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Supposing Bleak House

Supposing Bleak House

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Supposing Bleak House
    Book Description:

    Supposing "Bleak House"is an extended meditation on what many consider to be Dickens's and nineteenth-century England's greatest work of narrative fiction. Focusing on the novel's retrospective narrator, whom he identifies as Esther Woodcourt in order to distinguish her from her younger, unmarried self, John Jordan offers provocative new readings of the novel's narrative structure, its illustrations, its multiple and indeterminate endings, the role of its famous detective, Inspector Bucket, its many ghosts, and its relation to key events in Dickens's life during the years 1850 to 1853.

    Jordan draws on insights from narratology and psychoanalysis in order to explore multiple dimensions of Esther's complex subjectivity and fractured narrative voice. His conclusion considers Bleak House as a national allegory, situating it in the context of the troubled decade of the 1840s and in relation to Dickens's seldom-studiedA Child's History of England(written during the same years as his great novel) and to Jacques Derrida'sSpecters of Marx.Supposing "Bleak House"claims Dickens as a powerful investigator of the unconscious mind and as a "popular" novelist deeply committed to social justice and a politics of inclusiveness.

    Victorian Literature and Culture Series

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3092-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1 VOICE
    (pp. 1-25)

    I TOO HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF DIFFICULTY IN BEGINNING TO write my portion of these pages. I know that I findBleak Houseto be the most powerful of all of Dickens’s novels, and yet I fear that I will never be able to explain adequately to anyone else or to myself why it exerts such a strong hold over me. I know that I have been readingBleak Housefor nearly forty years and that each time I reach the point where Esther discovers what she has not quite yet allowed herself to realize is her mother’s body...

    (pp. 26-43)

    PERHAPS THE MOST STARTLING REALIZATION TO EMERGE IN connection with the foregoing reflections on voice and temporality inBleak Househas been the extent to which these issues permeate the novel’s illustrations. At the risk of taking what may at first seem like a detour from my primary emphasis on Esther Woodcourt, I want to ask a simple question: who narrates the illustrations inBleak House?To put the question in these terms presupposes, of course, that the illustrations are narratives. Without attempting to argue this claim, I want to suspend the question for now and approach it from a...

    (pp. 44-66)

    THE APPROACH THAT I HAVE ADOPTED THUS FAR TO READING Esther Woodcourt’s narrative and to understanding some of the illustrations that I take to be focalized by her relies to a great extent implicitly on terms and concepts derived from psychoanalysis. It is time to make some of these concepts more explicit and to explore what I regard as the proto-psychoanalytic mythic structure that underlies the stories of Esther and her mother.

    One important set of psychoanalytic ideas that informs my reading of Esther comes from trauma studies. The study of trauma and its effects on individual and collective memory...

  8. 4 ENDINGS
    (pp. 67-86)

    THE ONLY WAY THAT LADY DEDLOCK CAN ESCAPE FROM THE lord of the underworld who controls her secret is to renounce secrecy altogether. To do so is to cast off her identity as grand lady, the frozen mask of boredom that has imprisoned her in a state of deadlock and kept her from living or loving. Paradoxically, the first real act of love that she performs is a repetition of her greatest crime, the rejection of a daughter. When she turns Rosa away from Chesney Wold, however, it is not out of indifference or shame, but to save the girl...

  9. 5 DICKENS
    (pp. 87-112)

    WHERE IS DICKENS IN ALL THIS? DOESBLEAK HOUSECONTAIN any reflections, ghostly or otherwise, of its author? In addition to exercising extraordinary craft in the creation of its female first-person narrator, does Dickens enter in any way into the fictional world of his novel? Thus far, I have studiously tried to keep him out of my critical discourse, carefully attributing all the language and narration in the novel either to Esther Woodcourt or to “the unnamed present-tense narrator.” I even went out of my way to argue against attributing the illustrations to Phiz/Dickens, substituting instead the concept of focalization...

  10. 6 SPECTERS
    (pp. 113-140)

    LARGELY MISSING FROM THE READING THAT I HAVE BEEN DEveloping thus far has been much acknowledgment of the fact thatBleak Houseis a major social novel, a “condition of En gland” novel written soon aft er the end of one of the most tumultuous and embattled decades of the century, the 1840s, and it is to this aspect of the book that I now want to turn. Critical discussions of the novel from this perspective have taken a number of different approaches, focusing, for example, onBleak Houseas Dickens’s response to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and as...

  11. EPILOGUE: Christmas
    (pp. 141-146)

    BLEAK HOUSEHAS NO CHRISTMAS CHAPTER. IT HAS NO DINGLEY DELL or other pastoral retreat to which the “good” characters can safely withdraw in midwinter or at novel’s end to escape the social evils of contemporary English life. Even the Yorkshire establishment that Jarndyce sets up for Woodcourt and Esther at the end, which includes a little Growlery built specially for him, has dark corners and retains the ominous name of Bleak House. The closest the novel comes to depicting a happy communal meal is the “Old Girl’s Birthday,” celebrated by the Bagnet family in chapter 49, or perhaps, in...

  12. APPENDIX: The Ghost in Bleak House
    (pp. 147-160)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 161-170)
    (pp. 171-178)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 179-184)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-186)