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Bleak House: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “. . . the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed, and all the misery it has caused, could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre,--why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce!” (Chpt. I, p. 5)

    The Court of Chancery convenes, hears complicated points on the Jarndyce suit, and then adjourns, day after day, without ever coming to any conclusions, thus prolonging the agony of all parties.

  2. “Here you see me utterly incapable of helping myself, and entirely in your hands! I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!” (Chpt. VI, p. 58)

    Mr. Jarndyce’s child-like freethinking friend, Mr. Skimpole, borrows money from everyone, claiming he is by nature unworldly and too refined and artistic to dirty his hands with money matters. He cloaks his irresponsibility with a philosophy of freedom.

  3. “[Sir Leicester Dedlock] supposes all his dependents to be utterly bereft of individual characters, intentions, or opinions, and is persuaded that he was born to supersede the necessity of their having any” (Chpt. VII, p. 64).

    Sir Leicester is a baronet from a seven-hundred-year-old venerable family and is used to considering that subordinates do not have any real function other than to serve the Dedlock family.

  4. “ ‘I will walk here, though I am in my grave. I will walk here, until the pride of this house is humbled. And when calamity, or when disgrace is coming to it, let the Dedlocks listen for my step!’” (Chpt. VII, p. 69)

    This curse is spoken by a former Lady Dedlock, married to Sir Morbury Dedlock, in the days of Charles I. Her ghostly step is heard on Ghost’s Walk in Chesney Wold when disaster will strike the family. It is heard before Lady Dedlock’s fall.

  5. “The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself” (Chpt. XXXIX,  p. 416)

    This is spoken by the narrator to explain the behavior of Mr. Vholes, the lawyer who preys on Richard Carstone, using up all his money in the hopeless lawsuit. The immense Jarndyce fortune is eventually all eaten up in lawyer’s fees and court costs.

  6. “But injustice breeds injustice; the fighting with shadows and being defeated by them, necessitates the setting up of substances to        combat . . .” (Chpt. XXXIX, p. 421).

    Richard Carstone is lost in delusion by thinking he can win the court case. He imagines Mr. Jarndyce, his benefactor, to be his enemy, another claimant for the inheritance, though Mr. Jarndyce has rejected the case altogether and tries to warn Richard it will destroy him.

  7. “Can’t you never let such an unfortnet as me alone? An’t I unfortnet enough for you yet? How unfortnet do you want me for to be?” (Chpt. XLVI, p. 478)

    The sweeper boy, Jo, is dying and asking to be let alone. He has been shuffled around and bullied, threatened, hunted, preached at, told to “move on” by countless policemen. He is starving, cold, homeless, in rags, with pneumonia, after having survived smallpox.

  8. “He is not of the same order of things, not of the same place in creation. He is of no order and no place; neither of the beasts, nor of humanity” (Chpt. XLVII, p. 486).

    This is said of Jo and his kind, the lowest of the low, the ignorant poor of the slums of London, who live not as humans but as beasts.

  9. “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” (Chpt. XLVII, p. 492)

    The narrator concludes the emotional death scene of Jo with this pronouncement, as if spoken to judge and jury. Jo is but a specimen of the shameful human suffering happening under the noses of those who rule and those who should have some brotherly love.

  10. “And don’t you know that you are prettier than you ever were?” (Chpt. LXVII, p. 665)

    These closing words in Esther’s narrative are spoken by her husband, Allan Woodcourt, explaining his perception of the inner beauty radiating from her, making her smallpox scars unimportant. Esther has been through the rough journey of an illegitimate, cast-off child, and risen through much hardship to deserved happiness, by the strength of her loving heart alone.


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