Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bleak House Week 5: Romance and orphans are not welcome to sit at Dickens's table

Jumping right in on the subject of Esther and Jarndyce, in some ways, it seems right that she should marry him. She has been happy at Bleak House, he is a kind man, he does really seem to love her, and he has been her sole confidante in matters of her past. But . . . he's basically her father? Even though they aren't biologically related, there's a particular dynamic that's been set up here, and that dynamic is that HE'S HER FATHER.

Plus, as much as she loves him, she doesn't L-O-V-E him. She's talking herself into believing that she wants this match, but she's struggling with a mysterious sense of loss. And we know, even if she doesn't, that it's because her romantic affections lie elsewhere. But if you were to ask me where her affections lie, whether with Ada or with Woodcourt . . . I believe I would be forced to answer that they lie with both.

When Esther pulled out the dried flowers that Woodcourt left for her and that she saved all this time, she took them into Ada's room and touched them to her lips as she slept, and then she burned them over a candle. And in that one ritual, I think she said goodbye to Ada and Woodcourt together. Her chance at a sweeping, all-consuming romance existed with one of those two individuals, and now she has this instead:
I put my two arms round his neck and kissed him, and he said was this the mistress of Bleak House and I said yes; and it made no difference presently, and we all went out together, and I said nothing to my precious pet about it. 
It's just what every little girl dreams of.

And, because I can't resist gaying up Bleak House just a little more, I could be easily convinced that Woodcourt has more than a friendly interest in Richard. He met the shock of Esther's changed face with admirable composure, and really I don't think it bothered him much at all past the sadness he felt for her personal loss. But he was very bothered indeed by Richard's face.
Mr. Woodcourt had a perception that all was not going well with him. He frequently glanced at his face as if there were something in it that gave him pain, and more than once he looked towards me as though he sought to ascertain whether I knew what the truth was.
And then when Esther asked him to take Richard under his wing as a friend in London, he earnestly accepted this calling as a sacred trust. And, yeah, maybe he's throwing himself into this with such gusto because he loves Esther and wants to ease her worries in any little way he can, but isn't it funner if we look at it the other way?

Who do we think shot Skulkingscorn? I know we're supposed to believe it was Lady D, since she went for a "walk" in the "garden" that night. But it could be any number of people. George probably wouldn't kill him, but that impassioned speech in which he compared him to a rusty carbine and said he would take him down on a fair field, and then had to self-soothe by whistling the national anthem and rocking himself gently, will certainly make him a suspect.

My money, though, is on Hortense. She came to Tulkinghorn justifiably upset. He had coerced her into selling out her employer, and then she lost her placement. She may be a little unbalanced, but her request was reasonable. All she wanted was help finding another job. But could Tulkinghorn meet this logical request with a logical response?

Niiiiiice knowing you, buddy.

As for people who are wonderful and deserve to live forever, every single moment in Chapters 46 and 47 was both the best and the saddest moment in the whole book for me. I know that Woodcourt has done great things for the shipwrecked people of India, but when he chased Jo in a "grimly ridiculous pursuit" just because Jenny asked him to, and then made sure Jo was safe at George's and cared for him personally, that's the point when I thought, "This is the one man on Earth who actually deserves Esther."

And Phil took particular interest in Jo's care and then cried on his hammer when Jo's cart was getting its heaviest. . . probably because he saw himself in this grimy, dejected boy walking up against the buildings, touching every filthy brick as he went. And George opened his home to him for the same reason, I think. And Snagsby risked, not to put too fine a point on it, the wrath of his little woman to come visit Jo on his deathbed. And when even three half-crowns weren't enough to fix this problem, he vowed to record Jo's apology so that he would finally be able to access the secret power of the written word that had always been so far out of his reach. Snagsby helped Jo feel more human.

Basically, the image of this group of men finally filling the role of nurturer for a boy who has never known anything but moving on and moving on and forever moving on, that image did me right in.

And you know what else did me in?
He also descries promise in the figure of Mr. George himself, striding towards them in his morning exercise with his pipe in his mouth, no stock on, and his muscular arms, developed by broadsword and dumbbell, weightily asserting themselves through his light shirt-sleeves.


  1. I've never been that bothered about Mr George (mainly because he's basically only in the third person chapters and who can deal with those? NOT ME) but that description: Oh. Yes. I think it's very important that we got THAT mental picture locked down.

    I think you're probably right about Hortense being Skulkingscorn's (BEST NAME EVER, MEGS) killer- I just read it, went 'OMG LADY D WHAT HAVE YOU DONE' and wrote a blog post straight away... On reflection, I think yeah, probably not. Plus Hortense is a foreigner so you KNOW you can't trust her *xenophobe face*

  2. I was feeling melodramatic yesterday, and it's probably Jo's fault. That's the most likely explanation.

  3. Hmm I think so. But I mean, they could still probably break it off and have their lil' foursome. maybe Jarndyce will let her out of it?


    Woodcourt's rescuing shipwreck victims, or whoever, never really got me because I kind of side-eye heroics, but yes, Liz and Jo and so forth. GOOD WORK, WOODCOURT. You may have Esther's scarred hand.

  5. Well maybe if you were visualizing Mr. George CORRECTLY, his chapters would be more INTERESTING to you.

    Dickens definitely wants us to believe that Lady D did it, what with arranging everything for Rosa and getting herself ready for some big Something. But if she knew Tulkinghorn was going to be dead, should wouldn't have needed to send Rosa away I don't think. So NICE TRY, Dickens.

  6. I have a thing about passionless marriages...and that thing is that I dislike them.

    She cried on Ada's face, and it wasn't creepy at all. But...I think she's sort of obligated to marry Jarndyce now that she's formally accepted his proposal. Wasn't a verbal engagement basically a binding contract in those days?

  7. THAT LIZ LEMON GIF. Yes, that's exactly what the Esther/Jarndyce kiss was like.

    I forgot/didn't catch Esther also saying goodbye to Ada when she burns the flowers and now I'm doubly sad at that whole scene.

    WHAT IF Esther & Woodcourt get together, then Ada & Richard and then the four can live together and actually be coupled with the person they REALLY want? Yes, that will do.

  8. "but isn't it funner if we look at it the other way?"


    Omg. I teared up right here: "Snagsby helped Jo feel more human." Can't handle anything about Jo. Nope. Not fair, Dickens. Damn you, sir. Damn you.

    Last gif is perfect. As is the one from BILLY MADISON I heart you.