Bleak House Podcast: Chapters 32-end (All About Esther, Lady Dedlock and Inspector Bucket)
Welcome to the Bleak House podcast episode covering chapters 32-end! Here, we’ll focus on Esther (naturally!), Lady Dedlock, and, of course, the irrepressible Inspector Bucket.
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.
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Transcript: Bleak House Podcast Episode - Esther, Lady Dedlock, and Inspector Bucket
Sarah Harrison 0:25
Welcome to Tea, Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a gin and tonic or an Earl Grey tea,
Sarah Harrison 0:41
… but not a toxin …
and join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Today, we’re continuing our Charles Dickens Bleak House podcast. We’re focusing, at least in part, on Lady Dedlock and Inspector Bucket.
Carolyn Daughters 0:58
Yes, we’re continuing Bleak House. The book is large, so it’s good that we broke it into two episodes. Partly for selfish reasons. We wanted to spend more time with this book.
Sarah Harrison 1:12
And this is part two, and we’re gonna spoil everything. So if you haven’t listened to part one, listen to that first and then come here. We do have a sponsor today.
Carolyn Daughters 1:29
We have a sponsor today. Today’s sponsor of Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is carolyndaughters.com. And yes, that is me. Carolyndaughters.com provides marketing, branding, and persuasive writing strategy, online workshops, online courses, leadership, and support that empower teams to win hearts, minds, deals, and dollars.
Sarah Harrison 2:13
Today we’re going to cover chapters 32 through 67 of Bleak House. It is a lot, and we have a brilliant summary here.
Carolyn Daughters 2:17
When we last left off, Esther falls ill possibly from smallpox, and her face is scarred beyond recognition by the disease. Esther doesn’t mind the loss of her beauty, but she’s disappointed because she’s fallen in love with a young doctor, Mr. Alan Woodcourt, who’s away at sea. She believes he won’t love her now that she has lost her looks and persuades herself to give up on the romance. While Esther is ill, she hears from her servant Charley that a veiled woman has been to Jenny’s house to ask after Esther’s health. Esther doesn’t know who this woman can be.
Soon after, Esther goes to Mr. Boythorn’s house in the country to recover. One day when she’s walking in the woods outside Chesney Wold, Lady Dedlock approaches her. Lady Dedlock confesses that she’s Esther’s real mother and that she had no idea that Esther was alive. She was told that Esther had died at birth. What really happened of course is that her sister, Miss Barbary, raised Esther in secret. Esther’s father was a man named Captain Hawden, who was also called Nemo. Lady Dedlock says no one knows her secret, but she’s afraid Mr. Tulkinghorn will find out and expose her. Therefore, she can never see Esther again. Esther’s distraught, but she forgives her mother.
Esther returns to Bleak House and confides in Mr. Jarndyce. He’s kind toward her and tells her he has fallen in love with her. He asks her to marry him, and after brief consideration Esther accepts. Meanwhile, Richard’s career progresses poorly. He has switched jobs three times, and he’s been unable to settle on anything. Esther is concerned to learn that he has taken a lawyer, Mr. Voles, and that he has given up on work and intends to devote all his time and energy to solving the case. Richard has also turned against Mr. Jarndyce. Mr. Jarndyce has seen people go mad over Chancery lawsuits and worries that this is now happening to Richard. Ada is concerned, but she remains loyal to Richard. One day, Ada confesses to Esther that she and Richard have been married in secret and that she will live with Richard. Esther is upset, but she supports Ada’s wishes. She asks Mr. Woodcourt, who is back from sea, to visit Richard periodically to make sure he’s well.
Now, Alan Woodcourt happens to find Jo in Tom-All-Alone’s, the slum area. he takes him to Mr. George’s shooting gallery to protect him from Inspector Bucket and the police. Mr. Woodcourt thinks to himself it surely is a strange fact that in the heart of a civilized world, this creature in human form should be more difficult to dispose of than an unowned dog. Jo dies soon thereafter.
Sarah Harrison 5:29
One night Mr. Tulkinghorn hints to Lady Dedlock that he knows her secret, and she confronts him. Mr. Tulkinghorn says he has proof that she was Captain Hawden’s lover when she was young. Lady Dedlock knows Mr. Tulkinghorn will reveal her secret and doesn’t know what to do. She can’t bear to hurt her husband, who has always been kind to her. Mister Tulkinghorn returns home and is shot through the heart. Leicester offers a reward for the apprehension of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murderer, and Inspector Bucket volunteers for the job. He receives a letter that tells him that Lady Dedlock is the murderer. Inspector Bucket realizes that Lady Dedlock’s secret is out and meets with Sir Leicester. When Bucket mentions Lady Dedlock, Sir Leicester says he’d prefer his wife to be left out of the conversation. Inspector Bucket says that’s impossible, as she’s the pivot it at all turns on. Bucket then tells the story of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s investigation of Lady Dedlock and about Nemo having once been her lover, his death in poverty, and Lady Dedlock’s visit to his grave. He also says Lady Dedlock went to Tulkinghorn’s on the night he was murdered and passed Mr. George on the stairs.
Inspector Bucket arrests Mademoiselle Hortense, who killed Mr. Tulkinghorn to try to frame Lady Dedlock (and also because she hated him). Sir Leicester has a stroke from the shock but later comes around. He discovers that Lady Dedlock has fled her home. Sir Leicester conveys that he forgives Lady Dedlock and begs Inspector Bucket to find her. Inspector Bucket takes Esther with him to search for her. They discover that Lady Dedlock has gone to Jenny’s house, which is near Bleak House, to see if she can find Esther. She has borrowed Jenny’s clothes and returned to London in disguise. They find her body beside Captain Hawden’s grave. She has frozen to death.
In the closing chapters of the book, Mr. Smallweed locates a will of later date than any other in the suit. It seems that the bulk of the estate will go to Richard and Ada. However, in court it is determined that the entire state has been absorbed in costs. Not long afterward, Richard dies from tuberculosis. Ada tells Esther that she’s pregnant, which gives her hope for the future. Esther is still engaged in Mr. Jarndyce, but when Alan Woodcourt confesses his love to her, Mr. Jarndyce steps aside and allows the pair to marry. He gives them a new Bleak House in Yorkshire, where Mr. Woodcourt takes a job at a hospital for the poor.
Esther’s narrative concludes with her statement that “full seven happy years I have been the mistress of Bleak House. She and Alan Woodcourt live a happy and modest life together with her two daughters, and Esther is eternally grateful for all the love she has received.
That’s our summary. We have some questions, but I probably can’t even encompass all the thoughts to think about this. But there’s a lot of levels. Also I didn’t realize it was tuberculosis.
Carolyn Daughters 8:40
I think so because he was coughing up blood.
Sarah Harrison 8:46
Because they didn’t name any of the diseases there. When Esther was sick, was it smallpox?
Carolyn Daughters 8:52
We think she had smallpox. But some have peculated about other diseases. It was a deadly, disfiguring disease.
Sarah Harrison 9:05
Interesting. Did they even have names for it at the time?
Carolyn Daughters 9:13
They would have known smallpox, I believe. But it’s not named. And I believe Richard’s illness is also not named.
Sarah Harrison 9:21
In so many books, it seems like, whenever the situation is really bad, it’s usually a lady that dies from the shame. I thought that maybe that was happening to Richard. But, apparently, it was actually a real disease.
Carolyn Daughters 9:48
Well, we have a lot to talk about with this book, because it’s large and chock full of goodness. It’s a page turner. I’ve read it twice now. Sarah, what’s your take on the book now that you’ve had some time to process the themes in the book, the characters, the development of the story?
Sarah Harrison 10:28
I just kept thinking through it all. There’s a lot about mothers, there’s a lot about ways that people think about charity and approach charity, there’s a lot about poverty, there’s a lot just about humanness and love and the home. Dickens is working on a lot of things here, as well as the obvious legal issues.
Carolyn Daughters 11:00
He’s firing on a lot of cylinders here, whereas in some of his books, I think he picks a couple areas and focuses there. In a lot of other books, some characters just show up and don’t really have a purpose. They’re not serving the story, per se, whereas even the secondary and tertiary characters in this book, for the most part, tend to push the story along. They’re there for a reason. And I think that’s it’s really interesting. There are more than 100 characters in this book.
Sarah Harrison 11:36
It was really good. I have to say, it was a page turner. It just sucked me in. And so I kept reading. And for a lot of it, I was wondering, what’s the mystery? Because modern mysteries have certain frameworks, and you come with these expectations. That didn’t really work with these historic mysteries. Someone dies, and it’s like, just at this moment that was really coincidental. And it was a really mysterious type of death. And I’m thinking this is a murder. But it wasn’t. It was just a coincidental strange death.
Carolyn Daughters 12:38
I think part of the reason why it’s hard to recognize that this book is in part a mystery is because Dickens is figuring out the form. What is what is a professional detective? When would he appear in the story? Well, obviously, Inspector Bucket is going to appear when there’s a mystery to be solved. He’s introduced, I think, in chapter 22. Inspector Bucket is introduced before the main murder, which is Mr. Tulkinghorn, the main storyline that Inspector Bucket would be associated with. He’s introduced quite a bit earlier than that murder. I think Dickens is figuring out the form. He’s not borrowing from the form. He’s figuring it out as he goes,
Sarah Harrison 13:25
The book is over halfway done before you get to what is actually the murder on which you would pivot the mystery. Although there’s plenty of mysteries within Esther’s origins and those sorts of things. And Lady Dedlock’s backstory.
Carolyn Daughters 13:43
Origin is a really big topic in in this story. And it connects to one of our questions here about birth right. And so where did where did you come from? In chapter 35, Esther says “It’s not the customer in England to confer titles on men unless they consisted of the accumulation of some very large amount of money.” She’s talking here about Mr. Woodcourt. Now, Miss Flite thinks Alan Woodcourt should receive a title because he has been a very heroic man. He has saved people’s lives. And Esther agrees, but says he won’t get it. As a result of where you’ve come from, what does your future hold for you, in essence. So let’s say that privilege is defined as an advantage in life not enjoyed by all, and birthright is defined as one’s rights from birth onward, due to one’s inheritance, essentially conferred through an accident of birth. You have money, for example. There’s this idea of birthright I find really interesting. So what are Jo’s and Charlie’s and Esther’s birthrights or even Alan Woodcourt’s? What are Ada’s and Richard’s birthrights, and what’s your birthright?
Sarah Harrison 15:18
That’s a big question. That’s really interesting. I think privilege has a positive connotation to it, of course. But in the way you structured this question, birthright — one’s rights from birth onward — in some instances, like Jo’s, Jo would have a pretty meager birthright. It seems like he has a right to nothing. he doesn’t even have a right to more than one name, Jo.
Carolyn Daughters 16:00
Privilege, I think, maybe doesn’t have a positive connotation. It does have positive benefits. But the connotation can be very complex.
Sarah Harrison 16:13
That’s true. That’s fair. I would say that you don’t necessarily have a negative privilege. But that can mean you didn’t deserve what you got. But both privilege and birthright are less about deserving, and more about circumstance.
Carolyn Daughters 16:35
We don’t have to potentially care about Jo, because one could argue — I wouldn’t argue, and I don’t think you would, and Dickens wouldn’t — that Jo’s not worth caring about.
Sarah Harrison 16:48
There was a lot in the book comparing him to a stray dog and how it’s maybe a little bit worse off than a stray dog but even questioning his humanity in the way he’s treated there.
Carolyn Daughters 17:02
People pass him in the street and don’t give him a thought. And he’s parentless. He’s moneyless, he is a child. And one of the questions Dickens seems to indirectly ask is how can we just walk past this child and nothing processes in our brains or in our hearts. We don’t turn toward the child. We don’t ask about the child. We don’t try to care for the child. Some people do. Nemo does, Snagsby does, Alan Woodcourt does, Esther does. But they’re the exceptions and not the rule. Think of the birthright of Charley. So I watched I watched the the movie version of Bleak House starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock.
It’s a TV series from years ago?
Yes. And it’s very well done. I think done by Andrew Davies, who has done a number of excellent period productions. And in it a different thing happens with Charley.
Sarah Harrison 18:31
Carolyn Daughters 18:32
In the movie, she does not get smallpox. Esther still does.
Sarah Harrison 18:38
I guess they had to trim it down.
Carolyn Daughters 18:41
What happens is, Charley still takes care of Esther. It’s determined that she is the most appropriate person to do it, and she offers. Ada can’t come near Esther. Nobody else can come near her. But Charley sits by her side. And I thought that’s birthright right there. Charley’s more expendable. Now the interesting thing is, that’s not even in the book. It’s in the production. But I thought it was so interesting that this child maid she’s is determined to be the most appropriate person to sit by Esther’s side with his contagious disease and care for her.
Sarah Harrison 19:24
That’s interesting. I guess the book didn’t come out and say, but if you take into account that she already had smallpox, and so she has some level of immunity to it. Then that does make her the appropriate person. But even reading the book, I was really flipping out that Ada shouldn’t come near her. Like Ada, above all humans on Earth, must be spared. You’ll see Mr. Jarndyce, the old guy, but not Ada. Heaven forbid.
Carolyn Daughters 20:06
The birthright of many of the characters is virtually non-existent. And then other characters, the wards in Jarndyce, Ada and Richard, haven’t really done anything to earn the money that they are potentially in store to receive from this court case. It’s an accident of birth, right? An accident of birth means Esther will serve Ada as her companion, and Ada will then potentially perceive the rewards of this case.
Sarah Harrison 20:40
That reminds me I made a lot of notes in the book about their nicknames for Esther. I thought they were awful. Esther seems to think they’re cute. They were calling her “old maid,” and “Dame Durden,” and all these old lady names. Then you figure out she’s young and beautiful, but she’s the housekeeper, and she’s super responsible, and all of her nicknames reflect that. And I thought that I don’t know that I would love those nicknames. Nobody’s calling Ada names.
Carolyn Daughters 21:16
And we can barely find out that she’s even beautiful. Because she doesn’t ever tell us. We learn it indirectly from other characters who reference her that way. Or who look at her and for a moment mistake her for Lady Dedlock. We know Lady Dedlock is beautiful. We’ve received confirmation from everybody. Just to be fair, Esther narrates her own sections. It would be hard to be like, I’m a very beautiful person.
Sarah Harrison 21:58
That’s true, but she is pretty self-deprecating.
Carolyn Daughters 22:02
She absolutely is. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Sarah Harrison 22:17
We have some some questions around parenting. Esther recuperates from smallpox at Lawrence Boythorn’s cottage at Chesney Wold. One day while out walking, Esther and Lady Dedlock meet for the first time after Lady Dedlock learns Esther’s her daughter. Esther writes, “I was rendered motionless by something in her face that I had pined for and dreamed of when I was a little child.” Esther sees the love she had longed for so desperately as a child. Mothers play an important role in the book. Mothers who neglect their children like Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardigle, mothers who care for their children like Mrs. Bagnet and Mrs. Rouncewell. Although I might argue about Mrs. Rouncewell cares for only one of her children. There’s also mothers who don’t know they have children, like Lady Dedlock, and mothers who torment their children, like Miss Barbary, Esther’s aunt. How do you love, the absence of love, good parenting, and bad parenting affect children? Let’s start with Esther.
Carolyn Daughters 23:37
For example, Esther was denied love as a child. How has that affected her? How has being parentless and unloved affected Esther and Jo? Why doesn’t Mr. Woodcourt adopt his mother’s pretensions? Oh, yeah, she was a lot. She should have married Mr. Turveydrop. How do Mr. Turveydrop and Mr. Skimpole draw their children into their delusions? And why did Mrs. Jellyby’s and Mrs. Pardigle’s children rebel? There’s I think there’s still a lot to think through about parents and children. There was a lot of focus on mothers in the book and not so much fathers. There’s Turveydrop and Skimpole, but it’s definitely not as comprehensive as the mother types in the book.
Esther was denied love as a child and seems wholly fixated on winning the love of other people. From the very beginning of the book, she tries to win over her aunt, which is a lost cause. She goes off to school and wins the hearts of many people at the school. She meets Ada and Richard and immediately wins their hearts. She seems fairly selfless. What do you need? How can I do that for you? How can I care about you above and beyond? Yet, interestingly, she grows throughout the book, where she starts to have an opinion about people. Harold Skimpole is a great example. Mr. Turveydrop is another. Early on, she hints at opinions about Mrs. Jellyby, but she gets more direct with Mr. Turveydrop, and in particular Mr. Skimpole. She has very clear opinions about who they are and how they behave. And she starts sharing them.
Sarah Harrison 25:49
You talk about her growth. I think if she latched on to people. It kind of switches from having no love and wanting it to her loving certain people. And when you love certain people, and you see other people treat them poorly, it’s hard not to form opinions. And she definitely does do that. And her opinions seem spot on.
Carolyn Daughters 26:16
She, like Jo, is a parentless child. But we can see as terrible as Esther’s upbringing was she had a roof and clothing and food, education. She could read the Bible to her aunt, for example. If I compare her and Jo, she might have had it good.
Sarah Harrison 26:45
There’s that whole scene as well, where they try to read the Bible to Jo. And later on not Esther but um, It was the Snagsbys. When they brought Jo in, and there was that terrible minister at Snagsby’s house, and they just beat him over the head with their Bible reading and their preaching. And it was the former Miss Rachel, who had married that minister. They brought Jo to try to educate him, and he was just floundering. I think Dickens was setting it up several times as people misusing the Bible. The way they would use it to beat people. Esther was raised and educated and able to read the Bible herself not just be beat down with it. Although Mrs. Barbary certainly did beat her down in every possible instance.
Carolyn Daughters 27:57
To make her feel unworthy and guilty, for what she didn’t know. I think right before Jo dies, they start reading the Lord’s Prayer.
Sarah Harrison 28:08
That’s, like a kind way. There was a lot, not just on the misuse of charity, but the misuse of religion in general.
Carolyn Daughters 28:18
Right before he dies they ask him, “Do you know the Bible?” And he says, “I don’t know nothink about the Bible.” So they start reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and I believe he dies in the middle of the recitation. But also at various points in the book, Inspector Bucket and others asked Jo, well, are you being truthful? Or if you say you will do this thing, will you do it? And he says, “Oh, of course, I will.” And I wondered where that honor was coming from.
Sarah Harrison 28:47
That was really interesting, too. I question Dickens character read a little bit. But he portrays both Esther and Jo as very upright characters. I don’t know if Jo ever knew who his parents were or where he gained consciousness. But the fact that they didn’t turn out to be sociopaths, that they’re caring towards others and honorable was really interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 29:18
Sure, and you get kids, including Charlie and her two siblings, where they seem to have had good parents and both parents have died. You can see Charlie living that. She’s out working as a washerwoman. Ostensibly, she got that from her parents, right? She got that sense of you love your family, you care for your family. But Jo and Esther never got that. And yet they’re two of the best hearted, most honorable characters in the book. So … wow.
Sarah Harrison 30:02
I didn’t think about Mr. Woodcourt and his mother. I thought about Mr. Turveydrop and Mr. Skimpole and how they seem to just assimilate their children into their delusions. They all bought into them. But Mr. Woodcourt has distanced himself from his mother’s delusion of grandeur and was a little embarrassed by it.
Carolyn Daughters 30:24
Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardigle have children who rebel in their own ways, whether they’re sullen like Caddy Jellyby or the Pardigle children that are pinching and kicking.
Sarah Harrison 30:50
They both have extreme anger against their mothers. And I do wonder about that. The book doesn’t go into it at all, but it’s just always curious to me how people distance themselves or why they are unable to distance themselves from the way they’re raised.
Carolyn Daughters 31:10
It felt with Mrs. Pardigle, it felt like her children were so young that I was surprised that they had the attitude toward their mom. Mrs. Jellyby and Caddy is a different story. Caddy was a teenage girl. The older you get, the more maybe you’re processing what’s actually happening. But when you’re a child, maybe less so.
Sarah Harrison 31:34
She was putting Caddy to work, and the rest are just ignored. Caddy was similar in age to Esther and Ada. She could certainly see a difference in them in herself.
Carolyn Daughters 31:50
Like, people my age can have a different life than what I’m living. I’m head to toe full of ink from writing out my mother’s letters about her philanthropy.
Sarah Harrison 32:03
But at the same time, Prince Turveydrop never seem to figure it out. His father danced his mother to death and danced him. I think he became a lame at the end and unable to run to school, but all the time just acting like it was Mr. Turveydrop doing them the favor.
Carolyn Daughters 32:26
We don’t know enough about Prince Turveydrop to know how he actually thought about his father.
Sarah Harrison 32:32
I don’t know. The way that Caddy was taken in and the way Esther approached it. She didn’t want to disillusion them about how horrible Mr. Turveydrop was. Then they didn’t mention that his mother was taken in as well till her death.
Carolyn Daughters 32:51
I wonder about these sorts of questions a lot. You see some amazing child grow up to be an amazing adult or a child who’s a problem child grow up to be an amazing adult. Or you see people flounder as they grow up, and you see that sometimes reflected in their adulthood. It’s like we want this perfect math equation, like x plus y equals z.
Sarah Harrison 33:24
Carolyn Daughters 33:25
And I feel like with the range of examples we have here, x plus y can equal all kinds of things.
Sarah Harrison 33:38
I hate to just chalk it up to something intrinsic in their character or their DNA or something. But sometimes it certainly seems that way. I know, for myself, I’m like, x plus y equals my son turns out fine. And if it doesn’t, Oh, no!
Carolyn Daughters 33:58
Maybe x plus y equals a greater chance that that thing happens.
Sarah Harrison 34:05
There’s certainly a core that’s just outside of your upbringing that’s hard to account for.
Carolyn Daughters 34:12
For sure. If we’re going to say Dickens is making an argument, it seems he’s putting it square on the individual. We’re seeing people like Jo and Esther, rise up and be bigger, braver, more honorable people than a lot of people who have extensive education and security and safety and all the money they would ever need. Since we’re talking about Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardigle, let’s talk about a little bit more about these families and the idea of charity. In our last episode, we started talking about whether charity starts at home.
Sarah Harrison 35:11
Thinking through the characters in the book, it seems like Dickens was constructing these sorts of types. I don’t know that it’s all encompassing, but they certainly weren’t duplicative. Now you have Mrs. Jellyby, who’s just neglecting her family except for Caddy who she puts to work. She focuses on her letter writing campaign. And then you have Mrs. Pardigle, who’s making her family join her and actually saying she gives them allowance and taking their money and spending it. She just basically walks around and berates the poor working class. You have Skimpole who constantly refers to himself as in need of charity, and he’s just an innocent child. Mr. Turveydrop acts like he’s giving charity with just his presence, his fantastic department. He’s just like a flower on society.
Carolyn Daughters 36:14
And then Leicester Dedlock and Lady Dedlock give work a job to Rosa. And this is the charity and patronage for which I think they expect praise.
Sarah Harrison 36:27
Sir Leicester certainly does, I felt like Lady Dedlock knew what was up, and she knew what she was doing. And she loved Rosa for herself. I think she thought about the daughter she thought she never had. And she just really thought Rosa was fantastic. But Sir Leicester certainly thinks that Lady Dedlock’s attention is enough charity that anyone should ever need.
Carolyn Daughters 37:03
Mrs. Rouncewell, the housekeeper, has a grandson, who is potentially going to become engaged to and marry Rosa, the servant. And Sir Leicester is shocked by a number of things, the boldness with which Mrs. Rouncewell’s son comes in
Sarah Harrison 37:22
… like an equal
Carolyn Daughters 37:28
The walls of the house are gonna crumble like everything’s gonna fall to the ground because there’s something in the Dedlock blood that is better than other blood. He truly believes he is better, stronger, more godlike, I don’t know how to define it, really. But he believes he is a different manner of human being than other people.
Sarah Harrison 37:57
We’ve been watching the Victoria series, and in this period industrialization kind of takes hold. The series brings out how so many of the aristocratic families really struggled with the change in the balance of power at this time and about what this industrialization and these factories meant to them. It certainly wouldn’t mean that you’re equal.
Carolyn Daughters 38:32
That would be crazy. It’s not just the class system, which I think is interesting, but it’s the attempt to cross class lines. So at one point late in the book, Caddy Jellyby has moved some number of miles west. So she’s living in London, and then they move west, which is basically code, I believe, for moving up in the world.
Sarah Harrison 39:05
Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
Carolyn Daughters 39:06
She’s not dramatically moving classes. She’s not necessarily on par with the Dedlocks. But the Turveydrops, Caddy and Prince, have moved up in the world, I believe, as evidenced by where they’re living. We’re seeing some fluidity of class lines.
Sarah Harrison 39:29
I noticed she got a carriage or something that took her around rather than just walking.
Carolyn Daughters 39:37
And she had so many students, more than she could count. This sort of fluidity is, I think, really starting to take hold in the mid 19th century in England. And we’re going to see that throughout the century where a lot of the landed gentry and the knighted persons like it Leicester Dedlock are going to start losing some foothold.
Sarah Harrison 40:05
Although it feels like the classism is changing, but it’s not necessarily going away. Mr. Rouncewell, Mrs. Rouncewell’s son, comes in. Sir Leicester Dedlock feels like he’s doing Rosa an enormous favor by employing her. Mr. Rouncewell is like, she’s really not quite up to the level I want my son to marry. I need to send her away to be more educated. You might ask, why? What is she doing? Is she running the factory? No, she’s not. But Mr. Rouncewell felt like she wasn’t quite good enough, being just a servant and needed to go get educated also, which floored Sir Leicester that his servant wouldn’t be enough for anyone.
Carolyn Daughters 40:58
Think about the idea that Alan Woodcourt could be knighted. Charles Dickens himself was never knighted. I mean, he was the foremost author of his day.
Sarah Harrison 41:30
Is Elton John knighted?
Carolyn Daughters 41:31
I think he is. I think he’s Sir Elton John.
Sarah Harrison 41:37
But you had Miss Flite, who truly believed that it was associated with your qualities, not your money.
Carolyn Daughters 41:45
But she also thought the Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case would be resolved because, of course, it just has to be resolved.
Sarah Harrison 41:52
She was keeping all her birds to set free.
Carolyn Daughters 41:55
She was not based in reality. She was based in the “what should be.” As a result, many characters refer to her as mad.
Sarah Harrison 42:06
But she doesn’t actually seem to do anything mad, which was interesting. She just seemed naive and maybe kind of scatterbrained.
Carolyn Daughters 42:16
She seemed delightful to me.
Sarah Harrison 42:18
Everyone liked her. And would hang out with her. It wasn’t like she would say nonsense when you would talk to her.
Carolyn Daughters 42:25
Yes, but her madness was thinking that this court case could ever be resolved. After this discussion about whether Alan Woodcourt should receive a title, Esther says it was mad of Miss Flite to even think it.
Sarah Harrison 42:50
Which is funny. Esther grows through the book, but she does strike me as rather naive in the first half of it.
Carolyn Daughters 42:58
And then she she grows less naive and more outspoken. And I think more interesting, like more sure handed even in the way she writes and the way we see her engage with characters. I think it’s super interesting. In seeing characters that we either identify with, or wish we could identify with, one that I don’t know that I identify with but I would like to is Mrs. Bagnet.
Sarah Harrison 43:30
She was wonderful. And I found her for some reason. I found her much more believable than Esther. By the end, I had reconciled that Esther was not the murderer, and she was as good as she seemed. But Mrs. Bagnet I never suspected. She was great.
Carolyn Daughters 43:51
To recap, from our last episode, Sarah had just assumed that Esther’s narrative was complete bosh and that she was the murderer.
Sarah Harrison 44:03
I thought she was making up a case to defend herself against some future murder case we would be getting to and how she had just killed everyone that knew her secret.
Carolyn Daughters 44:16
In which case, like this book would have been would have been monumental for what Dickens would have done with it.
Sarah Harrison 44:24
It’s not the first thing I’ve been wrong about
Carolyn Daughters 44:29
My goodness. It was Esther all along! Wow, that’s crazy. So, yeah, Sarah thought Esther was the murderer.
Sarah Harrison 44:39
I liked this quote about Mrs. Bagnet. It said she was that rare old girl. They always call her old. For some reason, the really good characters get the worst nicknames. “She was this rare old girl that she receives good to her arms without a hint that it might be better and catches light from any little spot of darkness near her.” Do you know people like this? Are you like this?
Carolyn Daughters 45:08
I’m exactly like this. Wait … why are you laughing?
Sarah Harrison 45:15
Carolyn Daughters 45:19
No, I’m not like this. I don’t know anybody exactly like this. But I know a lot of people striving to be like this. I strive to be like this. I start fallen down on the job around 9:10, 9:20 most mornings, but I’m striving. I do know some people who are closer to the mark than others.
Sarah Harrison 45:45
I love Mrs. Bagnet, too, because she doesn’t seem deceived. Sometimes I think when you meet really positive people, they seem a little self-deceived. Like, I’m gonna see the good in this even though it’s a terrible situation.
Carolyn Daughters 46:03
They seem like they’re not deep people. Like they can’t really process the complexity of the thing here.
Sarah Harrison 46:09
They can’t process it, or they don’t want to, or they feel like it’s a negative mark on them. But Mrs. Bagnet doesn’t actually seem that way. They go through the whole scene of her birthday, where she basically grits her teeth and accepts like the very painful kindness of her husband, where he’s gets the worst bird possible and makes a mess of dinner. And she tries to eat it graciously. She’s not deceived or naive. She’s kind and forthright and does focus on the positive.
Carolyn Daughters 46:46
And she also gets it done. When they’re all trying to figure out what the next step is, she’s hiking up her skirts and making sure her boots are on. She doesn’t talk about stuff. She just gets it done. I really liked that about her.
Sarah Harrison 47:09
She just like walks across the whole town and out to the country to get Mrs Rouncewell. It says without a hint that it might be better. And I don’t think that means like, she doesn’t know it might be better. She clearly knows that was a terrible fowl that Mr. Bagnet brought home. But she doesn’t ever let anyone feel bad about it. She sees the gift for what it’s meant to be and doesn’t critique it.
Carolyn Daughters 47:39
It’s a truly a very pure form of grace to be able to just look at someone and just make them feel honored. Make them feel your thankfulness or how much you appreciate them or without having the caveat of you got me this gift, but it should have probably been this other gift.
Sarah Harrison 48:03
I struggle internally, like, ks that always the right tack to take? Maybe if she told him how to pick out a chicken, he’d get a better one, and everyone would be happier. Is it the worst quality to be like, this was wonderful … and But it’s also my job. My job is process improvement. Every day, I have to say, fantastic work. Let’s keep moving and improve it this way next time. So I probably have a bias.
Carolyn Daughters 48:39
One of the dangers is, let’s say you don’t like chicken.
Sarah Harrison 48:43
She hated the one he brought home.
Carolyn Daughters 48:45
Sure, but say you hate all chicken. And because you’re smiling graciously through it, suddenly you’re served chicken every Tuesday for the rest of your life because nobody had a clue you didn’t like chicken.
Sarah Harrison 49:02
Right. Like you’re too gracious. Is that a thing? Is it a thing, Carolyn?
Carolyn Daughters 49:08
Not in my experience. People are complex. I know people who are extremely kind, and people who seem to take almost everything in stride. They don’t like chicken but chicken is served, and they’re like, cool, chicken. I know people like that for sure. But I don’t know anybody who’s Mrs. Bagnet. We’ll use this term. I don’t know a “Bagnet.”
Sarah Harrison 49:44
She was great, too, because she was so smart. Mister Bagnet seemed unable to form an opinion. He was always saying, tell them what I think, and she would give the right answer and he nod his head.
Carolyn Daughters 50:00
But also she’s outspoken. That’s her just getting it done. She marches across the countryside to find Mrs. Rouncewell. She speaks her mind or even Mr. Bagnet’s mind.
Sarah Harrison 50:11
That struck me, too. And I wondered about Dickens for this. In these marriages, it was the women who were speaking and doing. And then, Mr. Bagnet at least was a good guy, but then you have poor Mr. Jellyby who just sat in a corner and hit his head on the wall. I couldn’t quite understand that. Did you have any thoughts there? Why are the women the ones that are the drivers in all these marriages?
Carolyn Daughters 50:46
I think the marriages we’re talking about mainly are bad marriages.
Sarah Harrison 50:50
Where was the good marriages in the book?
Carolyn Daughters 50:52
That’s a great question.
Sarah Harrison 50:53
The Bagnets seem to be the most model family in the book.
Carolyn Daughters 50:58
Probably the Bagnets, yeah. Esther and Alan are probably a good marriage.
Sarah Harrison 51:05
Yes. But the book just ends before we get into it.
Carolyn Daughters 51:09
We get seven years down the road, which is not too common. I mean, usually a book like Pride and Prejudice ends with the marriage, because the story becomes dull once you’re married. And it would here too, so we don’t get the day to day of their life. But we get the retrospect that seven years we’ve been married, and it is all delightful and wonderful. But some of these marriages, are bad marriages. The Bagnets are an exception. I don’t understand fully what Dickens is doing there. But in some cases, like the Snagsbys, I’m sorry, I’m gonna say it — Mr. Snagsby chose poorly. Mr. Jellyby probably chose poorly. I’m guessing that’s what Dickens might say.
Sarah Harrison 52:00
It did seem to be more of a reflective perspective on a commentary on women. And the men just kind of live these life lives in consequence.
Carolyn Daughters 52:14
We can argue that Sir Leicester chose poorly.
Sarah Harrison 52:19
I liked Lady Dedlock. The book seems to make the case that perhaps he did, but I wasn’t really sure.
Carolyn Daughters 52:29
I had that question, too. We can assume, though we don’t know, that the third-person omniscient narrator is Dickensian. He’s Dickens-like. He’s not Dickens, per se. But we can say maybe he’s the voice of Dickens. Where does the narrator stand on Lady Dedlock? Was that a bad marriage? Going back to Pride and Prejudice, one of the main arguments of that book has to do with marriage. We learn about marriage in the very first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, so we know it’s key and integral to the book. But Elizabeth’s parents are a poor match. The father chose poorly, and their mother is a complete nightmare. Three of the five girls turn out to be nightmares of their own fashion, and two of the girls turn out to be lovely and amazing, Jane and Elizabeth. But for all intents and purposes, part of Jane Austen’s argument, I think, is a poor marriage match leads to poor parenting, or problematic parenting, or potentially nightmare children. Sir Leicester marries Lady Dedlock, who has a past, but he doesn’t know about her past. How did you feel that the narrator the third-person narrator felt about Lady Dedlock?
Sarah Harrison 54:07
I kind of went back and forth on it a little bit. As the narrator is describing it. Lady Dedlock had a child before she met Sir Leicester, and it was the most horrible thing and it’s like an embarrassment to their marriage. And I was just like, well, it’s not like she cheated on him. Like this all happened before she ever met him. And yet Dickens kills her off and reveals her name at the end, Honoria, which means honorable lady, like it’s almost just like too ironic. Like, huh, this honorable lady.
Carolyn Daughters 54:55
But he also kills Jo, so he’s against killing a character. Richard dies as well.
Sarah Harrison 55:05
Well, Richard, he’s wasn’t great. I had a hard time finding likable things about Richard. Other than just being a nice guy, like, chatty.
Carolyn Daughters 55:26
So this mistake that Lady Dedlock makes — she has this affair with this man, Captain Hawden. She has a child out of wedlock. She thinks the child has died, and the child is placed with her sister.
Sarah Harrison 55:40
She doesn’t even know this whole time.
Carolyn Daughters 55:42
She doesn’t know her daughter, Esther, is alive. I don’t think at any point in time the narrator thinks the way Esther was brought up is appropriate because her mother is sin incarnate and therefore the child of the mother should be punished in in the way Miss Barbary punishes her. I didn’t think for even a second that the narrator thought that.
Sarah Harrison 56:05
No, definitely not. He’s making, I would say, the opposite point.
Carolyn Daughters 56:10
Now how did he feel about Lady Dedlock? That’s perhaps more complicated. Various people seem to try to protect Lady Dedlock. Guppy does for a variety of reasons. He’s a big fan of Esther’s.
Sarah Harrison 56:25
He wants to protect it her for Esther. He wanted to blackmail her at first, thinking it would help his case with Esther. And then he finds out it won’t, and Esther treated him well.
Carolyn Daughters 56:39
And he shows up and gives Lady Dedlock a warning. He didn’t have to do that. I don’t hate Guppy.
Sarah Harrison 56:45
No, I actually like Guppy.
Carolyn Daughters 56:49
Mothers and sons, right?
Sarah Harrison 56:52
His mother is funny.
Carolyn Daughters 56:55
I don’t dislike Guppy. I feel like he got some poor treatment in the book.
Sarah Harrison 57:03
If anything, I thought Esther was a little bit unfair to him. She talks about his flat hair, and how pathetic his flat hair was. And it wouldn’t be as so absurd if his hair wasn’t so ridiculous. Like, come on, Esther.
Carolyn Daughters 57:17
He’s more complicated than a two-dimensional comedy character. Then the narrator ignores that he was more complicated at the end when he marches in to re-propose to Esther.
Sarah Harrison 57:36
To graciously offer his hand again.
Carolyn Daughters 57:39
They knew why he was there. He was complicated in that he felt guilt when he decided he wasn’t going to pursue Esther anymore. The narrator tells us he feels guilty. He feels bad. He goes to Lady Dedlock and tries to help her because she is Esther’s mother. At no point does he wag his finger in her face or yell judgmental things at her. He actually tries to help her. So at the end when he comes to re-announce his love for Esther. They allow him to go through this entire thing, Mr. Jarndyce and Esther. They sit there just kind of smiling on the side. They could have shut it down immediately. I don’t know why they didn’t. They knew why he was there. I feel like they made him their plaything. And I’m a little annoyed by it.
Sarah Harrison 58:36
I didn’t think the treatment of Guppy was fair. I mean, other than being a bit shallow. He was shocked when he saw Esther’s looks in her face. A lot of sure a lot of weight is put on the face only in these books. The Woman in White comes up next, and I just got through a scene there that’s very extreme in that way.
Carolyn Daughters 59:04
I’m not saying I thought Guppy was the greatest character ever or that I liked every decision he made. I do feel like he got a raw deal. I feel like they could have stopped him in his tracks and been more respectful toward him. He’s not of a high class. He has now received his papers, and he’s going to be an attorney. He has worked his way up. This is a guy who’s working very hard, who’s probably fairly bright. But from his speech patterns, he’s not high born and perhaps not formally educated. Maybe self-educated to some degree. I feel like they played with him at the end. And I didn’t like that.
Sarah Harrison 59:53
He was a bit shallow. He clearly couldn’t love Esther. He doesn’t know her. He just thought she was beautiful. But he does the right thing. He acts right by her. And they don’t seem to treat him well. Or to appreciate his good qualities. I like Guppy more than Richard. I was wondering why everyone is interested in Richard’s outcome.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00:29
Because he’s one of the wards of Jarndyce.
Sarah Harrison 1:00:31
He’s wealthy and wasteful and self-delusional. He’s a terrible decision maker. I didn’t get it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00:42
Birthright, I think.
Sarah Harrison 1:00:44
Apparently birthright comes with the respect of other respectable people.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00:47
Birthright comes with a story. Although Esther tells her own story, so Esther’s story maybe wouldn’t normally be told, but she tells her own story. We’ve talked a lot about Harold Skimpole. We’ve given this guy more time than he’s ever warranted.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:07
He would be pleased.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:08
Yeah, he would be very happy with that. But Inspector Bucket gives some really interesting advice about Harold Skimpole, who unlike Guppy, is exactly what he seems. He’s not complex in any way. He was so uninteresting to me that I don’t know how Mr. Jarndyce could have possibly have been friends with him.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:31
They would start out like what a jerk but his little childish ways and his little piano playing they just found so charming that he soon got them all laughing again. It’s like, no, what? He’s the worst.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:48
Inspector Bucket and Esther are in the carriage looking for Lady Dedlock, who has torn off because now her husband is going to know the truth of her history. Bucket and Esther are together, and Bucket says to Esther, “People who say they know nothing of money are only after yours. And people who say in worldly matters, I’m a child, are just trying to avoid being held responsible.” Yes! Exactly. So why does the narrator, along with Inspector Bucket and Esther, see things that a lot of the other characters can’t see?
Sarah Harrison 1:02:34
That was interesting. Especially Jarndyce bothered me there. He seemed a little self-delusional. He would get upset, especially that first time when Skimpole took Esther’s and Richard’s money. The wind started blowing in his direction. And then he talks himself out of it over and over again. It’s impossible. He’s just a child.
Carolyn Daughters 1:03:01
But Jo was actually just a child. If you’re going to throw money around, why wouldn’t you throw money around an actual child?
Sarah Harrison 1:03:10
That’s like a whole other question, the giving away of money. That was the first thing that bugged me about Richard, is when he got his money back from Skimpole. He considered giving it to Jenny with her dead baby and her poor terrible living conditions. But when they said it wouldn’t do any good, he just spent it on a carriage ride. Did that do any good? Could you think a little harder?
Carolyn Daughters 1:03:34
He couldn’t think bigger, and he couldn’t hold down a profession. He put all of his energy into this court case so he could get all this money that was his birthright? Yeah, I don’t know. I have a problem with it, too.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:52
Inspector Bucket and Esther, I suppose, are looking for the truth.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:01
They’re actually introspective, both of them. And they’re allowing people to just be and they’re seeing what the people are showing them. They’re actually paying attention.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:14
Jarndyce is confusing because he seems so insightful about Esther and those around him. But also, I do think he was one of those that would try to put the best spin on a situation. Like he rejected his own impulse to a negative thought.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:33
There’s privilege there with Jarndyce, too. He washes his hands of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case. But he has money. So it’s a big thing that he walks away from it. And we can say, well, everybody else is obsessed with it and everybody else is in court every third day and everybody else is putting all their time and energy and money in this case to see it resolved. Jarndyce says no, that’s not for me. Well, okay, but you have money, which gives him the ability to walk away from it.
Sarah Harrison 1:05:09
It does, but I guess we don’t know. You might argue that Richard doesn’t have money, but he had the benefit of Mr. Jarndyce’s money. Jarndyce took them on as wards even though you find out later that they weren’t on the same side in the court case. Jarndyce tries to give them money and get him started in a profession. Everything that Jarndyce has is at their disposal. But Richard walks away from it and then begins to fight and loses everything. He wasn’t without means. And then Ada, they have this independently wealthy “we can live off whatever interest of our property” situation. Richard takes her money and blows that, too. So he could have walked away. It wasn’t like he was fighting for his livelihood there.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:58
And Mr. Jarndyce walks away and can walk away with no repercussions. Richard sees dollar signs or pounds, and he’s like, how much money can I make? He’s fixated. He’s obsessed. Not not the most likable character, but he redeems himself at the end. He has the whole deathbed, oh my gosh, I’ve learned so much, and Mr. Jarndyce, you are an honorable man, and I really like you. And Ada, our baby’s going to be amazing.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:34
I suppose. I didn’t find it super redeeming. I was like, you just squandered your wife’s wealth and left her with a baby. And Jarndyce is cleaning up the pieces again.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:45
I have a question for you. So it’s all done now. It’s all said and done. He had already thrown his health away. He had already ruined everything. He was about to die. Can he redeem himself on his deathbed?
Sarah Harrison 1:07:05
That’s really tough.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07:08
It’s a tough one. I think that’s the intent in the scene.
Sarah Harrison 1:07:20
Can you be sorry? Absolutely. Will I like you personally? Maybe not. Does it make your family’s life materially better? No. But you can be sorry. And, God is forgiving. But now the child has no parents. That was another thing too. I wondered if Jarndyce was the murderer for a long time. He kept taking on these wards, ward after ward, like is he killing everyone? Because he thinks he’s going to be kinder to their children, did he kill them?
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:07
See, these things never occurred to me.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:09
Wow. You have a pure heart.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:20
I have a passing familiarity with 19th century literature. So that that would have been a very 20th century thing to do.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:29
When you’re taking in all of the wards.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:32
And then you find out like, on page 720, you’re like, oh, my gosh, he has been killing every single ward who came into his house? They’re all buried in the backyard!
Sarah Harrison 1:08:43
Inspector Bucket figured it out, though. Should we talk a little bit about Inspector Bucket?
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:48
We should. Because this is Tea, Tonic, and Toxin, a mystery and thriller book club and podcast.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:59
Inspector Bucket is a professional detective who investigates a series of mysterious events. Stealthy, observant, polite, compassionate …. I might question that one. He is discretion itself and accustomed to the most delicate of missions. He appears out of nowhere, moves deceptively through the streets, and sees what others can’t.
Carolyn Daughters 1:09:22
Tell me about compassionate.
Sarah Harrison 1:09:25
I wasn’t getting a sense of compassion. He wasn’t unkind. He wasn’t cruel, perhaps. I wonder. But Jo was being absolutely dogged by him. Jo shows up, and he’s terrified of Inspector Bucket because Bucket is everywhere trying to get him out of town. And why is Bucket doing that? Because that’s what Tulkinghorn wants. Like who do you work for? Do you work for Tulkinghorn? He’s like the most powerful character in the book. It was strange to me that this poor, sick child is being dogged out of town because he was inconvenient to a rich lawyer. Inspector Bucket is kind of carrying that out. Who was the other gentleman Bucket was after for money? He was the other guy in the case? Gridley? It should have been gridlock. He was after Gridley, too, everyone goes to hide it George’s, apparently. But he’s up on the rooftops peeping in the window, finding yet another sick man. He doesn’t want to kill him, but he’s doing his job. For Tulkinghorn again, I believe.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:57
For Tulkinghorn, and then also maybe arguably protecting the honor of the Dedlock family. Which then calls into question, why does this family’s honor need to be protected to such a degree that we send a child away?
Sarah Harrison 1:11:12
You could definitely argue it if Tulkinghorn was 100% about protecting it, but you’re not sure. He’s kind of like, I’ll protect it so far as I think I will. I’m more concerned about Sir Leicester, my client.
Carolyn Daughters 1:11:29
When Inspector Bucket comes to the Bagnets’ house, he sort of ingratiates himself with them. He’s like singing and telling jokes.
Sarah Harrison 1:11:39
Sort of ingratiates? He walks out their best friend. He’s gonna buy an instrument from them the next day.
Carolyn Daughters 1:11:45
They love him. What a great guy. And then, of course, he leaves with George and arrests George. But then he’s got a cloak to hide the handcuffs he puts on George, and he has a second pair of handcuffs in case the first pair is too tight.
Sarah Harrison 1:11:59
All about his comfort and the optics, I suppose, is what we would say now.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12:06
Is he a decent guy doing a difficult job? Or is he a cold-hearted cop just pretending to be kind? Is it all an act?
Sarah Harrison 1:12:15
What’s the saying? You get more flies with honey than vinegar? I don’t know that things have to all be an act. But I don’t know that we can say he’s necessarily being a great, generous guy. He knew George wasn’t guilty.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12:33
I know. That killed me.
Sarah Harrison 1:12:36
So that’s what killed Lady Dedlock.He knew George wasn’t guilty. He threw him in prison. Mrs. Bagnet goes to get Mrs. Rouncewell, his mother, so he’ll listen to some sense about getting a lawyer. Mrs. Rouncewell, overcome with seeing her son, gives Lady Dedlock this note for what purpose? She’s like, I’m not accusing you of anything, but come clean. My son’s in danger.
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:11
And the note says “Lady Dedlock, murderess.”
Sarah Harrison 1:13:15
Lady Dedlock flees into this blizzard and dies from the elements. And this is all because what? Because Inspector Bucket is trying to play out his detective game and puts an innocent man in jail knowingly.
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:37
Inspector Bucket is almost as omniscient as the narrator himself. Bucket seems to see everything and to know everything, and yet he sits with his client, Sir Leicester. Bucket knows everything now, right? He has figured everything out. He knows Lady Dedlock’s past, he knows who’s committed the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn, and he dumps all of this into Sir Leicester’s lap. Of course, Sir Leicester is shocked and has a stroke. To me that seemed almost out of character because Inspector Bucket seems to know people and how they react and what they do.
Sarah Harrison 1:14:38
He does his little Jedi mind trick, like you said. And he put it in a way almost designed to be the most shocking way he could put it. You can put things in a lot of ways, and he would know how to do it. So to me, that’s a major, weird oversight, or he did it on purpose. It did seem like he just didn’t care.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:01
It seemed thoughtless, for sure. In the best case scenario, it was thoughtless in the purest sense of that term. There was no thought put into how he delivered that news about Lady Dedlock to Sir Leicester Dedlock.
Sarah Harrison 1:15:13
But he doesn’t seem like a thoughtless guy. It seems like every word is measured. So is he kind? He knows the best way to capture George. George is a big, strong, tough guy. It’s not to fight him. It’s to sneak him away. To keep your eyes on him, sneak him away, make it easy. I don’t see Inspector Bucket as a compassionate person. Do you?
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:43
I saw him as complex. I think Dickens saw him as a compassionate person.
Sarah Harrison 1:15:49
Really? You do?
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:51
I do think so. Some of his behavior is questionable, for sure. But I think that when he’s riding around with Esther looking for Lady Dedlock, he’s trying to be solicitous of what she needs and recognize that she is under stress.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:13
That’s interesting, because I feel like Esther almost doesn’t count because 100% of characters in the book are solicitious of her. Mr. George, it doesn’t really tell you what passed, but Mr. George is like, anything for Esther. She’s wonderful. Everybody just feels that way about her. But he always seems considerate. Is he considerate, or is he just keeping her on her feet because she’s gonna have to be of presence of mind if they get to Lady Dedlock?
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:50
We don’t know. Inspector Bucket is married to a woman who is his partner in crime solving. Mrs. Bucket. He calls her a “lady of natural detective genius.” He’s sitting at breakfast with the murderer, Hortense, the French maid. Hortense is staying at their house as their lodger. And he just gets this natural intuition where he senses she’s the murderer. And then his wife basically does every single thing in order to nail shut the case.
Sarah Harrison 1:17:39
He’s like, stay close to that one while I leave you with this murderess. And she doesn’t.
Carolyn Daughters 1:17:46
Mrs. Bucket sees Hortense writing letters, the “Lady Dedlock, murderess” letters that were distributed all around town. They’re out to tea in the country together, and the murder weapon, the gun that was used to shoot Tulkinghorn and thrown into a body of water. Mrs. Bucket is, I would say, the Watson to Sherlock Holmes, but almost more than that. Because, frankly, I’ve read some Sherlock Holmes, and Watson doesn’t do a whole lot.
Sarah Harrison 1:18:22
Mrs. Bucket was on her. I was a little surprised that Inspector Bucket was like, that’s my plan. Keep my wife with the murderess and keep the innocent guy in jail.
Carolyn Daughters 1:18:39
It’s a super complicated plan. And it also deceives readers along the way. He’s sitting there talking to Sir Leicester and says, Oh, your wife can’t come. Sir Leicester says “don’t mention my wife’s name.” And Inspector Bucket says that Lady Dedlock is integral to the story. She’s the pivot. We have to talk about her. Readers can be thinking at this point, okay, wow, she is the murderer. I thought she was because we saw her heading to Tulkinghorn’s offices, and we know that she’s been wearing the dark cloak. It misleads the reader, I think, intentionally. And then suddenly we learn that it was the French maid the whole time, and then he starts reciting the 14 pieces that we didn’t know about that happened in the background.
Sarah Harrison 1:19:32
That was funny, too, because they talk about her early on when she tries to become Esther’s maid. They talk about her as being someone who would have given someone the guillotine. And I was like, wow. So it was so obviously her that I discarded the idea. Everyone just assumes she’s totally evil, but maybe she’s just a little uncomfortable. But I guess it was her.
Carolyn Daughters 1:19:58
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but I want to talk briefly about the ending. It’s a pretty happy ending.
Sarah Harrison 1:20:12
For Esther. Yeah. It’s not the way I wanted it to go.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20:15
How did you want it to go?
Sarah Harrison 1:20:16
Everyone loves Esther. And once I realized she was really good, and not the murderess, then I kind of wanted like Sir Leicester to have a relationship with her at the end. Not like romantic one. Like I was happy she married Woodcourt. But I wanted him to be like, “Oh, you are the daughter of my wife that I loved. Come over.” But that’s not what happens. He kind of just puts all his affection on George. So it’s not quite how I wanted it. But I was glad Esther and Woodcourt got together.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20:47
I was, too. The way it happened seemed a squidgy to me.
Sarah Harrison 1:20:52
That was the whole Jarndyce/Esther relationship is interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20:57
When Mr. Jarndyce professes his love for Esther …
Sarah Harrison 1:21:03
Does he say he loves her?
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:04
I believe he does.
Sarah Harrison 1:21:05
I don’t remember that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:07
He wants to marry her.
Sarah Harrison 1:21:23
He, in fact, had raised her with that intention. He thought about it when she was a little girl going off to school.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:31
Sarah Harrison 1:21:32
Maybe one day she’ll be my wife. It’s horrible. So I think about it’s very like taboo, but I have to think that maybe it wasn’t then. So the level of horror we experience is against what’s totally socially unacceptable.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:50
I don’t think it would have been felt by readers of the 19th century.
Sarah Harrison 1:21:54
don’t think it would have, either.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:55
At the end of the book, a lot happens. In the last 100 pages, a lot happens. Mr. Jarndyce takes her to Yorkshire, and he says, “I’ve set Mr. Woodcourt up in this house, and it looks surprisingly like Bleak House. It’s got gardens and everything’s laid out. And, wink wink, nudge nudge, surprise! I’m giving you over to Mr. Woodcourt. And it’s like, oh, my gosh.
Sarah Harrison 1:22:41
He knows they’re truly in love, but she is still staying true to Mr. Jarndyce. There’s this whole undertone where it’s a good decision not to say exactly how you feel about things. Even though she loves Mr. Woodcourt, she loves Mr. Jarndyce enough to marry him anyway. So that’s just fine, and how lucky is she?
Carolyn Daughters 1:23:11
It’s a very happy conclusion. I also liked the way that the book is paced. The middle feels like it’s drawn out a little bit the middle for me. In novel writing, some people might call it the flabby middle. But the end, it’s paced fast. And something interesting happens where the omniscient narrator will end and Esther will pick up where he leaves off. It’s really fluid. Like Esther gets in the carriage, and then Esther says, “I just got in the carriage.” It’s almost like they’re dialoguing. It becomes super tight, that last maybe 100 or 150 pages. It’s a happily ever after story, and this new household happens. Two Bleak Houses with Mr. Jarndyce, Ada. Esther, Mr. Woodcourt, and then the various children. Little baby Richard and Esther’s two daughters. And so they have this whole new life.
Sarah Harrison 1:24:26
It was a nice ending. I feel bad for Sir Leicester.
Carolyn Daughters 1:24:31
I did, too. He’s another complex character. It would be easy to draw him in ways where you just dislike every single thing about him, but I didn’t dislike every single thing about him. This is a guy who, if his wife had come home to him, he would have accepted her back.
Sarah Harrison 1:24:50
One hundred percent, and he would have punched anyone in the eye who was mean to her.
Carolyn Daughters 1:24:56
And who would have dared, right?
Sarah Harrison 1:24:58
If he had said she’s good, she’s good.
This was a great book. If you’ve listened to our podcast but you haven’t read Bleak House yet, you know everything now. But I hope you read it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:25:16
And if you’ve read no Dickens or you’ve only read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, make this your Dickens. This is the one. It is a mystery, and Inspector Bucket solves the case. But it’s also a social critique. It plays skillfully with narration. It’s well written, you feel for many characters. Make this your Dickens.
Sarah Harrison 1:25:44
It has reignited my love for Dickens. I’m gonna go out and get some other ones too. Next, we’re reading The Woman in White. I just started it. And it already surprised me. Apparently, I just go into these books with a lot of preconceptions.
Carolyn Daughters 1:26:08
Without giving away this story, what is surprising you?
Sarah Harrison 1:26:11
I thought The Woman in White would be a ghost.
Carolyn Daughters 1:26:14
Ah, instead of a woman wearing white. It’s a mystery novel. It’s also a sensation novel. It’s a story of a woman wrongfully locked away in an insane asylum. It’s an early example of detective fiction. It has several detectives, though not formal police detectives like Inspector Bucket.
Sarah Harrison 1:26:47
Oh, man, you already like gave too much away for me.
Carolyn Daughters 1:26:50
Did I? What I will say is there are multiple narrators, and the main narrator is Walter Hartright. This 1860 thriller includes a ghostly woman a secret society switched identities for an agent’s paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. Seriously what’s not to love?
Sarah Harrison 1:27:38
I’m already having a lot of feelings, and I’m only in chapter three.
Carolyn Daughters 1:27:55
The book is large. It’s not Bleak House large, but it’s not small. We’ve got two versions of it here. We’ve got Sarah’s bathtub edition.
Sarah Harrison 1:28:07
The bathtub edition is starting to wrinkle up nicely.
Carolyn Daughters 1:28:10
And mine, which has never been in a bathtub. Very nice and clean. Also to date unread. So I would say two-thirds the length of Bleak House.
Sarah Harrison 1:28:31
Thank you listeners. We appreciate you.
September 11, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and Mike Nugent keep the Maltese Falcon conversation flowing with LOADS more thoughts about Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and, of course, the ever-elusive Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Folks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Join us, won’t you?Listen →
August 4, 2023
Author Mike Nugent joins Sarah and Carolyn to talk about noir, crime fiction, and all things Sam Spade (who’s described as resembling a blond satan). The Maltese Falcon changed the way crime fiction was written. You’ll want to read it in one sitting and then give our podcast a listen.Listen →
July 30, 2023
Hey, Continental Op, what’s your deal? Are you a hero? Anti-hero? Something else altogether? Hear our thoughts about the Op, Dinah Brand, Whisper, and all the gang – and let us know your tally of how many people wind up dead in the book. It’s hard to keep track.Listen →