Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bleak House

Bleak House. Home of John Jarndyce, the novel’s elderly hero-benefactor, and his cousins Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, and ward, Summerson, the novel’s heroine. Situated in the region of St. Albans, a town some twenty miles north of London, Bleak House is portrayed as a refuge, not only from the corruption of the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce lawsuit, but from the corruption of London itself. It is a large old rambling house, as eccentric as its owner. Yet, as its very name suggests, it is not all sweetness and light. The Jarndyce case affects Richard, and he leaves to take up lodgings with a lawyer. Undesirable visitors come for John’s handouts. Finally, disease spreads there through the young street sweeper Jo, striking Esther down and disfiguring her. Nearby lie the Brickfields, with their wretched hovels for the laborers.

*Lincoln’s Inn

*Lincoln’s Inn. Seat of Great Britain’s High Court of Chancery, presided over by the Lord High Chancellor. It is situated off Chancery Lane, in central London. Here are heard all the disputed cases over inheritance—including the Jarndyce case—some of which drag on for years. Dickens portrays such hearings through his descriptions of the court and its environs: fog-bound, dark, labyrinthine, corrupt. Nearby, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the spider-like solicitor Tulkinghorn has his chambers and house. His threads spread out everywhere into London, seeking particularly to entrap Lady Dedlock and capture her secrets. At his chambers, he is murdered by Hortense, Lady Dedlock’s dismissed maid.

Also near Lincoln’s Inn lies a labyrinth of back streets containing Krook’s Rag and Bottle junk shop, full of old legal documents, which are meaningless to Krook since he cannot read, but among which is the...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Dyson, A. E., ed. Dickens: “Bleak House”: A Casebook. New York: Macmillan, 1969. A collection of criticism and supplemental readings. Includes historical information about the working class in England and other social concerns of the novel, several early reviews and comments, and eight very readable studies.

Nelson, Harland S. Charles Dickens. Boston: Twayne, 1981. After four chapters of overview, Nelson uses Bleak House as a model to demonstrate how Dickens wrote all of his novels. This accessible guide includes plot summaries of other novels discussed.

Newsom, Robert. Dickens on the Romantic Side of Familiar Things: “Bleak House” and the Novel Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. Discusses the implications of Dickens’ comment in the novel’s preface that he “purposely dwelt on the romantic side of familiar things.”

Shatto, Susan. The Companion to “Bleak House.” Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988. Lengthy but very useful to have while reading the novel. Detailed explanations, including allusions to earlier literature, definitions of unusual terms, and identifications of proper names from history—things Dickens’ first readers would have known but with which later readers need help.

Storey, Graham. Charles Dickens, “Bleak House.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. An excellent introduction, intended as a textbook. Focuses on the novel as a social commentary. Includes a chronology that pairs events from Dickens’ career with dates from history and a guide to further reading.