narrators interpreting in Bleak House

Narrators interpret: they supply deductions and inferences, explaining what something means. The extradiegetic narrator in Bleak House┬átypically prefers reporting to interpreting. He would rather show than tell. That narrator avoids interpretation when he can. Esther, by contrast, interprets frequently–and in many cases her interpretations are quite useful. Sometimes they are useful by virtue of the fact that they contrast with our own interpretations, however.


narrators reporting in Bleak House

Narrators report: they supply information about facts and events. Both Esther and the third-person extradiegetic (outside of the story-world) narrator report reliably for most of the book.

  • the extradiegetic narrator reports on the spontaneous combustion of Mr. Krook: “Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to be steeped in something; and here is–is it the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal? O Horror, he IS here! and this, from which we run away, striking out the light and overturning one another into the street, is all that represents him” (424).
  • Esther reports falling ill of smallpox: “Happily for both of us, it was not until Charley was safe in bed again and placidly asleep, that I began to think the contagion of her illness was upon me. I had been able easily to hid what I had felt at tea-time, but I was past that already now, and I knew that I was rapidly following in Charley’s steps” (412).
  • the extradiegetic narrator reports on a typical event in the life of Mr. Smallweed: “This tends to the discomfiture of Mr. Smallweed, who finds it so difficult to resume his object, whatever it may be, that he becomes exasperated, and secretly claws the air with an impotent vindictiveness expressive of an intense desire to tear and rend the visage of Mr. George. As the excellent old gentleman’s nails are long and leaden, and his hands lean and veinous, and his eyes green and watery; and, over and above this, as he continues, while he claws, to slide down in his chair and to collapse into a shapeless bundle; he becomes such a ghastly spectacle, even in the accustomed eyes of Judy, that that young virgin pounces at him with something more than the ardor of affection, and so shakes him up, and pats and pokes him in divers parts of his body” (358-359).
  • Esther, Victorian young lady par excellence, is so embarrassed by the possibility that someone will perceive her as attracted to Mr. Woodcourt that she reports only reluctantly–and as an afterthought–that she met him: “I have omitted to mention in its place, that there was some one else at the family dinner party. It was not a lady. It was a gentleman. It was a gentleman of a dark complexion–a young surgeon. He was rather reserved, but I thought him very sensible and agreeable. At least, Ada asked me if I did not, and I said yes” (208).