Charles Dickens' Bleak House

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In Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, Mr. Vholes is Richard Carstone’s legal advisor. Introduced to Richard by Mr. Skimpole, Vholes encourages and assists Richard as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Chancery. Vholes, however, may not have the best intentions. Through descriptions of his gloomy physical appearance, suspicious actions, and unfortunate connections to English law, Dickens paints a vivid image of Mr. Vholes—a man who cannot be trusted. Vholes, therefore, is made up of multiple layers; as each layer peels away, the reader understands a little bit more of this secretive man. Surprisingly, Mr. Vholes is seen as more and more evil as readers journey to the center of his being.
On the macroscopic level, readers must first consider Vholes’s dilapidated office as a description of the man. This technique of using a description of a room in place of a character occurs frequently throughout the novel; here it provides the reader’s first glance into Vholes’s appearance and character. To start, the office is “in disposition retiring and in situation retired” (620). “Disposition” refers to ingrained characteristics, while “situation” refers to specific circumstances. The omniscient narrator is therefore making two separate points with different meanings of the word “retire”: First, the room seems shy in its manner ("Retiring, Adj."). Second, the room is secluded as a result of its situation (“Retired, Adj. and N."). The difference is that while the office has an introverted presence, a lack of activity causes the isolation. The other sense of the word “retire”—growing old and leaving one’s job—also rings in this sentence. The description can be applied to Vholes himself; he is quiet and clos...

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...s; he is simply an unbreakable lock. In Tulkinghorn’s case, that imperviousness means that he can safely conduct his affairs in private, and no one can decipher his true thinking. Vholes, however, is more of an open book. Those who look closely quickly spot his menacing flaws. Yet although Esther seems suspicious of Vholes almost immediately, Richard cannot sense the danger. In true Dickensian fashion, this inability to understand Vholes’s layers seems an ominous harbinger of events that will destroy Richard entirely.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. 1996 ed. 1853. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
"Retired, Adj. and N." OED. 2014. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Web. 11 Feb.
2014. .
"Retiring, Adj." OED. 2014. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.
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