ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"The Church’s Social Responsibility" in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (Part 3)

Updated on October 22, 2016

Bleak House

Esther Summerson

Esther Summerson

Let’s now consider three characters whose work represents a view of social responsibility closer to the Dickens ideal.

Not shown as a regular churchgoer, Esther Summerson represents the first model of good behavior that this paper will consider. Since her childhood she had always striven “to be industrious, contented, and kind-hearted, and to do some good to some one, and win some love for myself if I could” (Dickens 31). Mota observes that she is “occupied with the lives of those within her domestic circle, and the rest of the world is meaningful to her only as a reflection of this smaller society” (191).

Besides her befriending of Caddy Jellyby on the day that so distressed the young girl that she cried out, “I wish Africa was dead,” (Dickens 60) and then later, “I wish I was dead . . . I wish we were all dead. It would be a great deal better for us” (62), Esther shines as a compassionate servant in the brickmaker’s household. After Mrs. Pardiggle leaves the house, making “a show that was not conciliatory, of doing charity by whole-sale,” Esther stays behind and, accompanied by Ada Clare, seeks to comfort “the woman sitting by the fire” whose baby lay on her lap (133).

Discovering that the baby had died, Esther as narrator, reports that she takes “the light burden from her lap; did what I could to make the baby’s rest the prettier and gentler; laid it on a shelf and covered it with my own handkerchief. We tried to comfort the mother, and we whispered to her what Our Saviour said of children” (134). Later that night, she returns with Ada “to bring ‘some little comforts’ to the grieving woman” (135-136). Her manner and words present the reader with a day and night contrast to her elder “missionary.”

Even more heart-warming is Esther’s selfless outreach to Jo, a young, homeless boy. With her maid Charley Neckett as her companion, she visits Jo in Tom-All-Alone’s and attempts to shelter him at Bleak House. While making her way home, she repeatedly expresses genuine concern for the young boy: “But I said to Charley that we must not leave the boy to die,” and later, “I asked him to come with us, and we would take care that he had some shelter for the night” (492). Her compassion costs her a great deal; not only does she contract smallpox and suffer a near-death sickness from her encounter with him, but she becomes severely scarred for life because of the ravages of the disease. Yet her example of sacrifice—one facet of the author’s gospel-- is a welcome sight in Dickens’s world. A second example of compassion follows right on Esther’s heels.

Dickens's Opinion Of Catholicism

What facet of Catholicism did Dickens appear to despise?

See results

John Jarndyce

John Jarndyce,” according to Guinn, “seems to be the model of the silent Angel, quietly meeting the needs of the helpless” (140). He quietly bears with a multitude of committee members who “wanted to do anything with anybody else’s money” (123). Here Dickens’s hatred of Catholicism manifests itself:

. . . in Bleak House he declares that Mr. Jarndyce was besieged by people seeking money for charity and some ‘were going to raise new buildings, they were going to pay off debts on old buildings, they were going to establish in a picturesque building (engravings of proposed West Elevation attached) the Sisterhood of Mediaevel [sic.] Marys (qtd. in Thompson 36).4

Guinn lists numerous examples of Jarndyce’s philanthropy: becoming the guardian of Richard, Ada, and Esther, rescuing the orphaned Neckett children, “hiring the oldest sister Charley as a companion to Esther, sending the boy Tom to school, and arranging for the infant to be taken in by a neighbor” (140). Later, Jarndyce shelters Jo and attends his deathbed; he does the same with Gridley. This compassionate man visits George Rouncewell in prison and “is certainly attempting to feed and clothe the hungry . . .” (141). He fulfills the social responsibility of one who practices his faith: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress . . .” (James 1:27).

Allan Woodcourt

Allan Woodcourt

The last character to be considered who exemplified right behavior is Allan Woodcourt. Besides showing friendship to Richard Carstone, whom he tries to help through his obsession with Jarndyce & Jarndyce, Woodcourt is with Jo, offering him some Christian hope at his death. As a physician, he could do nothing more for him; but as a sincere man of compassion, Woodcourt ministers effectively to the dying lad, lending his kind presence to the scene before leading the boy part of the way through the Lord’s Prayer (Dickens 732-4).

Mota points out that Jo’s death brought together a Christian community of sorts, of which Allan Woodcourt was a significant part. Yet he also spells out a significant fact: “ . . . all the charity and benevolence of these well-meaning people cannot prevent Jo from dying; the social disease of irresponsibility and selfishness seems powerful enough to render ineffective the response of people such as Allan Woodcourt” (195).

Dickens himself takes this occasion to deliver biting criticism of English social institutions and public alike, sparing none: “Dead, your Majesty. Dead my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us, every day” (734). He makes his point eloquently.

In Dickens’s eyes, these latter three apparently met his criteria for true religion; but their display of morality, compassion, and personal sacrifice are his standards, not God’s. Regardless of how noble and "good" an individual may appear, no one who disbelieves the cardinal doctrines of the faith can rightfully claim the name “Christian.”

© 2015 glynch1

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)