Bleak House

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Does the narrative style of Bleak House estrange the reader from the world of the novel more than it persuades the reader to accept the world as natural? The world of Bleak House has many dimensions. It is seemingly controlled by Chancery, the institution that overshadows the lives of John Jarndyce, Esther, and Jarndyce's wards, Richard and Ada and every character that appears in the novel, central or incidental, and chases down Lady Dedlock to reveal her secret. The institutions seem natural enough, but the characters are often either underdeveloped or caricature. The narrative voices function as the eyes and ears of the reader in this world, which the narrator has created from nothing. This means that in order to convince the reader that the novel's world is natural, the narrative style needs consistency and needs to recall to the reader his or her own world, or a world he can believe in. If the reader is estranged from the world of the novel, it means that he cannot find any intellectual or emotional connection with it. Bleak House is written in two distinct narrative voices, one the voice of a third-person, anonymous narrator, and one the voice of Esther Summerson, “serious, mimetic and sincere1”, who is emotionally involved with many of the characters of the story. The third-person narrator deals more with the mechanisms of Chancery and scenes of Victorian London and Chesney Wold, the home of Lord and Lady Dedlock. This narrator, whose social preoccupations and experimentation with writing style lead us to sense that this is the voice of “the omniscient author”, Dickens himself2,self-consciously creates the world of the novel from foggy chaos in the opening page. His first sentence, “London.”3, shows in its verblessness4 a city emerging from nothing, and being created before the reader's eyes. There are indeed no main verbs for the whole of the first page, until Dickens focuses on Chancery, where he introduces the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The narrator's preoccupation with Chancery as a symbol for the condition of man5 is evident when the time-scale he uses for his newly-created world in the second sentence is “Michaelmas term lately over”, rather than a calendrical date. This offers to the reader a world ruled by alternative forces tohis own. Dickens has been accused of creating an unrealistic character, and therefore an unreliable narrator, in Esther, because of her constant self-effacement6 and unconscious ability to make every character fall for her while calling herself a “tiresome little creature7”. Her motif of jingling her house-keys if she starts to pity herself, or think of herself at all, is symbolic of how noisy her self-effacement is. She prefaces Chapter IX with “I don't know how it is, I seem always to be writing about myself”.Dickens takes the trouble to exaggerate in Esther the ideal attributes of a young Victorian woman – modest, undemanding, diplomatic and placid – making her often irritating to the reader and somehow irresistible to the characters he creates8. This is possibly because he wanted a virtuous and loving narrator as relief from the world of Chancery to create a balance between darkness and light, so that the reader would not lose interest in the story. He still needs a fault in his narrator to make her convincingly human, and so he makes her too saintly. She may be unnatural, especially when set against the dark world of chancery, but her presence engages the reader with the world of thenovel. The idea of a novel's world being natural may depend on its reflecting the world that is known to the reader, or its reflecting the literary conventions the reader has come to expect, so that they can accept the novel as a set of characters and events rather than as a construction of words. It could be said that the world that Dickens writes about does not conform to reality or Realism: relationships are presented with caricaturish symbiosis, such as that of Mr. and Mrs....
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