Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor's Name

Meri-Jane Rochelson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Ana Luszczynska

Third Advisor's Name

Heidi Scott


Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Date of Defense



This paper examined how Esther Summerson, Dickens’s ideal good mother, can be understood as a woman who has maternal agency and identity both as a character and as a narrator, and how she contrasts with other maternal characters in the novel, both major and minor. While more transgressive mothers, such as Lady Dedlock, Mrs. Jellyby and even Krook’s cat, are doomed to death, ineffectiveness and madness, Esther moves from a frozen, “unsexualized” state into a space of life and sexual possibility. In addition, Esther has agency and identity as a narrator since she shares the narration with a third-person male narrator. Esther becomes the one who speaks rather than the one who is spoken of, and her maternal, nurturing voice provides a balm for the often harsh, judgmental voice of the male narrator. As the narrator’s patriarchal voice dies away at the end, it is Esther’s maternal voice that survives.





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