Bleak House: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: “Telescopic Philanthropy”

Summary: The three wards of Jarndyce arrive at Mrs. Jellyby’s house to spend the night on the way to Bleak House. She is a woman who cares only about her work aiding Africa and leaves the rest of the household to run itself or perish. Esther takes to mothering the ten neglected children.

Reaction: I found this chapter very entertaining. I’ve been loving the contradictions. Before we had the aunt who was so good she had to treat everyone else like crap, and now we have the philanthropist that cares so much for those on another continent that she neglects herself, her family, and her home. I’m sure Dickens is making some strong political commentary, but I just find it entertaining, especially the way Esther relates it all, still believing in the best of these people. It wouldn’t be as entertaining if the narrator was being as critical as the audience gets to be. Oh, and I also loved the names in this part: Guppy, Jellyby, Swallow. I kept thinking of jelly beans, which are fun to think about even if you don’t like them.

Prediction: I expect to see more of these contradictions, but hopefully not so many that they get utterly annoying and intolerable (like I found in Catch-22 a while back when I attempted to read it).

Why This Book Is a Classic: Social commentary. It’s an excuse for English teachers to make their students learn about the period the book comes from so they can explore this satire and yank out of the writing what Dickens was “really” saying. (It would probably be good for me to do this as well, but I prefer to read for entertainment at the moment).

Why a Modern Audience Might Like It: We love seeing others made fun of, and it’s even better when the audience can feel smarter than any of the parties involved.


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