Money Troubles in Bleak House

With the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce suit being at the center of the novel’s events, it cannot be helped that money is an intrinsic theme of the text. However, one of the more interesting things I noticed about the earlier portions of the text were the dysfunctional ways in which various characters interacted with money.  Mr. Skimpole displays an extremely flippant attitude towards many aspects of life, but his financial attitude is perhaps one of the most exemplified, as we see time and time again his disregard for paying his debts.

Richard seems to be a good deal more level-headed than Skimpole, but in matters of money, his behavior makes just as little sense. He carelessly spends money that is not his own, squanders what little he does have upon involving himself in the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit, and rebuffs all attempts to correct his behavior, standing atop his certainty on the outcome of the suit in his favor.  Both of these sets of poor financial habits stem from ignorance of the weight and import that money has in the world, and neither man learns the error of his ways.

However, one of the most fascinating interactions with money occurs when Jo is paid for showing Lady Dedlock to the grave of Krook’s mysterious former tenant.  Jo bites the coin he is given not just once, but several times as he walks away from Lady Dedlock.  Jo has been stuck at such a level of poverty that he literally cannot believe the sum of money he has been given, and must constantly and repeatedly remind himself of its veracity.

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51 Responses to Money Troubles in Bleak House

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  50. groomks says:

    Jacob makes an astute point as to the various meanings of money as well as the various ways characters interact with it throughout Bleak House. For characters like Skimpole and Mr. Turveydrop, money is the nuisance that interferes with the life that they have assured themselves that they are deserving of; someone else can deal with paying the bill, as far as they’re concerned.

    On the other side of the scale exists (barely) the poorest characters. I find it interesting to note that Jo’s incredulity with the received money from Lady Dedlock takes the form of his placing the coin in his mouth several times. As a character who has been living without shelter, care, or most importantly food, the coin represents subsistence, foremost. The likelihood that he would starve without this coin is high; the coin’s worth is known to him abstractly and concretely (with this motion) as what will feed him. Other than that, he makes no speculation as to its exact economic value.

    Richard presents an interesting case, I believe, because he seems to have an awareness of the importance and purposes of money. His fault, instead, is his flawed logic. Later in the novel, we witness him “investing” badly, in the doomed Chancery suit instead of sticking with a career path. Early in the novel, however, Esther points out his faulty logic in regards to money in another situation: “…so often as Ada and I dissuaded him from making any purchase…he took credit for what it would have cost and made out that to spend anything less on something else was to save the difference.” (Chapter 18) From the beginning, Richard has been both engaging with money and applying questionable logic to its use.

    When it is discovered that the gains from the Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce court case have been wholly consumed by court costs, the theme of the transient definition of money is complete. The reader never learns how much money was at stake, nor the general details of the case. Money means something different to each class of character in Bleak House, but the reader is similarly kept unaware of its exact meaning in regards to events in the text.

  51. doddkk says:

    An interesting lens through which the financial aspect of this novel can be viewed is that of children. As Jacob points out, financial troubles are a large theme in Bleak House and in London during the time. As is evident through the text as well as the context of the novel, we know that poverty was a real problem faced by many families and young ones. To neglected children of the Victorian Age, what exactly was the importance of money and wealth? In many cases, children were never in situations where there was excess money. For instance, Jo, as Jacob points out, is a homeless orphan living wherever he can find a place and taking what money he can get. His repeated biting of the coin from Lady Dedlock shows just how valuable and scarce his money was. A contrasting image of children and their money is the Pardiggle children. Mrs. Pardiggle is very involved in philanthropy and providing for people in need; her sons get an allowance but then are forced to donate it to some charity or another. As they are not a lower class family, the children have always been provided for with the necessities, so their lack of money seems to be more of a nuisance than a serious issue. Similarly, the Jellyby family has many children who are neglected by their mother in favor of people in need in Africa. They, too, must learn to live with what very little they have. Another example of “children” and money is Mr. Skimpose, who Jacob talks about. Although an adult with children of his own, he never truly grew up and still looks to other people to solve his money problems.

    Looking over the whole novel, very few adults are actually concerned with their finances in comparison to how the children of the novel view the topic. The children have been forced to learn the value of money the hardest way because of their absent or careless parents. This sad truth is yet another example of a harsh reality for the characters of Bleak House that will hopefully no longer be such an issue for the future generations after so much progress has been made. Esther’s, Ada’s, even Caddy’s children have a better chance of growing up with good examples of financial management and learning the value of money early.

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