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Analzye the following passage from Charles Dickens' Bleak House for syntax and sentence...

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misshighkick | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:25 AM via web

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Analzye the following passage from Charles Dickens' Bleak House for syntax and sentence structure. What is the purpose of the passage?

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor
sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As
much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from
the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine
lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,
making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as
full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for
the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses,
scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,
jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill
temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of
thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding
since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits
to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points
tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

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chriseparker | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted September 21, 2011 at 1:39 PM (Answer #1)

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With syntax and sentence structure, Charles Dickens is setting the mood for the introduction of the case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in the High Court of Chancery. Notice that these sentences in the first paragraphs of Chapter 1 of Bleak House are actually not sentences at all, but fragments.  Fragments are usually missing either the subject or the verb, or the fragments are dependent clauses and need a complete sentence to lean on.

So for sentence structure, we see a long sequence of fragments. For syntax, or word order in the sentence fragments, we largely see nouns--possible subjects--and descriptive words and phrases, but no verbs. Remember that -ing words that seem to be verbs are verbals--or words based on verbs--that serve as adjectives that modify nouns or pronouns.

Because of their incomplete nature, a long sequence of fragments can have a confusing effect because we can sense information is missing. We have a list of descriptions like a journal entry or notes, an impression of action, but no complete thoughts because the verbs or action words of the sentences are missing. We have fog and mud and mire and drizzle everywhere with people “slipping and sliding” in “ill-temper.”  Fog blurs vision; mud cakes and hides a clean appearance and impedes progress; slipping and sliding in mud gives the impression of having no solid ground to stand on.

Fog is everywhere. And this last that I wrote is a complete sentence, giving a sense of a finished thought. Note that in the passage you provide, Dickens writes:


Fog everywhere. Fog up the river,  fog down the river, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats...

And he writes it all in fragments!  Again, this leads up to the introduction of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, a case that has been in the court so long that principal characters involved have matured, grown old, or died. No one quite recalls all the details of the case, though many legal officials hope for a profitable settlement or payment for working on it.  Dickens expresses his contempt for the inefficient legal system finally in complete sentences in this passage:

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor
in his High Court of Chancery.


Thus through a long sequence of fragments, Dickens sets a mood of mental fogginess or obfuscation around a case bogged down for decades in the legal system just like a dinosaur in primeval mud.

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misshighkick | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 21, 2011 at 8:26 AM (Answer #2)

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They wouldn't let me finish writing the passage because it was to many characters, so here's the last paragraph:

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river,  fog down the river, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats... Never can there come fog to thick, never can there come mud and mire to deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, more pestilent of hoary sinners, hold, this day, in this sight of Heaven and earth 

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