full title Bleak House
author Charles Dickens
type of work Novel
time and place written London, 1852–1853
date of first publication First installment of serial, March 1852
publisher Bradbury & Evans, 1853
narrator Esther Summerson and a third-person narrator
point of view In Esther’s sections, the point of view is first person. In the narrator’s sections, the point of view is third person.
tone Satirical, mysterious, compassionate
tense Esther’s sections are in the past tense, as she narrates from a point seven years after the events of the novel take place. The third-person narrator’s sections are in the present tense.
setting (time) Mid-nineteenth century
setting (place) England, primarily Lincolnshire and London
protagonist Esther Summerson
major conflict There are several storylines in Bleak House, each with its own conflict, but the main conflict that joins the storylines together is Tulkinghorn’s investigation into Lady Dedlock’s past.
rising action Lady Dedlock must protect the secret of her past when elements of her past resurface. When Tulkinghorn is murdered, Inspector Bucket must determine who did it.
climax There are several climaxes in the novel. Most significant are Lady Dedlock’s realization that Esther is her daughter in chapter 29 and Mademoiselle Hortense’s arrest in chapter 54.
falling action After Mademoiselle Hortense is arrested, Inspector Bucket explains the path that led him to his dramatic conclusion. After Lady Dedlock is found dead, Sir Leicester carries on in a broken state at Chesney Wold, while Esther describes the happy life she leads at the new Bleak House.
themes The search for love; the importance and danger of passion; the ambiguous definition of mother
motifs Secrets; suicide; children
symbols The east wind; Miss Flite’s birds; Mr. Woodcourt’s flowers
foreshadowing There are many instances of foreshadowing in Esther’s narrative as she looks back on the events after they have already occurred. For example, in chapter 17, Esther says she doesn’t understand why Mr. Jarndyce looks so upset when she calls him “father” and that she wouldn’t understand for “many and many a day.” In chapter 29, the narrator suggests that Lady Dedlock fears Tulkinghorn, which does indeed prove to be the case. In chapter 45, Esther laments—“ah, poor poor fellow!”—when she discusses Richard, foreshadowing his eventual death.