Reading & Writing Bleak House

A Monstrous System

Feb 25, 2012 by Erica L Moulton in Esther

Mr. Gridley’s lamentable tale of judicial woe conjured in my mind stories I have heard about the abysmal state of government-sponsored healthcare in the United States. The entrapment forced on Gridley, whose name even recalls the invisible bars that imprisons him, is comparable on several levels to the institutional loopholes that many unfortunate citizens must jump through on a daily basis. 

One healthcare program, Medicaid, is meant to provide medical attention to US citizens who fall below a certain income level. Medicaid recipients are often warned not to enter the program because of the difficulty it makes in receiving adequate healthcare, but more often than not, they have no choice but to enter. Mr. Gridley echoed their hesitations, when he said, “I was forced there, because the law forced me, and would let me go nowhere else,” (204). 

Poverty alone is not enough to qualify someone for Medicaid. Over time, more and more legal framework was instituted to make it extremely difficult to qualify. The Deficit Reduction Act called for all people applying for Medicaid to provide legal documents that proved they were US citizens. This specific requirement is highly reminiscent of Mr. Gridley’s lamentation about his case being stopped “for another two years, while the Master inquired whether I was my father’s son - about which there was no dispute at all with any mortal creature.”

Mr Gridley goes on to rail against the system which so oppresses him. One of his complaints is particularly relevant to modern struggles with healthcare. “I mustn’t look to individuals. It’s the system...My Lord knows nothing of it. He sits there to administer the system.” This lack of responsibility from those who supposedly govern the system is as applicable today as it was in Dickens’ time and it speaks volumes to the lack of humanity towards the downtrodden that Dickens’ portrays in Bleak House, and sadly, still applies today. 

The Beadle's Exploits

Feb 20, 2012 by Erica L Moulton in God

Taking a cue from Maria, who last week did a close reading of Esther's reaction to Guppy, I thought this week I would attempt a close reading of my own. One paragraph, in particular, jumped out at me as I read this week's serial portion. In my edition of Bleak House, which is a rather old "Everyman's" copy, the passage can be found on page 137, but the paragraph in question is about halfway through Chapter 11, and it concerns a certain inept "Beadle." What stood out to me was the syntax, with its alternating lyrical and broken quality, the selected imagery and detail and above all, the humor the passage inspires. I was so enchanted and amused by what I read that I went back and re-read it two or three more times, and each time a latched on to something new. As opposed to going on about how wonderful the passage was, I will select a few details since my space here is limited. 

The very first line -"By-and bye the beadle comes out, once more intensifying the sensation, which has rather languished in the interval." - is a sentence that can be appreciated for its lyrical construction alone. The alliteration of the three "b's," the carefully orchestrated caesurae and the use of the words "intensifying" and "sensation" and then "languished" and "interval"creating a kind of forward thrusting meter make this a sentence of epic proportions. Then a few lines later Dickens shifts his sentence structure so each sentence seems more like a telegram or a hastily scribbled note. "Is immediately referred to.." and "Is made more imbecile.." are notable for their omission of the subject, the Beadle. The juxtaposition of these two disparate styles is jarring, but I believe Dickens intends this affect. The subject of this paragraph, the beadle's exploits "interrogating" the public regarding the deceased Nemo charts the public's fascination, annoyance and derision of the beadle in that order. Dickens is preternaturally aware of the cycle of public interest in the comic and the grotesque. He captures with his words, the waxing and waning of their attention span and all of the humorous side-affects that accompany the full rotation of the "interval."  

There is much more to discuss about this paragraph, but I seems to have run out of room.  

The Bleakness of Chesney Wold

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

            In the seventh chapter of Bleak House, entitled “The Ghost’s Walk”, the reader is pulled from the warm, comfortable environment of Bleak House and Esther’s narrative, and dropped back into the cold, grey, third-person narrative in which the novel began. This contrast is clearly the author’s intention, as the chapter begins: “While Esther sleeps, and while Esther wakes, it is still wet weather down at the place in Lincolnshire” (103). The difference is distinct, and the reader is provided with the clear impression that, while Bleak House is alive and full of happiness, the Dedlock estate at Chesney Wold is a place that is grey, cold and, in many ways, asleep.

            The chapter begins with over two pages of pure description. This effectively sets the tone, and drops the reader straight into the gloom that surrounds the Dedlock estate. As in the novel’s first chapter, the narrator begins with the weather. “The rain is ever falling, drip, drip, drip, by day and night, upon the broad flagged terrace-pavement, The Ghost’s Walk. The weather is so very bad, down in Lincolnshire, that the liveliest imagination can scarcely apprehend its ever being fine again” (103). The repeated onomatopoeia allows the reader to hear the rain dripping, making the description more vivid and real.

            The description then turns from the weather to the animals of the estate. There are many, including horses, dogs, rabbits and birds, and we are not only informed of their actions, but are actually given their thoughts. “There may be some motions of fancy among the lower animals at Chesney Wold. The horses in the stables… they may contemplate some mental pictures of fine weather, on occasions, and may be better artists at them than the grooms” (103-104). The same goes for the other animals, all of whom dream of the sun and clearly have far more life in them than their human counterparts. They possess hope for warm weather, while the people at Chesney Wold have come to accept the rain and fog. The subdued, distant narrative voice, accompanied by the bleakness of the description and the fact that the animals are the only inhabitants who still have some life and hope in them, all aid in creating a sense of a place that is dormant, and that has fallen silent in the rain. The sense of dormancy is emphasized by the final introduction of a human into the description of Chesney Wold: Mrs. Rouncewell. “She sits in her room… and the whole house reposes, on her mind. She can open it on occasion, and be busy and fluttered; but it is shut-up now, and lies on the breadth of Mrs. Rouncewell’s iron-bound bosom, in a majestic sleep” (105-106). This is the final sentence of the long description of the estate, and enforces the sense that Chesney Wold is, in a certain sense, sleeping.    

            The still, gloomy tone in which Chesney Wold is described at the beginning of “The Ghost’s Walk” serves several purposes. It helps to set the scene for a chapter that introduces a dark story from the past of the Dedlock family, it creates a sense of foreboding and hopelessness, indicating that things are not quite as they should be at the estate and, most significantly, creates a distinct contrast between the bleakness of Chesney Wold and the unexpected cheer of Bleak House.  

The Ghost's Walk: Lady Dedlock's Future

Feb 05, 2012 by Maria E Whelan in God

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