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6 of Earth - John Jarndyce

with Mrs. Jellyby & Harold Skimpole


Mrs. Jellyby; a Jellyby child; Emma Neckett;

Mrs. Pardiggle [portrait]; John Jarndyce;

Charlotte (Charley) Neckett;

Gridley aka 'The man from Shropshire';

Harold Skimpole.

Roman à Clef:

Caroline Chisholm; Leigh Hunt


Bleak House

     John Jarndyce is the personification of benevolence itself. His residence, Bleak House, is a ramshackle structure with rooms dedicated and added on to for each new individual he takes under his wing. In a similar way, Jarndyce, in whose house are many mansions, is the hub of Bleak House itself. He and his namesake's suit at Chancery are the core of the maze from which the novel's yarn is spun. Able to visit every room in this house – including "the Growlery", his own room for venting his spleen – Jarndyce can be seen as a surrogate for the author himself. His charity is a personal one - stark contrast to the public spectacle of self-professed equitable distribution that is Chancery. If Chancery is hard, Jarndyce is soft; if Chancery is galling and bilious, Jarndyce is jaundiced - a disease of the liver; if Chancery is a fixed and unfixable game of chance, Jarndyce and his wards are its cut and dice. Indeed he is the other half – the human side of the coin – of the house divided which cannot stand that is Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Yet even as this case comes as it must to nought, Jarndyce offers in the end the novel's greatest act of charity: his betrothed Esther Summerson to the kind-hearted Doctor Allan Woodcourt. Moreover, he reproduces for the newlyweds their very own Bleak House.


 Jarndyce is ward to the novel's protagonists – Ada Clare, Richard Carstone – as well as to some of its arguably less deserving characters. Mrs. Jellyby and Harold Skimpole act as radical cautionary tales on either flank of Jarndyce's charitable nature. Mrs. Jellyby is so preoccupied with her campaign to aide the African natives of Borrioboola-Gha that she neglects the practicalities of daily life, which include her children, husband, and home. Harold Skimpole, on the other hand, is an inveterate mooch who manages to manoeuvre everyone else into footing his bill. Jarndyce views Skimpole as a child, unaware of his own actions and so unable to change them. Esther Summerson, Jarndyce's de facto ward to whom he is ethical mentor, struggles with this assessment but ultimately defers to it. The pragmatic Inspector Bucket, meantime, views him with less charity, as undoubtedly most readers do, when Skimpole's venality leads to Jo the crossing-sweep's death.


 Mrs. Jellyby is in fact based on female philanthropists of the era such as Caroline Chisholm. John Stuart Mill deplored the public spite Dickens displayed by such characters as Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle in Bleak House, pronouncing it “done in the vulgarest way, just the style in which vulgar men used to ridicule 'learned ladies' as neglecting their children and household.” And it's true – independent women in his novels are repeatedly repressed by Dickens; here, he openly patronizes and ridicules them. Harold Skimpole, for his part, was based on the writer Leigh Hunt who, like almost everyone else, instantly recognized himself in the caricature. Dickens found the send-up both hilarious and “I suppose... the most exact portrait that was ever painted in words!” This caused a schism between he and Leigh for which Dickens never apologized. In short, what we have in the characters of Mrs. Jellyby and Harold Skimpole, then, is a counterpoint to John Jarndyce's magnanimity, namely: Charles Dickens' own uncharitableness.


Shorthand : Card of the philanthropist - power used to raise - position used to place others  - heartfelt empathy - well-met gratitude - doing good and do-gooding - the rewards of wardship - patronage - the proverbial helping hand - very sound advice - veritable room at the inn - “Whatsoever you do for the least of these you did for me &tc. &tc.”  - riches redistributed - care of community - strength in numbers - magnanimous display - lurking paternalism - motives self-serving - wretched charity begins at home - goodwill abused - “poor me” - no of self-discipline - growing profligacy - final dissipation.

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