Bleak House – 1852-1853 – a serialised novel
The Chancery Court
Bleak House was published in instalments from March 1852 through September 1853.
It was illustrated by Phiz.
This novel has the distinction of being perhaps the only work of classic literature featuring a character that dies by spontaneous combustion. It references long drawn out law suits at the Courts of Chancery, which Dickens had reported as a young man.
The novel focuses on the Court of Chancery case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which involves several wills and has been in the court for some time.
Lady Honoria Dedlock is one of the beneficiaries of one of the wills. She listens to the reading of an affidavit, and recognises the hand-writing and almost faints. Bill Tulkinghorn is intrigued by her reaction and traces the copyist, a pauper named ‘Nemo’ from a very poor part of London.
Esther Summerson is raised by Miss Barbary, who blames Esther’s mother for her ‘disgrace’. When Miss Barbary dies, John Jarndyce becomes her guardian and appoints ‘Conversation’ Kenge to look after Esther’s future.
After six years at school she moves into Jarndyce’s home, Bleak House’. At the same time she becomes guardian of two of his distant cousins, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. They are beneficiaries in one of the wills, and he is himself a beneficiary of another will, the two wills create a conflict.
Richard and Ada fall in love. Jarndyce decides he should first choose a career. He first tries medicine, and at the house of his tutor meets with Allan Woodcourt, a physician. When Jarndyce becomes aware he learns that Richard is coming to rely on the outcome of the court case and warns him against this, Richard switches his career to the Law. Later he changes again and spend the rest of his funds to but a commission with the miltary.
Lady Dedlock also looks into the copyist, she is disguised as her maid Mme Hortense. She establishes that Nemo had recently died and she talks to Jo, a street-sweeper, and the only one who knew Nemo, He takes her to his grave.
Jo shows her the grave
Tulkinghorn is very suspicious of Lady Dedlock, enjoining her maid to spy on her and he enlists Inspector Bucket to chase off Jo, in case he knows something detrimental to his client’s, Sir Leicester, interests.
It emerges that Lady Dedlock had a lover, a Captain Hawdon, and had a baby but believed the baby to have died, when in fact she had been brought up by her sister, Miss Barbary. Esther is that child, who then becomes ill, possibly with smallpox, caught from Jo. She has been disfigured by her illness. Lady Dedlock waits for her to recover and then explains the circumstance to Esther. Both are content but agree to keep this secret.
Dickens adds side stories of note. One story is of George Rouncewell;’s rediscovery and reunion with his family. He also describes the hard lives and the marriage of Caddy Jellybe and Prince Turveydrop.
Richard has been trying to conclude Jarndyce v Jarndyce, as a result he has fallen out with John Jarndyce, used up all of his financial resources and is unwell. He had married Ada in secret and they are expecting a baby.
Esther meets Allan Woodcourt again, despite her disfigurement he pursues her. However, she had already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce, who was much older than her.
Hortense and Tulkinghorn eventually get to the truth and confront Lady Dedlock, she flees her home leaving a note apologising to her husband. Tulkinghorn fires Hortense, having no more use for her, and is shot through the heart, suspicion falls on Lady Dedlock. Sir Leicester learns of his lawyer’s death and his wife’s confession and flight. He has a massive stroke but is still able to convey that he forgives her and wants her to return.
Inspector Bucket agrees to look for her. He stablishes her innocence of the shooting, for this was Hortense. He enjoins Esther to help him find her mother. She has wandered the countryside in cold weather, and they find her dead in the cemetery of her former lover.
A later will is found that allows Jarndyce and Jarndyce to progress, this will revokes all prior versions and leaves the bulk of the estate to Richard and Ada.
John Jarndyce cancels his engagement to Esther, freeing her to become to Woodcourt. They meet up at Chancery to learn that the case has however consumed all of the assets.
Richard collapses and Woodcourt diagnoses him in the final stages of tuberculosis. Richard apologises to John and dies.
John Jarndyce takes in Ada and her child, a son who she calls Richard.
Esther and Allan marry and live in a Yorkshire house given to them by John. There they raise two daughters.
Jarndyce, John – owner of Bleak House
Summerson, Esther – heroine of the novel, raised an orphan
Dedlock, Lady Honoria, the mistress of Chesney Wold
Dedlock, Sir Leicester – older than his wife, he is a baronet
Carstone, Richard – young ward of Chancery
Clare, Ada – young ward of Chancery
Boythorne, Lawrence – old friend of John Jarndyce
Bucket, Inspector – a Scotland Yard detective
George, Mr – an ex-soldier first accused of Nemo’s murder
Flite, Annie – elderly eccentric, ruined by a Chancery case
Guppy, William – law clerk at Kenge and Carboy
Jellyby, Caroline (Caddy) – friend of Esther’s
Jo, the Crossing Sweeper – a street boy that Nemo helped
Kenge (‘Conversation’) – a Chancery lawyer
Rouncewell, George – dhas a reunion with his family
Skimpole, Harold – friend of John Jarndyce, a sponger
Smallweed, Joshua (Grandfather) – a vindictive moneylender
Snagsby, Mr Wallace – proprietor of a law-stationery business
Tulkinghorn, Mr Bill – Sir Leicester’s lawyer
Turveydrop, Prince – proprietor of a dance studio
Krook – rag and bottle merchant and collector of papers
Vholes, Mr Ed – a Chancery lawyer
Woodcourt, Allan – a surgeon, keen on Esther
Bagnet, Matthew – military friend of Mr George
Bagnet, Mrs – wife to Matthew
Bagnet, Quebec – eldest daughter to Bagnet
Bagnet, Malta – younger daughter of Bagnet
Bagnet, Woolwich – son of Bagnet
Barbary, Miss – sister to Lady Dedlock
Bogsby, James George
Chadband, Mrs Rachael – former servant to Miss Barbary
Chadband, Mr preacher husband of Mrs Chadband
Dedlock, Volumnia – a cousin, who routinely screams
Gridley, Mr – party to a Chancery law suit
Grubble, Walter –
Guppy, Mrs – Guppy’s aged mother
Guster – maid servant to the Snagsbys
Hawdon, Captain James (aka Nemo) – a law writer, ex-army
Hortense-another lady’s maid to Lady Dedlock
Jellyby, Mrs – Caddy’s mother, obsessed with an African tribe
Jellyby, Mr – a long-suffering husband
Jellyby, Peepy – young son
Jenny – the mistreated wife of a bricklayer
Jobling, Tony (alias Weevle) – a friend to Guppy
Melvilleson, Miss M
Neckett – a debtcollector
Neckett, Charlotte (Charley) – daughter of Neckett
Neckett, Emma – baby daughter of Neckett
Neckett, Tom – young son of Neckett
Nemo – alias of Capt James Hawdon
Pardiggle, Mrs – known for her ‘good works’ for the poor
Rosa – lady’s maid to Lady Dedlock
Rouncewell, Mrs – housekeeper to the Dedlocks
Rouncewell, Watt – Robert’s son
Rouncewell, Mr Robert – adult son of Mrs Rouncewell
Skimpole, Arethusa – the ‘Beauty’ daughter of Skimpole
Skimpole, Kitty – the ‘Comedy’ daughter of Skimpole
Skimpole, Laura – the ‘Sentiment’ daughter of Skimpole
Skimpole, Mrs = weary wife to Skimpole
Smallweed, Grandmother wife to Smallwood senior, sister to Krook, has dementia
Smallweed, Bartholomew (Bart) – grandson, twin to Judy,
Smallweed, Judith – granddaughter, twin to Bart
Snagsby, Mrs – very suspicious wife of Snagsby
Squod, Phil – Mr George’s assistant
Turveydrop, Old Mr – a master of deportment
Vholes, Emma, Jane, and Caroline
Woodcourt, Mrs – Allan’s widowed mother