I’d like to mention the double narration of Bleak House: while Esther is our ever modest first person narrator, responsible for relaying details concerning the home and the interpersonal relationships of the main characters, there is an additional, third person narrator, who relays to us any information that isn’t within Esther’s realm of experience.
The impersonal narrator is omniscient, providing the reader with sweeping views of London, with glimpses into high society and the inner workings of the law and of British politics. This juxtaposition of Esther’s quintessential female narration and the broader, more masculine tone of the third person narrator is quite interesting. While we become intimate with Esther’s character, the other narrator is never given a name, a story, or a context – clearly they are not intended as a character. However, this is not to say that the omniscient narrator is without opinion – quite the opposite. While dealing with the political and social spheres, this narrator repeatedly relays facts in a biased manner, which gives rise to a question I have been asking for a few hundred pages now: who is the other narrator? Clearly they are not an entity which the reader is to be concerned about, but I am curious nonetheless as to where their tone, their opinions and their knowledge of the plot is from. Is the perspective of the narrator Dickens’ own? Is it the author’s voice that we hear slipping through in this impersonal third person? Deliberately or just by accident? It is interesting to me that Dickens chose to double up the narration in this way – why not simply stick with the third person? Why have Esther’s voice there at all?
I don’t have an answer, but I think it’s something worth considering. Dickens’ portrayal of women is notoriously simple, and I found Esther to be lovable, certainly, but yes, simple as well. Her modesty becomes tiresome after a while, and her goodness seems contrived at times. I do love her dearly by the end of the book, but why did Dickens choose to let her voice be the voice that shapes the story when all the while he has another, more knowledgable narrator in the wings? What does Esther’s narration add to the work as a whole? I am curious to hear what you think.