On reading the first chapters of Charles Dickens’ serialized novel Bleak House (1852-1853), the reader might, at first, be at a loss to know what to make of the narrators of the story, or, perhaps, more specifically, what to make of Esther as a narrator, who, at the same time, is also the protagonist of the novel; thus making Esther the narrator of a sort of autobiographical story, even if she is rather reluctant to admit so herself. It is, perhaps, worth noting at this point that the usual narrative technique employed by Dickens in his books until the publishing of Bleak House had been the typical third-person, omniscient point of view. In this novel, however, Dickens departs from that narrative style and adopts a rather ‘unusual’ one, using instead two different narrators.
As mentioned before, one is Esther Summerson, the first-person narrator, around whom the plotline of the novel seems to revolve. The other narrator of Bleak House falls into the same category as that of Dickens’ many other works, namely, third-person. Acid, ironic, satirical, critical and, more often than not, quick to pass judgment on every character’s appearances and ‘many’ virtues, or flaws for that matter, this alternative narrator of Bleak House shares with Esther the task of relating the chapters to the audience. Combined, they do so in a rather efficacious, “orderly
fashion” for the most part, even though the narrative may, at times, turn somewhat chaotic and
contradicting. However, this is mainly due to Esther Summerson’s subjectivity and unreliability
as a narrator. In this split narrative, Dickens seems to have achieved to convey to some readers or critics a sense of pluralism.
In any case, Esther’s narrative should, perhaps, be the one to merit more attention as a subject of analysis, given that she is the narrator of her own autobiographical story and by showing herself rather reluctant to admit so, she poses a bigger challenge or conflict to the reader.