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9 of Air - Lady Dedlock


Lady Honoria Dedlock


Bleak House

     Lady Honoria Dedlock has kept a secret. As a young woman, she had a child out of wedlock with Captain James Hawdon. That child was Esther Summerson, whom her sister Miss Barbary took to raise. Honoria in turn married Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, a man old enough to be her father. He married her for love, she married him - we presume - for security. That security is threatened when Tulkinghorn, the Dedlock family lawyer, suspects the lady of duplicity. The motives behind Tulkinghorn's animosity toward Honoria have been questioned by some readers, but they are obvious and common enough: he despises women. As a representative of law and government, he also represents the misogyny inherent in its system and greater society.



 As the net of guilt and shame close around Lady Dedlock, her maid Hortense - an angry Frenchwoman who represents Honoria's passionate side - kills Tulkinghorn and Honoria flees her home. Inspector Bucket, aided by Esther, pursue Lady Dedlock, causing her to become ever more desperate. She ends up in a squalid London burial ground, near the grave of her one-time lover Hawdon, where she collapses, exhausted. As with the documents which would decide the Jarndyce case, found too late under Krook's piles of worthless junk, when Esther finds her mother Honoria she is already dead.



 Lady Dedlock, then, is a scapegoat; a ritual sacrifice for society's sexual shame and ultimately its social ills. She is figurehead to the other female outsiders in the novel: Hortense, Jenny, and Esther, all of whose identities Dickens as author intentionally merges. Honoria has the added honour of being a member of the aristocracy by marriage, a privilege she betrayed by concealing her sinful past. Such at least is the verdict of society, shared by Esther and Lady Dedlock herself along with the other characters of Bleak House. Save, that is, for Sir Leicester Dedlock, who forgives his wife, if only after she's missing and presumed dead and he's lost all sensation from the waist down.


 As does her bastard daughter Esther, Lady Dedlock internalizes society's shame, interring in herself as her own name implies the illegitimacy of her love child. In this way she began the book already dead; her flight from the truth and guilty plea a symbolic formality. As the Suit of Air reaches its climax, so much of Bleak House leads to the moment when Lady Dedlock and Esther meet and the truth of their relationship is revealed. Echoing how the suit loses steam as it advances, Dickens' inability or disinterest in entering Lady Dedlock's inner life imaginatively becomes a failure to grant her real moral dignity. Forgiveness and pity should've cost Esther, the author, and the reader more - the reward, thereby, would've been more. Instead, Dickens hides behind the morality of the masses, putting all his emotional eggs in the atoning basket of Lady Dedlock's sacrificial death. It is interesting here to contrast what the author deemed commercially expedient to his fiction with the real-life work he did at his home for "fallen" women, Urania Cottage.


 In one last ritualistic gesture, Dickens contrives to have Lady Honoria Dedlock, mistress of Chesney Wold, dressed at the time of her demise in the clothes of Jenny, the brickmaker's wife. In an early chapter of Bleak House, Jenny's infant baby was dead in her arms although she continued to nurse it. In cruel reflection, clad in the clothes of a commoner at a pauper's burial ground, Lady Dedlock is honorary symbol of all women from every class of society.


Shorthand : Deception - gilded shame - internalized guilt - fine cruelty - circuitous punishment - naturally scandal - uncontrollable passion - some malice - some misery - melodramatic despair - slander - self-imposed isolation - self-denial and self-abasement - All combated with resignation - obedience - calculated inaction - paralysis resulting - an impossible running away - crestfallen comeuppance - all done in dumb show - queer sense of imposing - the calling card of martyrs - sacrificial lamb on the lam - sheepishness - private anguish frozen - attention diverted - core responsibility snowed-under -  root causes white-washed - slate wiped clean.

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