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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Is Esther Summerson too nice?

Is Esther Summerson too good (to be true)? At this point in the novel (Bleak House) she visits her friend Miss Jellyby, the young women who is pretty much enslaved by her self-centered mother who devotes all her time and attention to a charity for African children and who criminally neglects her own household, has managed to carve out a bit of life of her own and has become engage to a dancing master, Mr. Turveytrot (that's close, but not exact) - a mild-mannered young man who is completely exploited by his father, Turveytrot Sr. who is known for his great "deportment." Dickens has a lot of fun w/ descriptions of Mr. T the elder and his deportment - his puffed up chest, his contempt for the falling standards of his world, his hob-nobbing with the aristocracy, which probably thinks of him as a crumb at best, his unfairness to his son, who does all the work and lives on cold mutton while Mr T senior goes off to a French restaurant and to his club. It's a great and unexpected chapter, but the only thing wrong w/ it is that Esther makes no sense as the narrator - she's too nice, kind, and demure to write or even to think w/ Dickens's bitterness and sarcasm. She's too nice. She's so nice that she doesn't seem to care at all that her her best friends are getting married and she doesn't think for a moment about her own future: She says they'll get married and she'll live with them, her fellow wards of the Jarndyce estate, and all will be happy together. Why must that be so? Doesn't she want a conventional marriage, life, children for herself? Is she afraid of sex, of commitment, of her own sexuality, or her becoming anything but the sweet, wise friend who's always there to take on everyone else's troubles? Her passivity about love is almost a pathology. But there is a hint that a young man - other than Guppy, who scares her, and whom she'd mock if she weren't so "nice" - might be interested. We know - not only from having read this novel many years ago, but also from the obvious nature of plot structure - we're only a third of the way through the novel, so it's too early for Esther to find happiness - that her fate is not sealed and her love life will develop in yet unforeseen and surprising ways (and it's also obvious by now that the will of the wisp Richard will become obsessed with and consumed by the Jarndyce case in chancery).

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