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A Brief Bleak House Moment with Esther

March 6, 2012

A number of Dickens’ favorite themes, and some of my favorite of his themes, have continued to pop up in Bleak House. One scene in this week’s reading literally jumped off the page and grabbed my attention (being weakened by sickness, I could hardly fight back). My attention fully seized and contained, it struck me that this particular scene contained several tried and true themes: identity, mirrors, and texts (even the fire place gazing kind). Yet all of this was dealt with via first person narrative, the differentiating aspect (as in differing from the other novels we’ve read) of Bleak House that I have found most interesting.

The scene is in Chapter XVII, and we’ll do a play by play:
1. Esther, “little inclined to sleep”, sits up working.
2. Via 1st person, we see directly into the faltering steps of Esther’s thought process. She wonders whether she actually knows why she is “wakeful and rather low-spirited” and concludes “perhaps I do, but I don’t think it matters.” Stutter stepping, equivocation into denial of own essence and refusal to examine one’s cognitive depths. A sort of “dare i disturb the universe” moment. Sadly, answered with a “no”. If I was a therapist, I would not approve.
3. Dialogue with self/ watching oneself/ gazing upon her own self filled with anxiety, quite literally, in the mirror. Wow.
4. Then we’re downstairs. And by golly, here’s John ignoring his book
and staring into the ashes of the fire place all Lizzie Hexamesque
(well, minus the flames).
5. Potentially sexist remark, followed by gushy memories, and then…
6. A new text… The letter from Esther’s….mother?…A writer who has “blotted out all trace of her existence”. And so, we have a mystery writer that may be a mystery mother with a nihilistic view of existence.

So much happening in this book, so much.

Dickens, Charles. “Bleak House”. New York: Modern Library, 2002. pgs. 233-235.


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  1. Nice tie into other ideas from the other books. I’ve never noticed Dicken’s preoccupation with texts and reflections in this way before… We’re reading him “backwards,” so do these earlier references make sense given the later writing… that he was relying on a writerly formula so to speak, the way he saw the world? Interesting.

  2. Nice comparison between Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House. There is actually a scene that is similar. There is so much going on in Bleak House, and there are things I am probably missing. It’s chock full of imagery and nuance. Good post.

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