Critical Essays Setting of Bleak House

Most of the action of Bleak House takes place in or near London, around 1850. The London street scenes are in the Holborn district (on the north bank of the Thames and very close to the river). The depictions of neighborhoods, streets, buildings, working conditions, lighting, weather, dress and deportment of persons, etc., are completely authentic. The fog remains the most famous fog in all literature. Dense, long-lasting blankets of it, yellowish or yellow-brown with pollutants, were common in the coal-burning London of Dickens’ time — and later. The descriptions of the goings-on at the Chancery Court are equally authentic, although Dickens provides only those details that support his point.

The Dedlocks’ country estate at Chesney Wold is about 150 miles from London, in Lincolnshire, a large agricultural county in east-central England.

St. Albans, where John Jarndyce’s Bleak House stands, is a small town; in 1850, it would have been about twenty miles from the northern outskirts of London.

Esther Summerson was born at Windsor (site of Windsor Palace), about twenty miles straight west of London.

Fifteen miles farther west is the much larger city of Reading (pronounced “Redding”), where Esther went to school.

Richard Carstone attended school at Winchester (famous for its huge, ancient cathedral), some fifty miles south of Reading and close to the English Channel.

The new Bleak House that Mr. Jarndyce builds for Esther and Allan Woodcourt is in Yorkshire (England’s largest county), north of Lincolnshire. This new house would be 175-200 miles northeast of London.

There are several rural scenes, as Dickens enjoys England’s “green and pleasant land,” yet the countryside fails to kindle his imagination the way the city does. Hating city smoke as much as anyone, Dickens nevertheless lapses into conventionality when he breathes the country air.