Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Bleak House”
November 3, 2020
- Comment on Dickens’s depiction of the death of Nemo. The room description, his name (“no one” in Latin and “omen” backwards) and the odor of opium all portend evil. There are three quotes from Macbeth in this scene (can you find them?), associating his death with murder, guilt and witches and heightening our sense of the gothic and adding to the suspense.
- Discuss the interweaving of the characters. Mr. Tulkinghorn is present at both Chesney Wold and Krook’s shop. Lady Dedlock and Nemo share some past. Miss Flite knows the wards in Jarndyce, Krook, Nemo, Mr. Woodcourt and Mr. Tulkinghorn. Mr. Snagsby knows Mr. Kenge who knows Esther, etc.….
- Dickens continues to use birds as a unifying motif among his various settings and characters. Can you cite some examples among these chapters? What is their significance?
- Comment on the rich satire against politicians, including their ridiculous names. How does our government today measure up to their ineffectiveness?
- Compare and contrast Richard Carstone and Harold Skimpole in terms of their attitudes toward life’s responsibilities and their inability to distinguish between romance and reality. What is their motivation? Do you like them?
- Compare and contrast Sir Leicester and Mr. Turveydrop in terms of their allegiance to bygone days and their wasted and self-important lives.
- What do you make of Harold Skimpole’s views on slavery? How does this tie into Mrs. Jellyby's and Mrs. Pardiggle’s telescopic philanthropy? Distant slavery serves them all well, but local “slaves” like Jo are ignored. Comment.
- Dickens associated the French with violent tempers and the bloody revolution. Discuss how this may have affected his characterization of Hortense.
- Describe the relationship between Dr. Woodcourt and Esther, Mr. Jarndyce and Esther. Is there a romantic love triangle developing?
- In Dickens’s description of Jo, with St. Paul’s Cathedral behind him, religion, wealth and power have importance and lasting value, while the street orphan lacks importance and staying power (always being moved on). Comment on the effectiveness of Dickens’s imagery.
- Evangelism was sweeping Victorian England. Comment on Dickens use of Mr. Chadband’s character as both social criticism and comic relief.
- Are you surprised that Mrs. Chadband turns out to be Mrs. Rachel? Comment on the number of coincidences in the plot line. Do they bother you?
- Clerks were usually given a half-hour for lunch. Comment on the meal Guppy, Jobling and Chick shared at the “Slap Bang” How does it compare with fast food, or pub food today? Why did Mr. Guppy spend so much?