In order to consider the relationship between language and the politics of gender in Bleak House (1852-53), this essay shifts focus from the much-discussed narrating couple, Esther and the Anonymous Narrator, to a dense context in the novel of speaking and scribbling characters partnered in gendered pairs. It argues that these couples reveal that women in this novel are required to articulate a compensatory domestic fantasy in response to a failing patriarchal political and social order and that this very requirement constitutes an undercurrent that unsettles patriarchal authority. Women characters who resist this appropriation of their voices are humiliated or vilified. The essay identifies the Anonymous Narrator with this destabilized male authority and attributes deformities in Esther's narrative to the requirement that, as a woman, she estrange her own voice, sacrificing it to a patriarchal agenda. It further recognizes the deformity of Esther's language as one of the elements of the novel that constitutes a submerged critique of its overt patriarchal loyalties.

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