I know it’s been a while since we read Bleak House, but after my paper on Lady Dedlock and Esther’s dependent, mother-daughter relationship, I keep returning to the ghost-like abilities of certain characters in the novel. Specifically, Inspector Bucket functions as a free-form, adaptable figure. He does not seem to be held down by class distinction and strangely provides order wherever he travels.
Inspector Bucket’s experience allows him to relate to the middle and lower classes, while his authority from the police allows him to see and speak with the upper classes. He ascends class because of his duty to uphold the law, while both following the law himself as a member of the London population. As we discussed in class, Dickens constantly uses photographic, visual language to describe his attitude and manner (not his sight). For example, the reader’s first introduction to Inspector Bucket (introduced initially as Mr. Bucket…again, a doubleness of the normal and the officer) occurs in Mr. Tulkinghorn’s office as he is talking with the slimy Mr. Snagsby:
Mr. Snagsby is dismayed to see, standing with an attentive face between himself and the lawyer at a little distance from the table, a person with a hat and stick in his hand who was not there when he himself came in and has not since entered by the door or by either of the windows. There is a press in the room, but its hinges have not creaked, nor has a step been audible upon the floor. Yet this third person stands there with his attentive face, and his hat and stick in his hands, and his hands behind him, a composed and quiet listener. He is a stoutly built, steady-looking, sharp-eyed man in black, of about the middle-age. Except that he looks at Mr. Snagsby as if he were going to take his portrait, there is nothing remarkable about him at first sight but his ghostly manner of appearing. (Chapter 22)
Dickens emphasizes the “attentive face” of Inspector Bucket, repeating it twice within the short passage. In general, the novel constantly returns to the way Inspector Bucket observes the chaotic city and individuals. Of course, the police system is a fairly new organizing force at the time, but Dickens’ fascination with Inspector Bucket’s sight almost reduces him to an all-seeing eye. With his “sharp-eyed” appearance, this unearthly man “looks at Mr. Snagsby as if he were going to take his portrait.” Inspector Bucket seems to capture Mr. Snagsby’s image and likeness as a kind of knowledge; he does not need a camera because he is the camera, making his sight a source of truth, accuracy, and power. The fear and unknown of the camera’s possibilities, as well as the lack of control with an image’s reproduction, makes Inspector Bucket’s camera-like identity a dangerous tool. He is omniscient and almost “God-like,” yet his normal, “middle-age[d]” appearance allows him to blend into the background, an invisible figure asking for order through sight. This man with “nothing remarkable about him at first sight but his ghostly manner of appearing,” causes fear in Mr. Snagsby, who usually operates by using people and knowledge at the edge of the law. If Inspector Bucket cannot be watched for, his power cannot be protected against; I mean that because he looks so normal, you don’t know when he will suddenly appear. This potential for trouble also gives him another tool of control, extending beyond his physical person. Together, Inspector Bucket becomes a man with the invisible force of power, the ability to appear at will, and instilling order and fear without his own presence–essentially a ghost in the disguise of an average man.
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. 1853. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.