Secondary – Bleak House

M. Clare Loughlin-Chow, “Sociological Contexts of Victorian Fiction”

Bleak House is Dickens’ attempt to negotiate the social division in Mid-Victoiran London. The use of coincidence is double-edged: could be interpreted as the contingency of the city, or an emphasis of the still existent social bonds between characters divided by wealth, status, geography, etc. But even if the latter is the case, the case of Jo getting Esther sick, illustrates the sickness and dangers of a system where one part of the population is ignored. When the narrator rhetorically pleads, “What connection can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world,” we are asked, I think to see the world in a particular way–this mode of seeing is in fact a type of active creation, a creation of social bonds that DO EXIST whether we like them to or not. That is, Jo will infect the upper class whether we recognize him or not.

 

Elana Gomel, “Part of the Dreadful Thing”: The Urban Chronotope of Bleak House

This essay addresses the paradox of Dickens as an urban writer through exploration of his narrative space. On the one hand, like Mayhew, Engels, and other Victorian urban explorers, Dickens is a fierce critic of the social ills of the industrial metropolis. On the other hand, Dickens is ranked alongside Baudelaire and Benjamin as the creator of a new vocabulary for urban pleasures, such as flânerie, consumption, visual distraction, and psychological stimulation.

This ambiguity of Dickens’ urban attitudes is encapsulated in the doubleness of his urban chronotope. The city of Dickens is often imaged in vertical terms as the dichotomously divided space of the rich and the poor. But equally often, it is structured horizontally as a maze, network, or ring of contagion that unites all the city dwellers in a complex ecology of mutual interdependence. These two axes of representation correspond to the two types of urban involvement, that of the reformer and of the flâneur. In Bleak House they are epitomized by the omniscient narrator’s “bird’s eye” view of society and Esther’s “street level” vision of it.

The essay explores the tension and interaction between the detached aesthetics of flânerie and the passionate involvement of social reform in the narrative fabric of Dickens’s world. It analyzes the narrative architecture of Bleak House by focusing on the techniques of vision and focalization rather than on the novel’s thematic concerns and/or characters’ actions.

David Paroissien, “Subdued by the Dyer’s Hand: Dickens at Work in Bleak House

This essay examines the implications of Dickens’s statement in the preface to the one-volume edition of Bleak House (September 1853) that in the novel he “purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of familiar things.” This claim, I argue, goes to the core of Dickens’s art as a writer, an art that combines the presentation of disturbing news about the contemporary state of society with a skilful attempt to provide narrative pleasure, pleasure designed to ensure that the narrator retains his hold over readers for 67 chapters. Dickens’s achievement, I conclude, constitutes literary art of the highest order, one that instructs readers in social and ethical truths while also delighting them and holding their attention in the course of telling a compelling story.

 

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