Bleak House

Bleak House

by Charles Dickens

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Overview

A tale of family secrets and the damaging corruption of the British legal system from the author of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.
 
In Bleak House, Charles Dickens not only pries apart the stultifying and ponderous conduct and contracts of British moneyed society, but also takes specific aim at an English judicial system in desperate need of modernization and reform.

Featuring the voice of Esther Summerson—Dickens’s only female narrator—the story unfolds around a generations-old legal case involving numerous inheritances. It is Esther’s hidden birthright that sparks the drama, bringing to light such memorable characters as the Lady Dedlock, haunted by her shameful past; John Jarndyce, whose seemingly infinite kindness is driven by hidden guilt; and the sly lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn, who secretly relishes the power his position gives him over his clients.
 
Weaving a complex web of plots and subplots, Dickens created one of his most dramatically satisfying and boldly ambitious narratives in Bleak House, as the novel offers a scathing indictment of the mores and moral injustices of his time.
 
This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504048187
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 09/12/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 594
Sales rank: 21,413
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

An international celebrity during his lifetime, Charles Dickens (1812­–1870) is widely regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His classic works include A Christmas CarolOliver TwistDavid CopperfieldGreat Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities, one of the bestselling novels of all time. When Dickens was twelve years old, his father was sent to debtors’ prison, and the boy was forced to work in a boot-blacking factory to support his family. The experience greatly shaped both his fiction and his tireless advocacy for children’s rights and social reform.

Date of Birth:

February 7, 1812

Date of Death:

June 18, 1870

Place of Birth:

Portsmouth, England

Place of Death:

Gad's Hill, Kent, England

Education:

Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

In Chancery

LONDON. MICHAELMAS TERM LATELY over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street- corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

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.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here — as here he is — with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such an afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar ought to be — as here they are — mistily engaged in one of the ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horsehair warded heads against walls of words and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might. On such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause, some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a fortune by it, ought to be — as are they not? — ranged in a line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth at the bottom of it) between the registrar's red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross- bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them. Well may the court be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the fog hang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may the stained-glass windows lose their colour and admit no light of day into the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to the roof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks into the lantern that has no light in it and where the attendant wigs are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give — who does not often give — the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"

Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky afternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause, two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of solicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below the judge, in wig and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy purses, or whatever they may be, in legal court suits. These are all yawning, for no crumb of amusement ever falls from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezed dry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters of the court, and the reporters of the newspapers invariably decamp with the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on. Their places are a blank. Standing on a seat at the side of the hall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary, is a little mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet who is always in court, from its sitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensible judgment to be given in her favour. Some say she really is, or was, a party to a suit, but no one knows for certain because no one cares. She carries some small litter in a reticule which she calls her documents, principally consisting of paper matches and dry lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody, for the half-dozenth time to make a personal application "to purge himself of his contempt," which, being a solitary surviving executor who has fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts of which it is not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at all likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life are ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself in a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out "My Lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint on the instant of his rising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by sight linger on the chance of his furnishing some fun and enlivening the dismal weather a little.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port-wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, the eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers" — a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and purses.

How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt would be a very wide question. From the master upon whose impaling files reams of dusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into many shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Office who has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages under that eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it. In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the wretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr. Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and had appointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and shuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver in the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but has acquired too a distrust of his own mother and a contempt for his own kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed into a habit of vaguely promising themselves that they will look into that outstanding little matter and see what can be done for Drizzle — who was not well used — when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of the office. Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right.

Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

"Mr. Tangle," says the Lord High Chancellor, latterly something restless under the eloquence of that learned gentleman.

"Mlud," says Mr. Tangle. Mr. Tangle knows more of Jarndyce and Jarndyce than anybody. He is famous for it — supposed never to have read anything else since he left school.

"Have you nearly concluded your argument?"

"Mlud, no — variety of points — feel it my duty tsubmit — ludship," is the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.

"Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?" says the Chancellor with a slight smile.

Eighteen of Mr. Tangle's learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.

"We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight," says the Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come to a settlement one of these days.

The Chancellor rises; the bar rises; the prisoner is brought forward in a hurry; the man from Shropshire cries, "My lord!" Maces, bags, and purses indignantly proclaim silence and frown at the man from Shropshire.

"In reference," proceeds the Chancellor, still on Jarndyce and Jarndyce, "to the young girl —"

"Begludship's pardon — boy," says Mr. Tangle prematurely. "In reference," proceeds the Chancellor with extra distinctness, "to the young girl and boy, the two young people" — Mr. Tangle crushed — "whom I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in my private room, I will see them and satisfy myself as to the expediency of making the order for their residing with their uncle."

Mr. Tangle on his legs again. "Begludship's pardon — dead."

"With their" — Chancellor looking through his double eye- glass at the papers on his desk — "grandfather."

"Begludship's pardon — victim of rash action — brains."

Suddenly a very little counsel with a terrific bass voice arises, fully inflated, in the back settlements of the fog, and says, "Will your lordship allow me? I appear for him. He is a cousin, several times removed. I am not at the moment prepared to inform the court in what exact remove he is a cousin, but he IS a cousin."

Leaving this address (delivered like a sepulchral message) ringing in the rafters of the roof, the very little counsel drops, and the fog knows him no more. Everybody looks for him. Nobody can see him.

"I will speak with both the young people," says the Chancellor anew, "and satisfy myself on the subject of their residing with their cousin. I will mention the matter to-morrow morning when I take my seat."

The Chancellor is about to bow to the bar when the prisoner is presented. Nothing can possibly come of the prisoner's conglomeration but his being sent back to prison, which is soon done. The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative "My lord!" but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre — why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce!

CHAPTER 2

In Fashion

IT IS BUT A glimpse of the world of fashion that we want on this same miry afternoon. It is not so unlike the Court of Chancery but that we may pass from the one scene to the other, as the crow flies. Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles who have played at strange games through a deal of thundery weather; sleeping beauties whom the knight will wake one day, when all the stopped spits in the kitchen shall begin to turn prodigiously!

It is not a large world. Relatively even to this world of ours, which has its limits too (as your Highness shall find when you have made the tour of it and are come to the brink of the void beyond), it is a very little speck. There is much good in it; there are many good and true people in it; it has its appointed place. But the evil of it is that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Bleak House"
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Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents


Author's Preface
I. In Chancery
II. In Fashion
III. A Progress
IV. Telescopic Philanthropy
V. A Morning Adventure
VI. Quite at Home
VII. The Ghost's Walk
VIII. Covering a Multitude of Sins
IX. Signs and Tokens
X. The Law-Writer
XI. Our Dear Brother
XII. On the Watch
XIII. Esther's Narrative
XIV. Deportment
XV. Bell Yard
XVI. Tom-All-Alone's
XVII. Esther's Narrative
XVIII. Lady Dedlock
XIX. Moving On
XX. A New Lodger
XXI. The Smallweed Family
XXII. Mr. Bucket
XXIII. Esther's Narrative
XXIV. An Appeal Case
XXV. Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All
XXVI. Sharpshooters
XXVII. More Old Soldiers Than One
XXVIII. The Ironmaster
XXIX. The Young Man
XXX. Esther's Narrative
XXXI. Nurse and Patient
XXXII. The Appointed Time
XXXIII. Interlopers
XXXIV. A Turn of the Screw
XXXV. Esther's Narrative
XXXVI. Chesney Wold
XXXVII. Jarndyce and Jarndyce
XXXVIII. A Struggle
XXXIX. Attorney and Client
XL. National and Domestic
XLI. In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Room
XLII. In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Chambers
XLIII. Esther's Narrative
XLIV. The Letter and the Answer
XLV. In Trust
XLVI. Stop Him!
XLVII. Jo's Will
XLVIII. Closing In
XLIX. Dutiful Friendship
L. Esther's Narrative
LI. Enlightened
LII. Obstinacy
LIII. The Track
LIV. Springing a Mine
LV. Flight
LVI. Pursuit
LVII. Esther's Narrative
LVIII. A Wintry Day and Night
LIX. Esther's Narrative
LX. Perspective
LXI. A Discovery
LXII. Another Discovery
LXIII. Steel and Iron
LXIV. Esther's Narrative
LXV. Beginning the World
LXVI. Down in Lincolnshire
LXVII. The Close of Esther's Narrative

Reading Group Guide

1. 1. Critics have long regarded Bleak House as Dickens’s most formally complex novel, since it blends together a number of different genres: detective fiction, romance, melodrama, satire. Compare the way the novel conforms to each of these genres. Do you consider Bleak House more a mystery than a satire, or vice versa? In what ways does the novel transcend these categories altogether?

2. 2. Examine Dickens’s use of irony in Bleak House. Which characters find themselves in ironic moments or situations? How might we read the Court of Chancery’s obstruction of justice as the supreme irony of the book?

3. 3. Consider the narrator’s remark in Chapter XXXIX that “The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.” How, precisely, does Chancery “make business for itself”? What instruments, rituals, and/or actors does it employ to create a great chain of inefficiency?

4. 4. Discuss Dickens’s representation of charity in Bleak House. Are philanthropists generally portrayed in a favorable light? You might compare the work of Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, and Mr. Quale with the quieter charitable work of Esther. What type of charity do you think Dickens values?

5. 5. Do you think Bleak House is successful in its attempt to criticize the English legal system? If so, how do you reconcile the novel’s happy ending with Dickens’s critique?

6. 6. Examine Dickens’s use of mud and pollution imagery throughout Bleak House. What different meanings do images of mud, dirt, disease attach themselves to? Which characters become closely identified with pollution?

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