Literary Context, Reception, Adaptations and Misc

  • Housekeeper at Bleak House

  • Carries a basket of keys.

  • Though motherless, bears a mysterious resemblance to Lady Honoria Dedlock

  • Loved by all who meet her.

  • Proposed to by Mr Gubby, Mr Jarndyce, and Mr Woodcourt

  • An orphan who sweeps the streets for pennies.

  • Carries a broom wherever he goes.

  • ‘Lives’ at Tom-All-Alone’s, the worst slum in London

  • Connected to everyone (make a list)!

  • Catches smallpox and infects Charley and Esther.

  • One of the great beauties of the British Aristocracy.

  • Born Honoria Barbury, engaged to Captain Hawdon (dec.), but married to Sir Leicester Dedlock.

  • Has a secret sorrow.

  • Bears a mysterious resemblance to Esther Summerson.

  • Hides someone’s handkerchief in her cabinet.

  • He toils not nor does he spin.

  • He pretends to be a ‘child,’ to prey on the generosity of others.

  • He is a model of idleness and hypocrisy.

  • He is based on the Romantic poet, Leigh Hunt.

  • He is one of the previous generation that Mr Dickens despises.

  • She is a young woman in her early twenties.

  • She has an overbearing and distracted mother.

  • She is cross and anxious as a result.

  • She becomes an ‘Angel’ in the House on her marriage to Mr Prince Turveydrop.

  • She is very fond of Esther.

  • He is a baronet, from one of the oldest aristocractic families in England.

  • He is in the House of Lords, and part of a Parliament that does not help those in need.

  • He lives in London and at his estate, Chesney Wold.

  • He is deeply in love with his wife.

  • He has a most tenacious lawyer.

I. Literary Context

Thus far, we have focused on the immediate context of the novel.  We’ve looked at the places, the people, the intellectual themes.  I have done my best to indicate the ways they connect in the novel, and to indicate when Mr Dickens does something that is specifically related to the Victorian England he describes.

I want, now, to move in a new direction, to think about the ways in which the culture in which Mr Dickens was writing influenced his literary decisions.  And to think about the ways in which that culture received his work.

As I may already have mentioned, Mr Dickens wrote Bleak House as one of his first novels in his new publication venture, the monthly periodical, Household Words.  Every month, three or four new chapters were produced.

This had an impact upon his writing.



Immediate reaction of readers.

Immediate concerns.  (seasons, political moments, cholera epidemics).

II. Adaptations through the Ages

For some reason, Bleak House is the least adapted of Mr Dickens’s work, on stage or screen, or even in other novels.  Perhaps it is the scale of the novel, which would daunt even the most hardy of adapters.  Perhaps it is the split narrative–the power of Mr Dickens’s voice, and my own, less certain one, make for shifting tones and perspectives.  Perhaps it is the huge cast of characters, though a skilful adapter can dispense with all but the most important of figures. Perhaps it is the dark tone of the novel, its despair at the corruption of England.  Perhaps it is contemporary unease with my own perspective–as I have commented above, my own character has been found wanting by those who wish for a more forceful and satirical tone from me! Whatever the reason, we have very few contemporary films, television serials, or even novels and stories, to choose from in considering how modern writers have responded to and adapted this novel.

But I show you a few below.

Our first, is an early film:

The Death of Poor Jo (British Film Institute)

British Film Institute: Screen Dickens Compilation :

In many ways, the television serial format is well suited to Mr Dickens’s work, especially considering the serial format with which he worked in his publications of Household Words and All the Year Round.  This is the subject of discussion in a panel at the British Film Institute:

The British Film Institute Discussion Panel on Adapting Dickens for Television:

Screenshot 2014-11-25 00.19.40BFI Adapting Dickens for Television

Here, Andrew Davies discusses the challenges of adapting Mr Dickens’s work.  He is one of the few writers to have adapted Bleak House.  He discusses this process at the University of Warwick.

Bleak Expectations: a radio parody of the writings of Mr Dickens!

And another parody, this time televisual, The Bleak Shop of Old Stuff.

I do not merely show you these productions for your entertainment.  You may like to reflect upon the vision of Mr Dickens’s work that they represent.  You may like to think about whether they confirm your own expectation, and ideas about Mr Dickens’s work, his literary world, and the world of Bleak House.


IV. Adaptations through the Ages

The Death of Poor Jo.

Screen Dickens Compilation :

Adapting Dickens for Television:

Andrew Davies and Dickens Adaptation:

Bleak Expectations:

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff:





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