The narrator and protagonist. Esther, an orphan,
becomes the housekeeper at Bleak House when she, Ada, and Richard
are taken in by Mr. Jarndyce. Everyone loves Esther, who is selfless
and nurturing, and she becomes the confidante of several young women.
Although she eventually does find her mother, circumstances prevent
them from developing a relationship. At first a hesitant, insecure
narrator, Esther’s confidence in her storytelling grows, and she controls
the narrative skillfully.
in-depth analysis of Esther Summerson.
Mr. John Jarndyce
Esther’s guardian and master of Bleak House. Mr.
Jarndyce becomes the guardian of the orphans Ada and Richard and
takes Esther in as a companion for Ada. Generous but uncomfortable
with others’ gratitude, Mr. Jarndyce provides a warm, happy home for
the three young people. When Esther is an adult, he proposes marriage,
but he eventually rescinds his offer when he realizes she’s in love
with someone else. Mr. Jarndyce has sworn off any involvement whatsoever with
the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit.
ward of Jarndyce. Kind, sweet, and naïve, Ada becomes Esther’s closest
confidante and greatest source of happiness. She falls in love with
Richard, and although they eventually marry and have a baby, she never
finds full happiness with him because of his obsession with the
Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit.
A ward of Jarndyce. Affable but lazy, Richard can’t
decide on a career and seems to have no passion for a particular
field. Eventually, he becomes obsessed with Jarndyce and Jarndyce
and ultimately sacrifices his life for the lawsuit. He pursues the
suit for Ada’s sake but never succeeds in providing a real home
of Chesney Wold, married to Sir Leicester, and Esther’s mother.
Lady Dedlock, revered and wealthy, has kept the secret of her illegitimate
child throughout her life, believing the child died at birth. She
reveals her true identity to Esther but is wary of pursuing a relationship
because she believes Sir Leicester’s reputation will suffer. When
the truth threatens to come out, she runs away, certain that Sir Leicester
will hate her. She dies outside of a cemetery.
in-depth analysis of Lady Dedlock.
Sir Leicester Dedlock
Master of Chesney Wold. Sir Leicester is a strong,
respected man who ultimately withers and weakens because of Lady
Dedlock’s disappearance. Fully willing to forgive her, Sir Leicester
does his best to find her, but he is too late.
A lawyer involved in the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit.
Mr. Tulkinghorn shares Lady Dedlock’s secret and threatens to reveal
it. He is eventually murdered by Lady Dedlock’s former maid, Mademoiselle
Mrs. Baytham Badger
A woman who talks incessantly about her former husbands.
doctor who agrees to take Richard on as an apprentice.
Mr. Matthew Bagnet
A soldier who owns a musical instrument shop. Mr.
Bagnet incurred debts to help George Rouncewell.
woman who does all the talking for her husband.
A detective hired by Tulkinghorn to investigate Lady
Dedlock’s past. Bucket eventually winds up investigating Tulkinghorn’s
murder and arrests Mademoiselle Hortense for the crime. His wife
helps him with his detective work.
Mr. Lawrence Boythorn
Mr. Jarndyce’s friend who is given to hyperbole.
Mr. Boythorn feuds with Sir Leicester about trespassing. He was
once in love with Lady Dedlock’s sister, Miss Barbary, who left
him when she decided to secretly look after Lady Dedlock’s illegitimate
pompous preacher who takes any opportunity to orate.
Mrs. Rachael Chadband
Esther’s former caretaker.
Sir Leicester’s cousin.
insane elderly woman who lives above Krook’s shop.
man who gave up his life for the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit.
Mr. William Guppy
A clerk at Kenge and Carboy. Mr. Guppy proposes to
Esther, but she refuses him. He investigates her parentage with
the hope of changing her mind and reveals to Lady Dedlock that Esther
is her daughter.
Snagsbys’ maid, given to having fits.
Captain Hawdon (Nemo)
Krook’s dead lodger. Hawdon is Lady Dedlock’s former
lover and Esther’s father.
Lady Dedlock’s French maid. Mademoiselle Hortense
is jealous of Lady Dedlock’s attention to young Rosa. She kills
Tulkinghorn and frames Lady Dedlock.
blustery woman who is obsessed with her “mission,” Borrioboola-Gha
in Africa. She neglects her family entirely.
defeated husband of Mrs. Jellyby.
Caroline (Caddy) Jellyby
Mrs. Jellyby’s put-upon daughter and a friend of
wife of an abusive brickmaker.
urchin who helps Lady Dedlock find Captain Hawdon’s grave.
Mr. Tony Jobling (Mr. Weevle)
A friend of Mr. Guppy’s, who takes Captain Hawdon’s
of the rag-and-bottle shop. Mr. Krook collects documents even though
he can’t read. He dies by spontaneous combustion.
wife of an abusive brickmaker.
Charlotte (Charley) Neckett
The oldest of three orphaned siblings. Charley becomes
Esther’s beloved maid.
obnoxious do-gooder who forces her sons to give their money to her
Dedlock’s protégée, who is in love with Watt Rouncewell.
Mr. George Rouncewell
Mrs. Rouncewell’s wayward son and a soldier. He runs
a shooting gallery.
ironmaker who is George’s brother.
The loyal housekeeper at Chesney Wold.
Mr. Watt Rouncewell
Mrs. Rouncewell’s grandson, who wants to marry Rosa.
A friend of Mr. Jarndyce, who calls himself a “child”
and claims to have no idea about time or money. Mr. Skimpole borrows
money liberally with no thought of repaying it. He eventually betrays
Mr. Jarndyce by telling Inspector Bucket that Jo is in the stable
at Bleak House.
Bartholomew (Chick) Smallweed
Grandfather Smallweed’s grandson.
granddaughter who accompanies her chair-bound grandfather everywhere.
A shrill old man who can barely sit upright in his
chair. Grandfather Smallweed threatens and wheedles other people
to get his own way. He lends George money.
The put-upon wife of Grandfather Smallweed.
law-stationer. Mr. Snagsby gets inadvertently caught up in everyone
else’s secrets, although he pays Jo not to tell anyone a secret
of his own. He sneaks around to avoid his wife’s prying eyes.
Snagsby’s suspicious wife, given to drawing inaccurate conclusions
from her eavesdropping and spying.
crippled lodger at George’s Shooting Gallery.
man proud of his deportment.
The young dancing teacher who marries Caddy Jellyby.
sneaky, immoral lawyer determined to get as much money as possible
out of Richard’s involvement with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit.
A doctor and friend of Mr. Jarndyce. Mr. Woodcourt
marries Esther, and they live together in the new Bleak House.
Woodcourt’s mother, who stays at Bleak House to observe Esther’s
steadfast commitment to Mr. Jarndyce.