Describe the narrator's attitude toward the Jellybys in Charles Dickens's Bleak House.

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Through direct and indirect characterization, the narrator voices his attitude toward the Jellybys by using characters such as Mr. Kenge as a mouthpiece. In chapter 4, Richard asks Mr. Kenger to describe Mr. Jellyby , who is the husband of the oblivious and superfluous Mrs. Jellyby.

When speaking of him, Dickens focuses on the negative qualities of this individual, who may have been called a "jelly" by his own peers. In old slang,  a "jelly" was a term used to describe a man without a "backbone", one who cannot even control his own wife. 

"Ah! Mr. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, "is--a--I don't know that I can describe him to you better than by saying that he is the husband of Mrs. Jellyby."...I never, to my knowledge, had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Jellyby. He may be a very superior man, but he is, so to speak, merged--merged--in the more shining qualities of his wife."

This is basically an insult for the man, because this novel is set in a historical period when women were the property of their husbands. As such, to suggest that any man's repute is affected by consequence of the actions of their wives is basically a way to dub them as "weak" in a male-centered society.

Dickens is even less forgiving with Mrs. Jellyby. He indirectly characterizes her by giving her a somewhat haughty voice, a clueless personality, and shallow actions, as a way to show that this woman lives in a fantasy world. She endlessly works for a "project" involving helping make settlements in Africa. While she lives for this philanthropic move, she neglects everyone in her own household including daughter Caddy and even Mr. Jellyby.

“You find me, my dears,” said Mrs Jellyby, “as usual, very busy; but that you will excuse. The African project at present employs my whole time. It involves me in correspondence with public bodies, and with private individuals anxious for the welfare of their species all over the country”.

In all, the marriage comprised of Mr. and Mrs Jellyby is frowned upon by the narrator because of their lack of common sense, overall clueless behaviors and because they are like caricatures that portray the typical upper class men and women who were completely out of touch with reality and consistently took themselves too seriously. 

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