Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This thesis explores the complexity of Dickens's involvement with his narrative and characters, specifically Esther Summerson in the novel Bleak House. The introduction examines his habit of interrupting the speech of his characters with direct authorial comments in order that he not give up his story entirely to a character, even in an extended first-person narration. It is noted that this is true even of characters who are autobiographical, like Pip or David Copperfield. Here my references are to the work of Susan R. Horton (The Reader in the Dickens World) and Mark Lambert (Dickens and the Suspended Quotation).

A second section in the introduction discusses Dickens's reputation for being unable to present young marriageable female characters in realistic ways. Here my references are to the work of Michael Slater (Dickens and Women). The first chapter ends with a discussion of the thesis itself: that Dickens's choice of Esther Summerson, a young marriageable woman, as narrator of Bleak House posed particular rhetorical problems for the author. He had to have Esther maintain an ideal maidenly posture (in the Victorian sense) while having her tell a complex and socially aware tale.

Chapter II analyzes the way Esther functions as an evaluator of her world. She evaluates the problems around her in four discrete ways: through direct statements, through indirect statements, by way of projected criticism, and through authorial intrusion. The chapter consists of a close analysis of representative passages from Bleak House.

Chapter III is parallel to Chapter II in its analysis of the text; the subject, however, is the way Esther presents herself and her feelings to the reader.

The concluding chapter explores the implications of the analyses of Chapters II and III— the complexity of Esther's narrative and its significance to both the Victorian and the 20th century reader.

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