Dickens Redressed

Dickens Redressed: The Art of Bleak House and Hard Times

Alexander Welsh
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dickens Redressed
    Book Description:

    WithBleak HouseandHard Times,Charles Dickens inaugurated a series of novels now known as "later Dickens"-works with a darker mood and more strident satire than his earlier fiction. Though these two novels continue to be immensely popular, they are only partly understood, Alexander Welsh contends. In this sequel to his critically acclaimedFrom Copyright to Copperfield,Welsh closely examines the two novels Dickens wrote afterDavid Copperfieldand reassesses the importance of this crucial stage of Dickens's career.In spite of the famous double narrative ofBleak House,says Welsh, the various actions and roles of the characters answer the needs of the protagonist much as they do inDavid Copperfield.Dickens redresses himself as the female narrator Esther Summerson and at the same time redirects his artistic energy in forms less explicitly personal. When he wroteHard Times-which can be considered an epilogue to the much longerBleak House-Dickens was able to conceive a plot neither centered around a hero nor fueled by the kind of wish fulfillment that structure had implied. Welsh's engaging discussion and original insights into two of Dickens's most successful novels will enhance the enthusiast's pleasure in reading these works and inspire longtime students of the novelist to think about Dickens's extraordinary accomplishments in new ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14764-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. An Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    One would think thatBleak HouseandHard Times,about to celebrate the sesquicentennials of their original appearances, need no introduction. The first is perhaps more frequently alluded to in news stories and opinion pages than any novel exceptDon Quixote;the second, because of its brevity and its famous schoolroom scene, is familiar to young and old. My favorite clipping from theBleak Housefile is this oblique notice from Newt Gingrich, as reported by theNew York Timeson 5 January 1995:

    Referring to his controversial statement that children of teen-age mothers on welfare should be put in...

  5. 1 Bleak House and Dickens
    (pp. 1-19)

    The titles ofBleak HouseandHard Timestold part of the story. Their harsh notes did not bode well, and Victorian reviewers rather hoped the author might serve up indefinitely the feasts of high spirits and delightful caricatures for which he was famous. In truth, most of the novels afterDavid Copperfield,with their strident and sometimes baffling attacks on English society, were relatively less popular among educated readers than they are today.¹ After eight extraordinary novels and five Christmas books, the writer was conceivably too famous to please reviewers anew, whatever he might choose to write about a...

  6. 2 Esther Summerson, Heroine
    (pp. 20-37)

    “The autobiographical form ofCopperfieldwas in some respect continued inBleak Houseby means of extracts from the personal relation of its heroine.” In these terms John Forster admitted a certain likeness between the two novels, minimized the heroine’s contribution by using the misleading word “extracts,” and then proceeded to disparage the result: “a difficult enterprise, full of hazard in any case, not worth success, and certainly not successful.”¹ Though the same paragraph concluded with Forster’s high estimate of the novel’s construction, this dim view of Esther Summerson’s share of the narrative has predominated among Dickens critics until the...

  7. 3 Ada Clare, Pride and Beauty
    (pp. 38-58)

    Dickens seems to have judged that a female narrator could not or would not describe herself. Summerson ventures no such carefully qualified opinion about her appearance as she does about her cleverness. Her resolve to be “industrious, contented, and kind-hearted” may indeed seem to discount her beauty. Though modest women are conventionally and purposively silent on this score, most readers probably feel that this heroine is but moderately good-looking, since she frames her narrative so as to leave this impression. At the very end she admits to her husband (who answers that she is prettier than ever), “I have been...

  8. 4 Honoria, Lady Dedlock
    (pp. 59-81)

    The novel’s other great beauty has a different style altogether: so different that, even though Esther and her mother look alike, relatively little fuss is made about the heroine’s disfigured face—a relief to Esther now—when they meet in Lincolnshire. Summerson’s readers have seen more of the mother than she has, since we are made acquainted with Lady Dedlock before the Summerson narrative is born: “She had beauty, pride, ambition, insolent resolve, and sense enough to portion out a legion of fine ladies,” yet is “bored to death” (2.12,11). The list of her qualities begins, interestingly, with two that...

  9. 5 Jarndyce and Skimpole
    (pp. 82-101)

    Esther Summerson makes a great deal of her “guardian,” as she is invited to call Mr. Jarndyce. She not only defers to his judgment but is apt to tremble in his “benevolent presence” (8.87). She owes her schooling to his benefaction and accepts the housekeeping keys to Bleak House from his trust. No man or woman in her life has treated her with so much kindness. Yet as a practical matter, he depends much of the time on her, and his presence in the novel depends on her narration. Jarndyce is not nearly as inclined to exercise power as Mordecai,...

  10. 6 The Novel’s Satire
    (pp. 102-121)

    The spare title of Dickens’s novel covers a lot of ground. As we have seen, one alternative or associated title, “Tom-all-Alone’s,” survived through nine different slips in Dickens’s hand before his eye and ear were satisfied that “Bleak House” would encompass his intentions. By contrast, “Chancery” in these slips appears just five times, each time in a subordinate clause as a form of subtitle.

    Tom-all-Alone’s is first mentioned by Jarndyce at the beginning of number 3—some “property of ours, meaning of the Suit’s,” in London (8.89). A true introduction to this property has to await the end of number...

  11. 7 The Novel’s Judgment
    (pp. 122-146)

    Miss Flight is expecting a judgment. She is the crazy but politely deferential woman who imagines that she has an interest in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce and attends the court day by day in expectation. She is the mad prophet whose sayings and symbols bode ill even when she means well. Flite is not completely crazy, of course. She keeps a good many birds in cages, to be released when the judgment is given. “They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things, are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings, that, one by one, the whole...

  12. 8 Dickens in Coketown
    (pp. 147-167)

    To the extent that Dickens’s working notes preserve the order and sequence of his thinking about his next novel, the name uppermost in his mind was that of the character Gradgrind. As proposed titles, he began with “Stubborn Things” and “Fact,” followed by “Thomas Gradgrind’s facts” and “Hard-headed Gradgrind.” The character’s name then suggested “The Grindstone” and variations, before Dickens hit upon “Hard Times,” which he first struck out and then repeated a couple of times in the midst of a dozen more possible titles such as “Prove it!” or “Rust and Dust.” The two monosyllables that survive this competition,...

  13. 9 Louisa Gradgrind’s Role
    (pp. 168-185)

    In the chapter called “Father and Daughter,” Thomas Gradgrind begins their appointed interview in his study with the words “Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage that has been made to me.” That is an odd way of putting the matter, some may think, though formal and true enough. The daughter’s waiting, expectant silences leave the father less “collected” than she is, and it takes a few moments before he names the proposer, Mr. Bounderby.

    Silence between them. The deadly statistical clock very hollow. The distant smoke very black and heavy.

    “Father,” said Louisa, “do...

  14. 10 The Novel and the Circus
    (pp. 186-210)

    When the novelist addresses his readers directly at the close ofHard Times,he purposefully distinguishes between “our two fields of action” (3.9.219). He cannot know which walk of life each reader occupies, but he intends that his own path—writing novels—should be regarded as a field of action like any other. He has gone to considerable lengths to celebrate his kind of work and its moral value, as represented by the horse-riding or traveling circus of the novel: an activity without much ostensible value other than entertainment. Although for industrial conflict Dickens and his spokesman Stephen Blackpool do...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 211-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-225)