Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

Bleak House Podcast

Bleak House - Chapters 1-31 - Charles Dickens Podcast

Bleak House Podcast: Chapters 1-31

Welcome to the Bleak House podcast episode covering chapters 1-31!


In Charles Dickens’s 1853 novel Bleak House, tenacious criminal investigator, Inspector Bucket, is a London police detective who investigates a murder. Inspector Bucket and Poe’s amateur detective Auguste Dupin were the first professional criminal investigators in English literature.


How to read itBuy it on Amazon, buy a copy at your favorite used bookstore, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).


Estimated reading time: 18 hours. (There’s a reason we’re devoting two podcast episodes to it, folks!) After you finish reading, share your thoughts and check out these discussion questions!

What We're Talking About in the Bleak House Podcast Episode

Let’s talk third-person narration vs. first-person narration (Esther Summerson). At the end of Chapter 30, Esther tells us she’s praised wherever she goes. Wherever she is, “there was sunshine and summer air.” Do we believe her? Is she too good to be true? And in what ways is Esther different from the third-person narrator? Do we also believe him?

We love the Victorian politeness Dickens’s characters use to avoid giving offense. For example, Mrs. Jellyby spends her time trying to help people in Borrioboola-Gha and neglects her family. When asked about Mrs. Jellyby, Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce, “She exerts herself very much for Africa, sir.” Dickens can be very funny. Did you get his humor?

Who are the philanthropists in Bleak House really helping? Do Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle really care about the poor? Are these “telescopic” philanthropists ignoring those closest to them and causing misery in their own families? Does charity begin at home?

Harold Skimpole is an unprincipled, irresponsible man who acts like a child and expects others to take care of him. He calls himself a “child” and claims to have no idea about time or money. He borrows money liberally with no thought of repaying it. Why doesn’t Mr. Jarndyce seem to see through Skimpole? Did you see through him?

Many of the mysteries in Bleak House center on questions of identity. Who is Esther Summerson? Who’s her mother? Who’s Nemo? But the questions go beyond factual identity to the characters’ self-perceptions. For example, Harold Skimpole seems to be a lighthearted, childlike being with no concept of money – but who is he really?

Mr. Bucket is a detective officer who “notices things in general” and who seems to “possess an unlimited number of eyes.” He even seems to play Jedi mind tricks on people. Many consider him the first detective officer in modern fiction. What did you think of him?

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