Charles Dickens’s Bleak House has an interesting narrative style, using first and third person perspectives to tell the story. The character of Ester, who is kind, maternal, and traditionally feminine, provides a first person perspective while the third person narrator is critical, sardonic, and superior.
The contrasting style of narration is sometimes incredibly jarring in the book. While it’s a fascinating use of perspective, the switch could at times be hard to swallow. The juxtaposition of the third person narrator and Ester made me think of a pair with similar characteristics but a very different narrative and relationship. In the past few years there has been a rise in story telling through the relatively new medium of the webseries. There have been a number of new stories as well as quite a few modernized adaptions of classics which have utilized vlogging to tell the story.
The characters that the third person narrator and Ester reminded me of came from a webseries called “Nothing Much To Do” created by a New Zealand group called The Candle Wasters, which began in March of 2014 and concluded in October of the same year (though they are currently releasing a sequel series of sorts with many of the same characters). The series is a modernized adaption of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing told through a series of vlogs from multiple perspectives (in this case multiple YouTube channels). Two of the main characters, Beatrice and Hero Duke, share a channel on which they post videos, individually and together, and as characters they contrast similarly to the way in which Ester and the third person narrator do. Hero is the epitome of feminine and sweet while Beatrice is brash and derisive. The two are very different but, unlike the third person narrators feelings toward Ester, Beatrice and Hero hold each other in the highest regard.
The above video is the second in the “Nothing Much To Do” story line and the first in which Beatrice and Hero appear together. This is the first illustration of their relationship and dissimilar personalities and interests, including Hero expressing her desire to post videos such as make-up tutorials and shopping hauls while Beatrice makes a face at the camera. It also serves to give an example of their perspectives on other characters and how their personalities serve to warp those perspectives.
In Bleak House, Ester is Dickens’s (gendered) ideal. She is maternal (without being sexual) and kind, and annoyingly faultless at times. Much of Ester’s narration focuses on her feelings. While she is never unkind to others it is clear that Dickens is contrasting her to the characters in the book, particularly the other women, who Dickens characterizes as problematic, holding up Ester as the ideal standard.
The third person narrator has a more masculine tone and often mocks Ester. The narrator speaks in an incredibly superior and judgmental way, often looking down on characters as idiotic and pitiable.
Hero is similar to Ester in that she represents the more traditionally feminine skills and values. She exemplifies the feminine; she enjoys baking and sewing, talks about fashion and make-up, and believes wholeheartedly in the value of kindness and love. She is kind, never speaking a bad word about anyone, and believes in giving others the benefit of the doubt.
Beatrice, on the other hand, is more of a rejection of the traditionally feminine, which is not frowned upon but is a clear contrast to Hero’s obvious exemplification of it. Even the way they each dress typifies this, where Hero wears skirts and dresses and very feminine outfits and Beatrice wears t-shirts and pants. Beatrice’s interests are those typically presented as more masculine, such as science and football (though they are less touched upon than Hero’s interests) and she (initially) has no interest in love, calling it “disgusting.”
The third video in the series (above) further elaborates on the differences in attitude and personality between the two characters, including them impersonating one another.
Beatrice has plenty of critical things to say about others and is highly argumentative. Unlike the third person narrator and Ester, her unkind words are never directed at Hero because, though she sometimes teases her, she completely respects all of Hero’s choices and interests. Much like the third person narrator, Beatrice is superior and judgmental and, at times, cruel. And while this is alleviated a bit throughout the story her core character does not change, nor does Hero’s. Ultimately neither Hero nor Beatrice is presented as being superior to the other, rather they are simply two sides of the same coin and, unlike in Bleak House, neither girl needs to be fixed or held above the other (or any of the other girls in the story) to have value.
Bleak House’s contrasting narration style is that of two fundamentally different characters being pitted against one another in a way, for though Ester does not comprehend the third person narrator it is clear the two voices are meant to provide starkly contrasting views of the story. “Nothing Much To Do” provides many different perspectives but that same contrast in attitude and demeanor is found in Hero and Beatrice. Ester and Hero serve to represent the angelic, hopeful narrator while the third person narrator and Beatrice provide the more critical, “realist” perspectives.
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
“Nothing Much To Do” – created by The Candle Wasters