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

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Esther's character, her birth, and her secret, in Bleak House

OK, a little disappointed that Dickens goes for broke and goes down the conventional path: we learn about halfway through Bleak House that Esther Summerson is actually the out-of-wedlock daughter of the austere and beautiful but cold, proud, and snobbish Lady Dedlock - she had apparently been led to believe her daughter died at birth but it appears that Esther was sneaked away by an evil aunt and given up as an orphan and a ward - it's not just the melodrama of this plot element that bothers me but it's the presumption that all of Esther's goodness and wisdom comes from her being "well born" - I expect that of, say, Fielding, but Dickens should be better than that - just yesterday I was posting on his sympathy for and understanding of the working class. Well there's more to come of Esther's lineage I'm sure. At the midpoint of the novel we come to the plot element I remember best from my first reading of Bleak House: the smallpox episode, when Esther, caring for her servant whos come down with the disease (infected by the orphan lad Jo, possibly the lowliest and most sorrowful character in the vast cast of this novel - who disappears overnight - he's obviously alive somewhere and will make a later, dramatic appearance in Bleak House) and then Esther herself gets infected. She religiously maintains her isolation so as not to infect anyone else, especially the lovely Ada - but Esther, in her way, is surprisingly sanguine as the disease progresses, and the chapter I finished with last night ends with the startling revelation that Esther is completely blind (I think she must recover her sight later, but it would be a pretty cool concept if she were narrating her portion of the novel, from a future vantage point, as a person without sight). The story of Esther's lineage will also become increasingly important - I'm sure that she does fall in love over the course of the novel, and it's almost as if she cannot be in love w/another - she can only be a devoted servant to others in love, even though she's smarter and prettier and wiser and kinder than any of them - until she knows herself, knows who she is, that is to say, by birth. She feels well-born but to her knowledge is not well-born and is only attracted to those who are "well-born" yet cannot give herself to a person of higher rank for fear of diminishing their stature - only when she learns of her birth will she be free to persue the kind of love she desires as an equal.

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