Bleak House

By Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Key Facts

Composing date: 1852–1853

Published date: March 1852- Semtember 1853, as 20 episod.

Point of view: Both first and third-person points of view have been applied to narrate the story. The first person narrator is the protagonist named Esther Summerson, who is a female character.

Genre: Satirical novel.

Place setting: Lincolnshire and London, and the name of the houses where the most part of the story happens – Bleak House, and Chesney Wold, a country of Lady Dedlock’s husband.

Time setting: Mid-nineteenth century

Character Analysis

There are more than 200 characters in the novel “Bleak House”. Remembering all the characters will be a task of burden because only few characters are deeply connected to the core content of the story. So, here we will only sketch the major characters in short.

John Jarndyce

John is a 60 years old man. He is one of the inheritors of the case called “Jarndyce”. He desires to stay as far as possible from Chancery and the infamous Jarndyce case but he cannot stay away because of his two teenaged cousins named Ada and Ricard.

Esther Summerson

She is the protagonist of the novel and one of the two narrators of the Bleak House. Despite growing up in a loveless home, Esther is cheerful, kind, and selfless. As a child, she was taught that she was worthless, but Esther is amazed at how much others love her. She manages to stay optimistic. The woman who raises her is her aunt, not her godmother. Her mother is not dead, but very alive. After they reunite, Esther immediately embraces her mother and falls in love with her. At age of thirteen, Esther loses her godmother and she luckily gains a benefactor guardian called Jarndyce.

Ada Clare

She is one of the inheritors of the case “Jarndyce”. Ada and her cousin Richard Carstone are two young cousins ​​who soon fall in love. But Jarndyce John tells her to resist her feelings until Richard’s life is professionally settled. Ada remains in the Bleak House for several years before finally secretly marrying Richard.

Richard Carstone

Richard is one of the inheritors of the case called “Jarndyce”. He falls in love with his cousin sister Ada Clare. He always wants that the case should be solved as soon as possible so that he can be rich and marry Ada. To please Jarndyce, Richard tries several professions – first doctor, then a lawyer, and an army officer but succeeds at none. He becomes obsessed with the Jarndyce case, this obsession destroys his relationship with his cousin John, makes Ada miserable, and ends in Richard’s death.

Lady Honoria Dedlock

She is the mysterious character of the novel. In her youth, she fell in love with an army officer named Nemo, and with Nemo, she had a child without being wedlock. When she begins to investigate her own past, she faces a series of emotional incidents: discovering that her child is alive and the name of the child is Esther. She is blackmailed by her husband’s lawyer regarding her past and finally dies while trying to protect her husband’s reputation.

Mr. Tulkinghorn

He is a ruthless chancery solicitor or lawyer who collects secret documents or private issues to apply power over others and blackmails Lady Dedlock.


His original name is Captain Hawdon. The symbolic meaning of his name is nothing or nobody. He is a former army officer and lover of Lady Dedlock, now a legal copyist, leading a lonely life. He dies because of an overdose of opium.


He sweeps the street crossings, knows Nemo, guides Lady Dodlock, and connects all the storylines normally.

Mr. Bucket

He is the investigating of officer of Tulkinghorn’s murder. When Lady Dedlock leaves the town, he and Esther try to find her out but they get her dead beside the grave of Nemo.

Allan Woodcourt

He is a young doctor who Esther loves and finally he marries Esther by the help of Jarndyce.


Charles Dickens is a master of exposing critical issues and to preserve his expertise, he has represented a number of social issues in the novel “Bleak House”. The major themes of the novel are;

The search for identity

Mysteries of the Bleak House center on the question of identity. Who is Esther Summerson? Who is her mother? Who is Nemo, whose name means “no one”? Who is Mr. George? But the subject goes beyond the true identity of the characters’ own conception. Mr. George imagines himself to be an irresponsible rover but he can always be trusted and open his doors to anyone in need. Richard cannot determine which profession he wants to enter and jumps from one to another. Thus, Dickens has not only focused on the identity of human beings but the identity of the profession.

The search for love

Almost every character in the novel “Black House” looks for love, a quest that proves to be equally rewarding and difficult. Esther quietly searches for love, even though she seems too busy caring for others, but she thinks a lot about her own romantic situation. She refrains from concentrating on her romantic feelings in her descriptions, although she often expresses her feelings simply by pondering over the subject. When she first meets Mr. Woodcourt, she does not mention it openly and starkly, which is the complete opposite of treating everyone who crosses her path. Only when her search for love is over, she marries Mr. Woodcourt. Other characters continue their searches more openly, for example, Ada and Richard.

The importance and danger of passion

Emotion in the novel “Bleak House” is both important and dangerous, sometimes healthy and satisfying, sometimes harmful and destructive. Many characters recognize the importance of emotion for a fulfilling life. For example, Mr. Jarndyce and Esther worry when Richard doesn’t find a career. They both hope that Richard will settle himself for fulfilling his passionate love by marrying Ada after settlement. Esther acknowledges the importance of emotion in love, which is why she cries as soon as she decides to accept Mr. Jarndyce’s offer that she loves him, but in an emotionally romantic way, she dreams of loving someone. Even Mr. Jarndyce understands the importance of emotion. Although he knows that he and Esther can have a happy life together at the Bleak House, he knows that their love is built on affection rather than emotion. Although emotion is an important element to fulfill life, it can be devastating when taken to an unhealthy level. Mrs. Jellyby, who is bound by her “mission” to help Africa, is innocently neglected about her family and has pushed herself so far away. This kind of passion for philanthropy is dangerous and Jarndyce’s conscious knowledge of passion is very much significant.

Law vs Justice

The novel “Bleak House” is like many of Dickens’s writings on various social issues. This is a satirical story about Dickens’ view of the British judiciary. Perhaps the most prominent theme of the Bleak House is the injustice of the Chancery Court system. For several years, the major characters of the novel have tried to resolve a civil court case called “Jarndyce”. The case has become a big deal because it involves an inheritance and it has gone on for several years and has become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. In the novel, the case ends but when the court and legal costs have eaten up the entire inheritance. But before solving the case, decades pass, there are several suicides, and still, other lives are ruined. So, justice is a must for the betterment of life, but not the law.

Haunting and guilt

There are many examples of haunting in the Bleak House and the line between past and present is vague and uncertain throughout the novel. The characters are influenced by their past and strong emotions like crime and shame that relate to this personal history. In the resolution of many plots in the Bleak House, Dickens suggests that a person’s past behavior affects their future and shows that greed and selfishness are their punishment even though virtue and goodness bring a reward for them.

Many characters in the novel are haunted by their pasts. The most obvious example of haunting in the Bleak House is the legend of “The Ghost’s Walk” in the country house of Dedlock called Chesney Wold. “Ghosts Walk” is both a literal terrace attached to the house and a reference to the ghost story attached to the family. The sound of rain in “Ghosts Walk” represents a ghostly move – the unhappy wife of a Dedlock ancestor who vowed to enjoy the mansion until the Dodlock line is destroyed. The legend also indirectly refers to the guilt of Lady Dedlock for her illegitimate child, whom she gave birth to before her marriage to Sir Leicester and she believes that she died at birth. The influence of the past on Lady Dedlock is evident through her sensitive reactions when she learns that Esther is her daughter. So, psychologically it is transparent that a human being must suffer from guilt due to his or her bitter past, and it becomes very unbearable when something is done concealing the past, including marriage-like sensitive issues.


For several years, the major characters of the novel have tried to resolve a civil court case called “Jarndyce”. The case has become a big deal because it involves an inheritance and it has gone on for several years and has become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means.

John Jarndyce is a rich man who spends a lot of money on various charities. He is the distant cousin of Ada and Richard, two orphans who are involved with the civil case. Esther Summerson is a lonely girl who was raised in isolation by her aunt for most of her life. When She was thirteen, her aunt dies but fortunately, she was sent to study for six years in a residential school by a benefactor. After six years of study, Esther is taken to the Bleak House which is his benefactor’s house, Mr. John Jarndyce. This is the story of Esther till now.

Now, the story turns to Ada and Richard. Jarndyce takes his distant cousin sister and brother, Ada and Richard, to live with him at his home known as Bleak House; he also appoints Esther Summerson to act as governess for Ada. Jarndyce wants Richard to find a job and start to have a career, but Richard only wants the civil case to be resolved so that he can become wealthy and not need a job. However, to please Jarndyce, Richard makes poor efforts to become a doctor first, then a lawyer, and finally an army officer but eventually Richard returns to the case called Jarndyce. This is the story of two helpless inheritors, Ada and Richard.

Now, this is the time for the story of Lady Dedlock who is a lady from a rich and powerful family in the town. She is also involved in the inheritance case. The family lawyer or solicitor for the Dedlock family is Tulkinghorn, who is basically a blackmailer. While verifying one of the legal documents with Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock is drawn to and becomes suspicious of the handwriting of one of the letters in the legal documents. She asks Tulkinghorn about the writer of the document. Tulkinghorn tells her that he does not know. Shortly after this, the twist grows up in the story.

Tulkinghorn begins investigating this issue and discovers that the letter was written by a man named Nemo. Before Tulkinghorn can talk to Nemo, Nemo dies by an overdose of opium. Tulkinghorn then finds out that the only person who can provide information about Nemo is a street sweeper boy, Jo, who says to him that Nemo was always a nice man. Lady Dedlock in disguise as a maidservant also obtains information about Nemo’s life from Jo.

Now, the plot of the story is that Jo becomes sick and there is nobody to look after him and Tulkinghorn has forced Jo to leave London so that he can blackmail Lady Dedlock. Jo, fortunately, arrives at Bleak House where he is taken care of by Esther. Here Jo gets surprised seeing Esther because she resembles Lady Dedlock, who is a veiled woman to Jo. However, Jo ponders that it is his hallucination due to his illness. Without getting cured, Jo leaves Bleak House the next day but Esther does not know anything about the secret.

Shortly afterward Jo’s leaving, Esther is attacked by smallpox and because of this, her beauty is destroyed somewhat because of a number of rashes in her face due to smallpox. Meanwhile, Ada and Richard have married secretly. Now, Esther is a little bit frustrated due to her ugliness. Nevertheless, Jarndyce asks Esther to marry him, and she agrees to the proposal. In the meantime, Ada becomes pregnant.

The revelation part of the story is just amazing. Lady Dedlock is obsessed with finding out Nemo’s identity and eventually discovers that Nemo was that man with whom she had previously been romantic with and with whom she had a baby without being wedlock. Lady Dedlock knew that her baby died, but through her investigation, she can learn that her baby had not died but had been raised by her sister. Lady Dedlock goes to Esther and confesses that she is her mother but does not want a relationship with Esther because she does not want to destroy her husband’s reputation and even her own.

Tulkinghorn threatens Lady Dedlock to reveal ‘her past to her husband, but before he can do that he is mysteriously shot and killed. On the other hand, although Lady Dedlock is innocent, she believes that her past will be exposed and she will be blamed for Tulkinghorn’s death which is why she leaves town. It is later revealed that Lady Dedlock’s maid killed Tulkinghorn to take revenge on Lady Dedlock because she struggled so much to find a job after being fired by Lady Dedlock. An investigating police officer named Mr. Bucket and Esther try to find out Lady Dedlock. But before they find her, she dies at the gate of the burial ground where Nemo was buried, and her husband is devastated by the loss.

The happy ending of the story is like that the Jarndyce case finally ends, but the costs have eaten up the entire inheritance. Richard dies, leaving Ada pregnant. Mr. Jarndyce realizes that Esther and doctor Allan Woodcourt love each other that is why he has bought them a cottage and then he arranges their marriage. Ada has a son named Richard, and Allan and Esther have two daughters; they live happily as a family.

The keywords of the story

  1. Jarndyce & Summerson
  2. Lady Dedlock & Nemo
  3. Revelation & Ending

Click Here: For more notes of the novel

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
Articles: 380

Leave a Reply

error: Sorry !!