19th century,  General Fiction

Bleak House – Part IV

Part IV has some juicy news for the characters in Bleak House. I found myself, first challenged with so many names and places but really happy with how things everything is doing.

Part IV

11. Our Dear Brother

12. On the Watch

13. Esther’s Narrative

Chapter 11 brought me to a scene in a Victorian novel whose title I can’t remember, but I do recall that the whole scene was disgusting. It took place on an inhabitated house, where people gathered to smoke opium and its sweetness seemed to came out of the pages and flood my bedroom. This was the same: filthy, dark and sweet. Mr. Tulkinghorn finds the corpse and all the characters living at Inn’s Court call the surgeon and gossip around. But, the following quote surprise me:

“Hadn’t you better see,” says Mr. Tulkinghorn to Krook, “whether he had any papers that may enlighten you? There will be an inquest, and you will be asked the question. You can read?”

“No, I can’t,” returns the old man with a sudden grin.

“Snagsby,” says Mr. Tulkinghorn, “look over the room for him. He will get into some trouble or difficulty otherwise. Being here, I’ll wait if you make haste, and then I can testify on his behalf, if it should ever be necessary, that all was fair and right. If you will hold the candle for Mr. Snagsby, my friend, he’ll soon see whether there is anything to help you.”

“In the first place, here’s an old portmanteau, sir,” says Snagsby.

Ah, to be sure, so there is! Mr. Tulkinghorn does not appear to have seen it before, though he is standing so close to it, and though there is very little else, heaven knows.

It captures the feeling I get everytime something interesting happens in Bleak House: there is something I, as a reader, do not know and Dickens is making the characters keep it all away from me. Also, I did not really pay attention to the secondary characters that appear in the trial, deciding whether the death of “a certain man” was suicidal or an accidental death. They decide on accidental death and they dismiss a boy, named Jo, who now that I’m reading part VII gains some special importance:

Name, Jo. Nothing else that he knows on. Don’t know that everybody has two names. Never heerd of sich a think. Don’t know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for HIM. HE don’t find no fault with it. Spell it? No. HE can’t spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school. What’s home? Knows a broom’s a broom, and knows it’s wicked to tell a lie. Don’t recollect who told him about the broom or about the lie, but knows both. Can’t exactly say what’ll be done to him arter he’s dead if he tells a lie to the gentlemen here, but believes it’ll be something wery bad to punish him, and serve him right—and so he’ll tell the truth.

Chapter 12 goes back to Chesney Wold and we learn that Mr. Tulkinghorn is related to Lord Leicester and Lady Dedlock , and he wants to talk to the lady. They are also in a fight with Mr. Boythorn. We also learn why Mr. Tulkinghorn visited the man at Inn’s Court:

“Oh, yes!” returns my Lady carelessly. “I think I must have had some. And did you really take the trouble to find out the writer of that actual thing—what is it!—affidavit?”

But, another mystery comes out at the end:

They appear to take as little note of one another as any two people enclosed within the same walls could. But whether each evermore watches and suspects the other, evermore mistrustful of some great reservation; whether each is evermore prepared at all points for the other, and never to be taken unawares; what each would give to know how much the other knows—all this is hidden, for the time, in their own hearts.

Could things get any better?

Finally, Chapter 13 returns to our beloved Esther, Richard’s trouble finding a suitable job for his protastinating character and Mr. Boythorn amusing the scenes. Mr. Kenge comes and they all decide that Richard will be a surgeon and will get trainned with Mr. Kenge’s cousin, Mr. Badger. So, they all visit London to meet him and enjoy some city-life when Esther gets (what we would call nowadays) “harrassed” by Mr. Guppy, whose marriage proporal she turned down in a previous chapter. Finally, they get to know Mr. Badger and her wife, who had two previous husbands whose presecne is, for my taste, too strong in the house, but everything is OK with good Mr. Badger who even admires his wife’s past.  And, the best part: Ada confesses her feelings for Richard to Esther and Richard confesses them too. How cute! They call themselves a couple when Esther is told to tell Mr. Jarndyce and he approves, in fact, he was wishing for it since they met! Also, Mr. Jarnydce cares for Esther and she lets the reader know she, again, has been keeping things away: she met someone.

“I believe so, too,” said he. “But some one may find out what Esther never will—that the little woman is to be held in remembrance above all other people!”

I have omitted to mention in its place that there was some one else at the family dinner party. It was not a lady. It was a gentleman. It was a gentleman of a dark complexion—a young surgeon. He was rather reserved, but I thought him very sensible and agreeable. At least, Ada asked me if I did not, and I said yes.

The family portraits of Mrs. Bayham Badger's past husbands.
The family portraits of Mrs. Bayham Badger's past husbands.

Now, things are getting really interesting and, contrary to what I thought, I am not getting impacient with all the information that is apparently being kept away. It just makes the reading more interesting! I am really glad I chose to read Bleak House because it is proving itself to be universal in the themes it deals with and a challening reading: the reader is expected to retain names, places and actions even of characters mentioned once in the narrative. In fact, it is those apparently secondary chaacters that Dickens will make more relevant in future chapters. A very modern and interesting technique!


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