Brianna Beehler, “The Doll’s Gift: Ventriloquizing Bleak House” (pp. 24–49)

This essay offers a new reading of the split narrative in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852–53). Previous critics of the novel’s split narrative have primarily focused on the unequal knowledge and authority positions of the all-knowing third-person narrator and the unknowing first-person narrator, Esther Summerson. This division, however, does not fully account for the apparent slips and narrative exchanges between the two narrators, in which one narrator takes on the voice or knowledge position of the other. This essay takes up Robert Newsom’s suggestion that the only way to explain these “slips” is to conclude that Esther Summerson writes not only her own narration, but also that of the third-person narrator. However, the essay further argues that Esther uses the third-person narration to ventriloquize the voice of her mother, Lady Dedlock, in an effort to provide herself with the emotional support otherwise denied her. Readers may better understand Esther’s ventriloquism of the third-person narration by tracing how it mirrors her early daily ritual with her doll, in which she assumed both narrative positions at once. Object relations and gift theory further show how this dialogue creates a bond between the two narrations. Thus, characters and family structures that appear in the third-person narration and that may appear distant from Esther are actually her meditations on alternative maternal and familial relationships.

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