As Dickens does so well, the writer treats the reader to a wide spectrum of the society of London in the 19th Century. The central issue in this novel is the hopeless slowness with which the court of Chancery moves, and the persons who are involved, either as claimants, as attorneys, or as those at the edges of the Court who seek to profit by the proceedings. The author gives us examples of the consistent behaviors of the very good (Esther Summerson and her guardian John Jarndyce) and the profoundly evil (Mr. Smallweed and Mr. Tulkinghorn) and a vast spread between these extremes.

The story is constructed somewhat as a mystery, as multiple connections among the myriad of characters are slowly revealed as the plot advances. The reader is allowed a view of the most poverty-stricken, as well as the most wealthy of the levels of society presented. The complexity of the characterizations and their intertwined lives, along with Dickens’s amazing descriptions, keep the reader moving through the tangle to its final resolution.


This is a story about the law and the courts of England in the period represented. Both the best and the worst of human nature in this context are explored through the parade of colorful characters created by Dickens. The tale alternates between the first person narration of Esther, a ward of the Chancery, and a third person narrator who travels among the thoughts and actions of the other characters, creating a fascinating tapestry of motives and behaviors.

There is little reference to medicine, although there are a couple of good physicians presented, and a limited outbreak of smallpox occurs among the residents of Bleak House. The principal value to those interested in medicine and literature is the detailed trip through the social milieu of London and the intimate studies of multiple complex characters.


First published: 1853



Place Published

Middlesex, England



Page Count