‘every door might be Death’s Door’: Narrating Mortality in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853)


  • Molly Ryder


This essay examines the revealing intersection of death, architecture, and narration in Charles Dickens’s novel Bleak House and attempts to address the question of why a novel preoccupied with the human condition as mortal takes shape in architectural terms. To realise his realist exploration of human mortality, it is vital that Dickens employ a first-person narrator, a participant in this inevitability who must experience, process, and write about a life experience dominated by the
knowledge of impending death. Consequently, Esther frequently narrates life and death in tandem via the material conduit of an architectural register of imagery. Yet Esther’s particular way of seeing, understanding, and writing about architecture has largely gone unremarked. Like Persephone descending to the Underworld, Esther enters, observes, and re-emerges from various death houses to write about her experience with her death-inflected architect’s eye. While the reading of Esther as gratingly cheerful, naïve, and uninteresting remains critically recurrent, this essay argues that Esther is in fact a dark figure, a harbinger of death who takes it upon herself to remind her readers incessantly of their own
inescapable mortality.