Posted by: Laurel | September 21, 2010

Tied So Nicely With a Bow

I’d like to comment briefly on the final chapter of Bleak House. While I am pleased that things finally end well for Esther, I find it at least mildly frustrating that the lives of most of the characters can be wrapped up so succinctly in the final pages of a novel that is, in all, 900 pages long.

As I said, I’m happy for Esther, but I’m troubled that Ada’s happiness with her son has brought to Esther “a new sense of the goodness and the tenderness of God” at the close of all the horrible things she has seen and experienced otherwise. It seemed that a single, happy event all but washed away two or more decades of strife. Personally, I feel that this last chapter is a bit of a cop-out for what has otherwise been a very dense and very difficult novel. For instance, Jarndyce and Jarndyce has finally concluded (yay), but it has taken so long that there is no money left for Ada and Richard (boo). With the ending of the court case, Richard and Ada can start their lives anew and raise a child together (yay), but then Richard dies (boo). These are two extremely limited examples from the near-end of the novel, but they demonstrate that there seems to be a balance of the positive and negative throughout the story. And that does make sense, as so often, real life is just that way. Which makes it all the more strange that this little circle of folks we have come to know should end up blissfully happy in the final pages, minus the “bad mother” figure of Mrs. Jellyby, who was both unhappy with Caddy’s marriage and made to move on to another cause. As we discussed in class, Dickens seems to be making the case for motherhood and mothering, whether one has a child of her own or not, and he does this in part by showing how inadequate Mrs. Jellyby is for her own children because she has taken up this other cause. The best mothers, it seems, are those who are mothers before they are anything else, and they are the ones who receive the happiest endings at the novel’s close.

I’m all for happy endings and tying up the loose ends, but for a novel as heavy and foggy (literally, thinking back to the first page of the book) as Bleak House, the ending came about rather suddenly and was a bit to cheery considering the tone of most of the preceding chapters. I’m not sure if that betrays the rest of the work, it just seems an odd choice for a book so jam-packed with grief from beginning to near-end.

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