Skip to main content

Bleak House Week 5: "And so Esther, my dear, you are happy for life."

First of all, 19th century, you're fucked up if your middle class would "consider the poor girl tarnished by having for a moment been, although most innocently, the subject of [Lady Dedlock's] great and distinguished" patronage. Fucked. Up. "Oh no, this woman had a baby out of wedlock before she got married. Yeah, I know she's super-awesome and respected now, but WHAT you were in her house for five minutes? GET. OUT. You are hereby TARNISHED, like an old spoon."

Let's not even get into Tulkinghorn basically saying "You're a slut and so I get to treat you how I want," because I'll get all ragepants about it.

Life and Lady Dedlock

Now. Chapters 43 and 44. Wtf.

Let's not really get into Mr Jarndyce's motives, because really he's just being incredibly kind here, especially given Esther's most recent revelation. She said she was going to live with Richard and Ada, but how well is THAT going to turn out? And once Ada is gone, Esther can't live with Mr. Jarndyce unless they're married. So it's the best option, really. He's a good guy. Let's not be creeped out. Also, I realized while reading it that I picture him in my head as the illustrated version of Doctor Dolittle.

Yes. Like that.

But Esther's RESPONSE. So we start chapter 43 with "It matters little now how much I thought of my living mother who had told me evermore to consider her dead." So. That's great. Then we get more of Esther being terrified all the time and thinking about how it would be better she had never been born. Then we get 44 with her telling Mr Jarndyce about her mother, followed by his proposal and her acceptance.

Esther knows what's going to happen.  She knows Mr Jarndyce is going to propose. And before reading his letter, she sits herself down and walks herself through her entire life. How many times have YOU done that? Yeah. Probably zero. Zero times. So why does Esther do it?

By laying out how actually unhappy she was before going to the school Mr Jarndyce sent her to, and then meeting Ada through his means, and then living in his house where she's cared for, she is proving to herself how everything in her life that has made her happy has come from him. Does she want to marry him? No. She wants to marry Mr Woodcourt. But "submission, self-denial, diligent work." This scene CAN come off as Esther just being "too good" again, but it in fact borders once more on her almost having a breakdown.

As a sidenote, have you noticed she doesn't lament not having a father? Fathers are, in fact, portrayed as almost unnecessary in the world of Bleak House. I'm not saying that part of this book is an angry excoriation by Dickens of his own mother, but I'm not NOT saying that. For those unaware, when Dickens was a child, he had to go work in a blacking factory, which was basically the worst period of his life. When he thought he was done, his mother sent him back there. His mother failed him, as almost all the mothers fail their children in Bleak House.

But back to the breakdown. She shows herself that she should marry Mr Jarndyce, and says "I was very happy, very thankful, very hopeful; but I cried very much." She then continues her practice of mothering herself by telling her sobbing self "Oh, Esther, Esther, can that be you!" and HOLDS HER FINGER UP TO HER REFLECTION to stop herself crying. Then, like a psycho, says to her red-eyed self "In fact, you are always to be cheerful; so let us begin for once and for all."

How Esther wants to be

In other words, let's stuff all our feelings about this situation and how unhappy we really are, and go along with our childhood message that we need to constantly forget ourselves and there, you're happy now, yes? Happy happy happy, everything's happy. Esther needs MOUNTAINS of therapy, and instead she has her father figure proposing to her, which she is forcing herself to accept. This whole chapter is terrifying.

As for the rest, I'm not dealing with Jo. Nope. And:

Sir Leicester rises, adjusts her scarf about her, and returns to his seat.

I ship Sir Leicester with how much he loves Lady Dedlock. Also, LOOK AT WHERE THIS WEEK'S READING ENDED, because PLOT TWIIIIIIST.


Popular posts from this blog

Harry Potter 2013 Readalong Signup Post of Amazingness and Jollity

Okay, people. Here it is. Where you sign up to read the entire Harry Potter series (or to reminisce fondly), starting January 2013, assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse. I don't think I'm even going to get to Tina and Bette's reunion on The L Word until after Christmas, so here's hopin'.

You guys know how this works. Sign up if you want to. If you're new to the blog, know that we are mostly not going to take this seriously. And when we do take it seriously, it's going to be all Monty Python quotes when we disagree on something like the other person's opinion on Draco Malfoy. So be prepared for your parents being likened to hamsters.

If you want to write lengthy, heartfelt essays, that is SWELL. But this is maybe not the readalong for you. It's gonna be more posts with this sort of thing:

We're starting Sorceror's/Philosopher's Stone January 4th. Posts will be on Fridays. The first post will be some sort of hilarious/awesome que…

How to Build a Girl Introductory Post, which is full of wonderful things you probably want to read

Acclaimed (in England mostly) lady Caitlin Moran has a novel coming out. A NOVEL. Where before she has primarily stuck to essays. Curious as we obviously were about this, I and a group of bloggers are having a READALONG of said novel, probably rife with spoilers (maybe they don't really matter for this book, though, so you should totally still read my posts). This is all hosted/cared for/lovingly nursed to health by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) because she has a lovely fancy job at an actual bookshop (Odyssey Books, where you can in fact pre-order this book and then feel delightful about yourself for helping an independent store). Emily and I have negotiated the wonders of Sri Lankan cuisine and wandered the Javits Center together. Would that I could drink with her more often than I have.

INTRODUCTION-wise (I might've tipped back a little something this evening, thus the constant asides), I am Alice. I enjoy the Pleistocene era of megafauna and drinking Shirley Templ…

Yes, Frances Willard was as gay as Oscar Wilde. But in a lady-way.

Yup. We're gonna do it. We're gonna talk about Frances Willard and gayness. Look, it's not a major part of her life, and it's definitely not the main thing she should be remembered for, but the fact that a line is being put out that she was totally straight is complete hogwash and it upsets me.

The thing is, I get when people say it's anachronistic to put the cultural concept of "gayness" onto a person from a century other than the 20th/21st. I get that. And usually agree with it. But Frances Willard is one of the gayest people in history. I have zero problem labeling her with that. The fact that she didn't have the language to describe what she was experiencing is upsetting, but she managed to have a seemingly full and satisfying life anyway, so I am happy for her.

And for people annoyed when gay people say that someone from the past was gay, here's the thing: When you're completely whitewashed from history, it is a matter of TOTAL DELIGHT wh…