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Supposing Bleak House

John O. Jordan

Publication Year: 2010

In this extended meditation on what many consider to be Dickens's and 19th-c. England's greatest work of narrative fiction, notable Dickens scholar John Jordan draws on narrative theory and psychoanalysis to show how Dickens was not only a powerful investigator of the unconscious mind but also a deeply committed advocate for social justice and inclusivity. This new look at Bleak House will significantly change the way in which the novel as well as its illustrations are read and understood from here on.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xi

Long contemplated, this book would not allow itself to be written until it was ready. When the time came, it offered itself with unstinting generosity. Lengthy incubation in this case entails great indebtedness. I owe thanks in the first instance to Murray Baumgarten and Ed Eigner...

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1. Voice

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pp. 1-25

I too have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages. I know that I find Bleak House to be the most powerful of all of Dickens’s novels, and yet I fear that I will never be able to explain adequately to anyone else or to myself why it exerts such a strong hold over me. I know that I have been...

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2. Illustration

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pp. 26-43

Perhaps the most startling realization to emerge in connection with the foregoing refl ections on voice and temporality in Bleak House has been the extent to which these issues permeate the novel’s illustrations. At the risk of taking what may at fi rst seem like a detour from my primary emphasis on Esther Woodcourt...

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3. Psychoanalysis

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pp. 44-66

The approach that I have adopted thus far to reading Esther Woodcourt’s narrative and to understanding some of the illustrations that I take to be focalized by her relies to a great extent implicitly on terms and concepts derived from psychoanalysis...

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4. Endings

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pp. 67-86

The only way that Lady Dedlock can escape from the lord of the underworld who controls her secret is to renounce secrecy altogether. To do so is to cast off her identity as grand lady, the frozen mask of boredom that has imprisoned her in a state of deadlock and kept her from living or loving. Paradoxically...

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5. Dickens

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pp. 87-112

Where is Dickens in all this? Does Bleak House contain any reflections, ghostly or otherwise, of its author? In addition to exercising extraordinary craft in the creation of its female first-person narrator, does Dickens enter in any way into the fictional world of his novel? Thus far...

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6. Specters

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pp. 113-139

Largely missing from the reading that I have been developing thus far has been much acknowledgment of the fact that Bleak House is a major social novel, a “condition of England” novel written soon after the end of one of the most tumultuous and embattled decades of the century, the 1840s...

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Epilogue: Christmas

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pp. 141-145

Bleak House has no Christmas chapter. It has no Dingley Dell or other pastoral retreat to which the “good” characters can safely withdraw in midwinter or at novel’s end to escape the social evils of contemporary English life. Even the Yorkshire establishment...

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Appendix: The Ghost in Bleak House

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pp. 147-160

Am I the only one who thinks he’s seen the ghost in Bleak House? I mean the ghost whose story Mrs. Rouncewell tells in chapter 7 and whose footsteps echo across the Ghost’s Walk terrace at Chesney Wold. So far as I know, no one else has ever claimed...


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pp. 161-169


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pp. 171-177


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pp. 179-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780813930923
E-ISBN-10: 0813930928
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813930749
Print-ISBN-10: 081393074X

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010