gallery and asks to see some writing produced by a certain Captain Hawdon. He then brings Mr. George to see Mr. Tulkinghorn, to further discuss the matter. At this point, the name Hawdon means nothing to the reader, and we are only able to discern that Mr. George assumes him to be dead, while Mr. Tulkinghorn suspects otherwise. Had Dickens revealed any indication in this scene of Captain Hawdon’s identity, it would certainly have come as a surprised. However, he chooses to keep the reader guessing for a few more chapters.

            In the end, the character who succeeds in pulling the plot threads together is, rather unexpectedly, Mr. Guppy, who arrives unannounced at Sir Leicester’s and Lady Dedlock’s door in Chapter 29. “Looking round, [Sir Leicester] beholds the young man of the name of Guppy, much discomfited, and not presenting a very impressive letter of introduction in his manner and appearance” (460). While his unexpected and awkward entrance into the scene is very much in character, Mr. Guppy soon takes on the surprising role of a major plot device, revealing both to Lady Dedlock and to the reader the surprising connection between four different plotlines: Esther’s story, Lady Dedlock’s story, the mysterious instance of Krook’s dead lodger, and the investigations of Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed. The scene culminates in a shockingly out-of-character outburst from Lady Dedlock: “’O my child, my child! Not dead in the first hours of her life, as my cruel sister told me; but sternly nurtured by her, after she had renounced me and my name! O my child, O my child!’” (469).

            The lead-up to this scene is very carefully crafted, and the facts are revealed slowly, so that the reader is unaware of their significance, yet remembers them all when Mr. Guppy ties them together in Chapter 29. And the final reveal is then provided with even more power by the tremendous effect it has on Lady Dedlock. Clearly, this scene is a major turning point in the novel. We now know, for the first time, what the main plot is going to be, and how all of the various characters are connected.

             

Judy Smallweed and Madame Defarge?

Mar 25, 2012 by Hannah R Weinberg in God

In both chapters 26 and 27 of Bleakhouse, Judy plays a very interesting part in shaping the narrative. While she never says anything she does not simply exist in her environment, instead she is a silent observer of what is going on around her. In a way she is reminiscent of Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, who in the first part of the novel is just silently plotting and observing, biding her time until she can fulfill her revenge on those whose names she has put into her knitting.

It remains to be seen whether or not Judy will pull a knife out of her dress and throw people to the guillotine. However, she seems to possess the same ability to silently scope out a situation and understand what is going on, without making herself to obvious. While she is recognized as “body-guard” to her grandfather, she is never seen as enough of a liability to be asked out as Phil is in chapter 26 (423). She is allowed to see all of the dealings going on, and through her observation she is able to get a better understanding of what is going on.

In a way she is able to somewhat exert herself in what is going on. Her poking of her grandfather as well as Mr. George seems to propel their conversation when it starts to come to a lull. She may not be taking larger action like Esther or Ada might have at the brick-makers, but she is putting herself in a position to understand, in a way that Ada and Esther cannot.

She knows as much as Mr. George, because she is able to sit back and observe in important situations that other women like Ada and Esther would most likely not be allowed to view. Judy can observe more and therefore understand what is going on around her more easily. In this way she is more like Madame Defarge, than any other woman in this novel, who are either unaware or caught up in the fantasies they have created for themselves. Judy may not share the same goals as Madame Defarge, but they both possess a keen understanding of their worlds through because they are able to keenly observe without bringing upon themselves too much suspicion. 

Mr. Jobling's Appetite

Mar 11, 2012 by Elizabeth M Tallmadge in God

I found chapter 20 very amusing. In this chapter we are introduced to a new character Mr. Jobling.  Mr. Guppy and Mr. Smallweed take Mr. Jobling to a restaurant. Dicken’s adds some humor to this scene by how Mr. Jobling eats. Mr. Joblings appetite is described as, “His appetite is so vigorous, that it suggests spare living for some little time back” (321).  When Mr. Jobling takes another helping Mr. Guppy replies,“ ‘You are a man again, Tony!’ ‘Well, not quite, yet,’ says Mr. Jobling. ‘Say just born’ ” (321). By the time Mr. Jobling finishes dessert he says, “ ‘I am grown up, now, Guppy. I have arrived at maturity’ ” (322). Even though we know Mr. Jobling is a grown man he is so starved that it is like he is dead and then after eating he has been born again. It is also horrific that he can eat that much food.

            I think that the reason Mr. Guppy takes him out to eat may have been to get Mr. Jobling in a goof mood so that he would agree to look into Mr. Krook, which he does. I am curious to know why Mr. Guppy really wants him to look into Mr. Kook, he only says, “ ‘and it’s seldom I can’t make a man out, more or less’ (325).  He does not go into detail why he really wants MR. Jobling to look into Krook’s. It is creepy that Mr. Jobling should live in the same room that the previous lawyer died in. It is also very mysterious that the room is referred to as, “where the two eyes in the shutters stare at him in his sleep, as if they were full of wonder “(330). This imagery seems important yet I do not now what to make of it yet. 

The Smallweed Family

Mar 10, 2012 by Elizabeth J Schmitt in God

I loved reading the chapter about the Smallweeds this week, but it left me a bit confused. I'm having a hard time overall connecting characters into their respective webs, and then connecting the webs themselves, if that makes sense. It seems to me that all we keep asking throughout this novel is 'what is the connection?'. There are constantly new characters being introduced in the novel, which makes it hard to truly make connections until they are made for us by Dickens. Perhaps someone can give me a definitive answer, but what is the connection between Mr. Guppy and the Smallweeds, and how do the Smallweeds connect with Ester/the Dedlocks? 

Response to Erica's March 4th post

Mar 10, 2012 by Hannah R Leffingwell in God

Re: "What Connexion Can There Be?"

Erica – I tried to comment directly on your post, but it says “comments closed,” so I was not able to!  I agree that “moving on” is an important theme in Bleak House, but I also think that it is a deeply ironic theme – one that may not mean exactly what it says.  Though there is a sense that characters are endlessly moving towards some kind of end, it seems to me that this movement is not, in fact, mobile.  It is a stagnant movement – as if all of London is on a treadmill, running and running but never getting anywhere.  This sense of stagnation is emblemized by Dickens’ fog.  In this week’s reading (Chapters 20-22), the omniscient narrator tells the story of a “bachelor friend” of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s, “who lived the same kind of life until he was seventy-five years old, and then, suddenly conceiving (as it is supposed) an impression that it was too monotonous, gave his gold watch to his hair-dresser one summer evening, and walked leisurely home to the Temple, and hanged himself” (353).  Stagnation also saturates “The Smallweed Family,” in which children seem to pop out of the womb as adults, and the only chance to experience childhood is with the coming of senility.  It is as if the majority of Dickens’ characters are distilled in amber – able to be observed but unable to change their position.  Will Esther be able to break out of this “monotonous” life? 

Humor in "Bleak House"

Mar 05, 2012 by Emma F Loy-Santelli in God

Occasionally in Bleak House, Dickens takes a break from the generally serious, dark tone of the novel and provides us with a scene laced with humor. One of these scenes encompasses most of the chapter entitled “Moving On”. Usually, he creates this humor by introducing ridiculous elements— often characters— which is the case in this particular scene.

            The humor in the dinner scene in “Moving On” comes from the interaction of a group of characters, some more peculiar than others, but all of whom interact in such a way as to create a very humorous situation.  

            The narrator begins with the introduction of Mr. Chadband, who is described as being, in very general terms, a religious man, best known for being “endowed with the gift of holding forth for four hours at a stretch” (303). Once he appears, it becomes clear that he is a thoroughly ridiculous character, as indicated by his speech upon entering Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby’s house: “My friends… Peace be on this house! On the master thereof, on the mistress thereof, on the young maidens, and on the young men! My friends, why do I wish for peace? What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? O yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and upon yours” (305).

            The blatant lack of intelligence and general ridiculous nature of this speech immediately adds humor to the scene. Mr. Chadband quite clearly takes himself seriously, and the reader pictures him delivering this speech with the utmost care and sincerity, but his actual words contrast with his intentions, thus creating amusement.

This contrast is further emphasized by the fact that other characters in the scene take him seriously as well— most notably, Mrs. Snagsby who, we are told, “likes to have her religion rather sharp” (303). Not only is it entertaining that such an absurd individual as Mr. Chadband has religious devotees, but it is also surprising that Mrs. Snagsby, who was introduced as a very stern, serious, down-to-earth person, would be among them. Yet she insists, quite vehemently, that Mr. Snagsby wait for their guests before beginning to eat because, according to her, “What’s time… to eternity?” (304). She also insists that Guster formally announce Mr. and Mrs. Chadbund when they arrive. At which point, “much discomposed in her nerves… [Guster] so fearfully mutilates that point of state as to announce ‘Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseming, least which, Imeantersay whatsername!’” (304). Mrs. Snagsby’s insistence on treating the absurd Mr. Chadband with so much respect, as well as Guster’s stumbling over her words create a funny, almost slapstick situation that both amuses the reader and draws them into the scene.

Dickens, in addition to being skilled at plot and character development, is also clearly adept at writing humorous scenes. He uses contrast, dramatic irony and funny, almost caricature-like characters to create a whimsical tone and entertain the reader. These kinds of scenes are vital to the story, as they add variety to the narrative and prevent the tone and characters from becoming too dull and repetitive. They also fit the voice of the omnipotent narrator, who passes judgment on the characters and the world rather than interacting with them directly. 

What connexion can there be?

Mar 04, 2012 by Erica L Moulton in God

cityskylineBlackfriarsBridge600.jpg

 Although this is not an image by Phiz, I chose this picture because it brings to life an important scene of Chapter 19. There is a lot of discussion in this chapter of "moving on," and in the final scene, the young vagabond Jo sits on Blackfriars Bridge watching "the crowd flowing by him in two streams." Everything and everyone is said to be moving in one direction or another and always to an "end." Jo sits, removed momentarily from the chaos on the bridge, shown in this drawing as it might have been. He stares up at St. Paul's Cathedral, which is on the left side of the drawing, and sees it as a "sacred emblem," which towers above all of London as a "crowning confusion of the great, confused city," (259).  

Even among all this tremendous chaos and confusion, there is an irrefutable purpose that pulls every citizen towards their "end." As we see with Jo, ignorance of this purpose does not deprive or prevent a person from their predestination. No, even Jo is "stirred up" by some unnameable force, perhaps the industrial machine of London, perhaps some God-like figure and Jo is made "to 'move on' too." 

This is not the first time the idea of predestination has graced the pages of Bleak House. The omniscient narrator wonders aloud in Chapter 16 "what connexion can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world, who from opposite sides of great gulfs, have, nevertheless, been very curiously brought together?" This musing along with the Jo's bridge scene speak to the very nature of Bleak House and fiction in general. Dickens' purpose in writing this novel is to answer his own question. Like Jo and the other travelers on Blackfriars Bridge, every character in Bleak House is "moving on to some purpose and to one end."   

Cultural Representations within Bleak House

Mar 03, 2012 by Elizabeth J Laguerre in God

‘Enterprise and effort, he would say to us (on his back), ‘are delightful to me. I believe I am truly cosmopolitan. I have the deepest sympathy with them. I lie in a shady place like this, and think of adventurous spirits going to the North Pole, or penetrating to the heart of the Torrid Zone, with admiration. Mercenary creatures ask, “What is the use of a man’s going to the North Pole? What good does it do?” I can’t say; but, for anything I can say, he may go for the purpose—though he don’t know it—of employing my thoughts as I lie here. Take an extreme case. Take the case of the Slaves on the American plantations. I dare say they are worked hard, I dare say they don’t altogether like it, I dare say theirs is an unpleasant experience on the whole; but, they people the landscape for me, they give it a poetry for me, and perhaps that is one of the pleasanter objects of their existence. I am very sensible of it, if it be, and I shouldn’t wonder if it were!’ (pg. 273)

In this excerpt from Lady Dedlock, the eighteenth chapter of the novel, for the first time readers are shown the appearance of race—specifically that of the Black/African American race.  Some would argue that race was first introduced with the philanthropic work in Africa by Mrs. Jellyby. However, the mention of Africa in her case only worked to give readers a geological setting of where her work was taking place, rather than providing a specific zone or group of people; as Africa is a large continent made up of over 40 different countries and all with different economic and socio-political levels. The above passage took it one step further than Mrs. Jellyby by providing a specific case and example—that of the Slaves on the American plantations. At first read, the excerpt does not really raise any red flags. It instead gives the impression that the speaker has a genuine interest in the peoples of the world and that through the enterprise and effort of world travelers and adventurers, the speaker is provided with deep and pleasant thoughts.  I want to dissect the above excerpt to uncover the message that it is truly conveying.

Firstly, there is the concept of the cosmopolitan. A cosmopolitan is a ‘citizen of the world’, free of any national ideas, prejudices, or attachments, of which the speaker claims to be. Then there is the idea of having an active role in exploration by penetrating the heart of the Torrid Zone, i.e. the continent of Africa, as a means of employing thoughts for other people of the world who might not have the opportunity to explore such places on their own. My problem with the excerpt is that never once does the speaker mention the exploitation of different cultures and people by those adventurers and explorers. His thoughts are centered on admiration for their (the explorers) enterprises, forfeiting the viewpoint of the peoples being explored. As for the Slaves on the American plantations, the speaker briefly mentions the hardships and severe treatment that they are forced to cope with, while mainly focusing on their ability to people the landscape and give it a poetry. This focus on the enslavement of blacks as provisionary for pleasant thoughts is not only demeaning, but downright disgusting. The so-called cosmopolitan views that the speaker claims to possess are clouded by his disconnectedness to the different peoples of the world.

All in all, the point I am trying to make here is the importance of the gaze. The speaker’s gaze is one of a privileged position. He speaks of exploration as a sort of grand activity when actually his words have an undertone of the spectacle-lization of those different cultures and peoples, whom he has so much admiration for as a cosmopolitan.  

Such a stance calls me to wonder: What was Dickens’ intention in including such an excerpt and how does it relate to the historical happenings of the time in which Bleak House was written. And also, in a book centered on the life and times of white characters, what is the significance of including an excerpt that mentions black people? Is it necessary? Or was it meant to be offensive?

Moving On

Mar 03, 2012 by Angela Sickler in God

When the all-seeing, unnamed narrator speaks directly to the characters, as he (or she) does in Chapter 19, “Moving On,” it creates a more personal and believable narrative.  This technique also allows the author to comment on the action and provoke certain feelings in the reader.  When policemen drag Jo, the unfortunate beggar boy, to the Snagsby house because he refuses to ‘move on’ from his current spot, Jo says, “ ‘I’ve always been a moving and a moving on, ever since I was born.  Where can I possibly move to, sir, more nor I do move!’” (308).  The constable does not care where Jo moves on to: “ ‘My instructions don’t go to that… My instructions are that this boy is to move on’” (308.)

It is here that the omniscient narrator inserts himself, speaking as if directly to Jo and lamenting his sorry state: “Do you hear, Jo?  It is nothing to you or to any one else, that the great lights of the parliamentary sky have failed for some few years, in this business, to set you the example of moving on.  The one grand recipe remains for you—the profound philosophical prescription—the be-all and the end-all of your strange existence upon earth.  Move on!  You are by no means to move off, Jo, for the great lights can’t at all agree about that.  Move on!” (308).  By breaking the usual wall between the characters and the 3rd person narrator, the narrator seems at once part of the action and removed from it.  The narrator appears to be a God-like figure, who is humanized by his frustration with the people he is over-seeing and his inability to make them hear him.  Only we, as the reader, are privy to his private thoughts and the observations of his all-seeing eye.

Showing us the narrator’s thoughts is also unique way to criticize, and comment on, society without sounding preachy.  The narrator is pointing out the unfairness of Jo’s situation, always being forced to move on, never able to settle into comfort and stability in one place because he is poor and alone.  The narrator tells Jo, “The one grand recipe remains for you…the be-all and the end-all of your strange existence upon earth.  Move on!” (308).  If Jo is always moving, won’t he run out of places to move on to?  Jo does leave and find a new place, and at the end of the chapter we are shown a picture of him sitting and munching food: “There he sits, the sun going down, the river running fast, the crowd flowing by him in two streams—everything moving on to some purpose and to one end—until he is stirred up, and told to ‘move on’ too” (315).  The narrator paints us a sad portrait, of Jo finding a new place, where he will only be able to stay until he is shooed away again.  This never-ending cycle will continue until poor Jo reaches the “one end” of death, like everybody else.

 

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