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Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Character Analysis


Esther Summerson

Esther Summerson is one of the two narrators in Bleak House. Writing seven years after the events take place, she tells those parts of the story that she experienced. Despite growing up in a house without affection, Esther is cheerful, kind, and self-sacrificing. Having been taught as a child that she is worthless, Esther is constantly surprised to learn how much others love her. She manages to remain optimistic and loving despite learning that much of what she knew about herself was wrong. The woman who raised her was not her godmother, but her aunt. Her mother is not dead, but very much alive. When they are reunited, Esther immediately accepts and loves her mother. Esther, whose beauty is often remarked on by others, plays down her looks. When nursing a sick boy, she gets smallpox, which leaves her face scarred. Her altered looks become a touchstone by which both Esther and readers can discern the relative goodness of the people around her.

John Jarndyce

Despite his desire to stay as far as possible from Chancery and the infamous Jarndyce case, John Jarndyce takes in his two teenaged cousins, who are wards of the Court of Chancery. He also becomes the guardian of another girl, Esther Summerson, whose education he has paid for. Jarndyce is generous to a fault and holds no grudges. Time and again throughout Bleak House he puts others before himself.

Lady Honoria Dedlock

Lady Dedlock may appear haughty and bored, but this chilly exterior hides a longing for the baby she lost in childbirth long before she met her husband, Sir Leicester. Seeing children in happy families never fails to upset her and make her restless. When she begins investigating her own past, she sets in motion a series of events: she discovers her baby lived, she is blackmailed by her husband's legal advisor, and finally she dies while attempting to protect Sir Leicester's reputation.

Sir Leicester Dedlock

Sir Leicester's family has always been influential in politics, and he is very concerned with the ins and outs of government. Unfortunately, times are changing, and his influence is on the wane. Sir Leicester's great love is his wife, Honoria Dedlock, but even his selfless devotion cannot save her when his trusted legal advisor begins investigating her secrets. When hearing that his wife is under threat, he is so upset that he suffers a stroke.

Ada Clare

Ada and her cousin Richard Carstone are taken in by their older cousin John Jarndyce. The two young cousins soon fall in love. Asked by cousin John to restrain her feelings for Richard until his life becomes more settled, Ada remains at Bleak House for several years before finally marrying Richard in secret.

Richard Carstone

Richard and his cousin Ada Clare are taken in by their older cousin John Jarndyce. The two young cousins soon fall in love. Convinced that he will inherit a fortune and not need to work, Richard tries several professions but succeeds at none. He becomes obsessed with the Jarndyce case, believing he can somehow help bring it to an end so that he and Ada can inherit. This obsession destroys his relationship with his cousin John, makes Ada miserable, and ends in Richard's death.

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