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Detecting Esther Summerson's Secrets: Dickens's Bleak House of Representation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Eleanor Salotto
Bryn Mawr College


In this essay, I suggest that we may read Esther Summerson's narration in Bleak House through the lens of recent feminist theoretical speculations on mimicry and masquerade. I argue that Esther's narrative is a duplicitous one in that it redeploys masculine modes of discourse, calling attention to the production of women in that discourse. Writing a narrative about her life, Esther, in effect, copies masculine discourse, but she also writes over it imprinting her own signature. Esther's writing sheds much light on the text's obsessive focus on writing and copying; she produces copy, the copy of a Victorian ideal woman, but in doing so she engenders blots that preclude a unidimensional reading of her. I contend that Esther adopts a narrative veil; this then is her secret in the text which links feminine identity to mimicry and masquerade. At the center of the text is Dickens's mordant critique of the legal system and its machinations; similarly, I argue that Esther's narrative participates in the demolishing of the idea of a stable notion of feminine identity.

Works in Progress
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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