79 pages 2 hours read

Charles Dickens

Bleak House

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1853

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Parenthood and Responsibility

Parenthood is an enduring bond that shapes the lives of characters. However, parents need not be genetically related to their children or wards to act as responsible guardians. Figures such as Lady Dedlock, Jarndyce, and even Captain Hawdon occupy the roles that parents might play in the lives of those who have tragically lost their actual parents. For example, Lady Dedlock is forlorn at the loss of her daughter, and she takes Rosa into her care to vicariously experience parenthood by taking on the responsibility for another person. Jarndyce is similar, in that he feels a sense of responsibility for the orphans who are affected by the legal case that bears his name, leading him to bring Richard and Ada into his home. Captain Hawdon loses a daughter and a lover but does everything he can to care for the orphan Jo. By taking responsibility for those who are helpless or at risk, these characters demonstrate the extent to which parenthood is a social rather than a genetic concern.

In the instances where parental figures cannot satisfy the terms of their social responsibility, tragedy strikes. Jarndyce’s tragedy is particularly pronounced, as he spends the first half of the novel warning Richard not to obsess over the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case.