Some Characters in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’

I have been reading Dicken’s Bleak House for all of January and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve only about a hundred pages to go now but I wish there was more. One of the things I love about Dickens is his characters; he’s brilliant at conjuring up an image of a character with a few quirks and idiosyncracies. Listed below are a few of the more entertaining short descriptions of some of the characters that appear throughout the thousand or so pages of Bleak House.

John Jarndyce’s description of Lawrence Boythorn, a loud, brash ex-schoolfriend of John’s:

“I went to school with this fellow, Lawrence Boythorn,” said Mr. Jarndyce, tapping the letter as he laid it on the table, “more than five and forty years ago. He was then the most impetuous boy in the world, and he is now the most impetuous man. He was then the loudest boy in the world, and he is now the loudest man. He was then the heartiest and sturdiest boy in the world, and he is now the heartiest and sturdiest man. He is a tremendous fellow.”

Description of Mr. Snagsby, a hen-pecked proprietor of a law-stationery business:

Mr. Snagsby, otherwise than as he finds expression through these dulcet tones, is rarely heard. He is a mild, bald, timid man with a shining head and a scrubby clump of black hair sticking out at the back. He tends to meekness and obesity.

Description of Sir Leicester Dedlock:

Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state, and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man to have so inexhaustible a subject.

Description of Lady Dedlock:

Lady Dedlock is always the same exhausted deity, surrounded by worshippers, and terribly liable to be bored to death, even while presiding at her own shrine.

Descriptions of Mr. Tulkinghorn, Sir Leicester’s manipulative lawyer:

Mr. Tulkinghorn is always the same, speechless repository of noble confidences, so oddly out of place and yet so perfectly at home.

Rustily drest, with his spectacles in his hand, and their very case worn threadbare. In manner, close and dry. In voice, husky and low. In face, watchful behind a blind; habitually not uncensorious and contemptuous perhaps.

Mr. George’s opinion of Mr. Tulkinghorn:

…”he is a confoundedly bad kind of man. He is a slow-torturing kind of man. He is no more like flesh and blood than a rusty old carbine is. He is a kind of man―by George!―that has caused more restlessness, and more uneasiness, and more dissatisfaction with myself than all other men put together. That’s the kind of man Mr. Tulkinghorn is!”

Description of Old Mr. Turveydrop, a master of deportment:

He was a fat old gentleman with a false complexion, false teeth, false whiskers, and a wig. He had a fur collar, and he had a padded breast to his coat, which only wanted a star or a broad blue ribbon to be complete. He was pinched in, and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear.

Description of the Chadbands. Mr. Chadband is a pompous preacher and Mrs. Chadband is Esther’s former caretaker:

Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mrs. Chadband is a stern, severe-looking, silent woman. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him and he wanted to grovel, is very much in a perspiration about the head, and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.

Description of Phil Squod, Mr. George’s crippled assistant:

The person, who is one of those extraordinary specimens of human fungus that spring up spontaneously in the western streets of London, ready dressed in an old red jacket, with a “mission” for holding horses and calling coaches, received his twopence with anything but transport, tosses the money into the air, catches it over-handed, and retires.

Description of Miss Volumnia Dedlock, one of Sir Leicester’s cousins:

Miss Volumnia, displaying in early life a pretty talent for cutting ornaments out of coloured paper, and also for singing to the guitar in the Spanish tongue, and propounding French conundrums in country houses, passed the twenty years of her existence between twenty and forty in a sufficiently agreeable manner. Lapsing then out of date and being considered to bore mankind by her vocal performances in the Spanish language, she retired to Bath, where she lives slenderly on an annual present from Sir Leicester and whence she makes occasional resurrections in the country houses of her cousins. She has an extensive acquaintance at Bath among appalling old gentlemen with thin legs and nankeen trousers, and is of high standing in that dreary city. But she is a little dreaded elsewhere in consequence of an indiscreet profusion in the article of rouge and persistency in an obsolete pearl necklace like a rosary of little bird’s eggs.

Description of Jo, a poor, homeless, street urchin:

Dirty, ugly, disagreeable to all the senses, in body a common creature of the common streets, only in soul a heathen. Homely filth begrimes him, homely parasites devour him, homely sores are in him, homely rags are on him; native ignorance, the growth of English soil and climate, sinks his immortal nature lower than the beasts that perish. Stand forth, Jo, in uncompromising colours! From the sole of thy foot to the crown of thy head, there is nothing interesting about thee.

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16 Comments

Filed under Dickens, Charles, Fiction

16 responses to “Some Characters in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’

  1. Since I finished this book several years ago I have had no desire to read any more Dickens. It eclipsed every one of his books that I had read before. I loved it so much. Even if it is not perfect, there are so many timeless characters and unforgettable moments. I enjoyed imagining how people would leave work early and rush off to purchase and read each installment as it was released, discuss the developments, await the next twist – like people used to watch episodic TV series before the days of binge watching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Yes, I can imagine people eagerly awaiting the next installment. But the story doesn’t seem forced or belaboured – I guess that’s due to Dickens’ expertise. I can’t imagine it being radically different if it hadn’t originally appeared in installments. Can you?

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      • I do wonder if it might have had a different rhythm. After all Dickens was publishing sections before the work was complete. I think that fact almost gives the overall novel more energy. He has to keep readers engaged and the alternating perspectives from chapter to chapter leave more room for unanswered questions to carry over.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bleak House is my very favorite Dickens!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings

    One of my favourite Dickens books too – just perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bleak House is great, and those characters descriptions are wonderful! I really enjoyed the BBC adaptation from 2005.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I found that a lot of the quotes that I was marking up were these character descriptions; I love them.

      I may leave it a few weeks and then watch the TV adaption. I’m thinking of watching a whole load of 19th C adaptions….after all I’m never going to find the time to read them all. The only problem is that I sometimes get inspired to read the book after I’ve seen the TV version.

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  5. I love Bleak House, but Great Expectations will always be my favourite. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Think of how much of this detail – how many of these characters – could have been completely omitted on artless efficiency grounds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I think that each character helps add to the overall effect of the novel even if they don’t have much involvement in the plot. I was quite surprised at how modern Dickens’ style was at times; he’s very inventive.

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    • The most inventive novelist ever, maybe. It is a wonder to behold. “[A]n indiscreet profusion in the article of rouge”! “[L]ittle bird’s eggs”!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, god, as much as I hated Mrs. Jellby, reading about her and her raggedy kids was still surprisingly funny to me! They are lodged in my brain. Great post! I’m going to be following your blog now! I recently posted a review of a book that really gets into characters’ voices, and I provide several examples like you did here. I hope you’ll check it out! https://grabthelapels.com/2016/04/06/bogeywoman/

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