John Jarndyce, the unmarried, aging owner of Bleak House and a party in the famous and protracted Chancery suit of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce. Generous to a fault, he makes two young cousins, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, his wards in the hope that they will fall in love and fill his ancestral home with renewed life. He also takes into his home an orphan, Esther Summerson, as a companion to Ada. He himself falls in love with Esther, but when he learns that she is in love with Allan Woodcourt, a young surgeon, he releases her from her promise to him and gives the couple a new Bleak House of their own. He is loyal to his old friend and is always scrupulously fair, even though he calls his library “The Growlery” and retreats there when the winds of adversity blow on him. Admirable in every way, the head of the Jarndyce family creates rather than preserves a family dignity.
Esther Summerson, the orphan whom John Jarndyce takes into his home and later into his heart. She is the natural daughter of Lady Dedlock and a gallant named Captain Hawdon (who dies and is buried under the name of Nemo). Though part of the story is told by Esther, her ingenuousness makes of her less of a heroine and more of a companion and comforter who goes under various motherly terms of endearment. Although she respects and admires her benefactor, she truly loves the compassionate doctor, Allan Woodcourt, who woos her in spite of her disease-ravaged face, the result of a serious illness incurred while nursing Charley, her maid. Her immediate sympathies are aroused by any homeless beings and by those, like Caddy Jellyby, whose homes are friendless and loveless. She finally finds happiness with her husband and two daughters.
Ada Clare, John Jarndyce’s cousin and ward. She secretly marries Richard Carstone, her cousin, to protect him from the grinding poverty that lawyers and the courts bring upon him. She manages to keep her loyalties and sympathies divided by remaining with her benefactor while extending her love to Carstone. Beautiful and tractable, she displays evenness of disposition and generous motives that make her a tearful heroine.
Richard Carstone, Ada’s cousin and husband. Anything suits this young man, who has already sold his soul to the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce. He tries medicine, the law, and the army, only to die of disappointment after the suit in Chancery has been settled and he learns that legal costs have eaten up the whole of his inheritance. John Jarndyce provides for Ada and her infant son.
Lady Honoria Dedlock
Lady Honoria Dedlock, secretly the mother of Esther Summerson by Captain Hawdon, a rake to whom she was once engaged. When Tulkinghorn, her husband’s legal adviser, threatens to inform her husband of her past, she flees from her home and dies, a victim of shame and exposure, at the gate of the cemetery where her lover has been buried under the name of Nemo. Her body is discovered by Esther Summerson.
Sir Leicester Dedlock
Sir Leicester Dedlock, an honorable gentleman of prejudice and pride of family, completely unaware of his wife’s guilty secret.
Mr. Tulkinghorn, a conniving solicitor who threatens to expose the secret in Lady Dedlock’s past. He is murdered by Lady Dedlock’s French maid when he refuses to pay her blackmailing demands and threatens her with imprisonment.
Allan Woodcourt, the surgeon who attends Captain Hawdon at the time of his death and who extends his help to Esther Summerson and Richard Carstone as well. He marries Esther after John Jarndyce releases her from her...
(The entire section is 1566 words.)