Points of view: Bleak House

As I mentioned here before, I am currently reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House for the Readalong organized by Wallace at Unputdownables.net.

One point that came up for discussion was Mr Gridley’s death. Someone (and some Internet resources/character lists) say it was suicide — I read and reread that part of the text, but cannot seem to see anything to support such an interpretation, but still it seems to be the most common.

Here’s the text of this scene. What’s your view? Did he commit suicide, or did he die of heartbreak (as I understand it)? And if you support the suicide theory, why is it so?

“Hem!” said Mr. George. “You remember, miss, that we passed some conversation on a certain man this morning? Gridley,” in a low whisper behind his hand.

“Yes,” said I.

“He is hiding at my place. I couldn’t mention it. Hadn’t his authority. He is on his last march, miss, and has a whim to see her. He says they can feel for one another, and she has been almost as good as a friend to him here. I came down to look for her, for when I sat by Gridley this afternoon, I seemed to hear the roll of the muffled drums.”

[…]

We walked through some narrow courts, for which Mr. George apologized, and soon came to the shooting gallery, the door of which was closed. As he pulled a bell-handle which hung by a chain to the door-post, a very respectable old gentleman with grey hair, wearing spectacles, and dressed in a black spencer and gaiters and a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a large gold-beaded cane, addressed him.

“I ask your pardon, my good friend,” said he, “but is this George’s Shooting Gallery?”

“It is, sir,” returned Mr. George, glancing up at the great letters in which that inscription was painted on the whitewashed wall.

“Oh! To be sure!” said the old gentleman, following his eyes. “Thank you. Have you rung the bell?”

“My name is George, sir, and I have rung the bell.”

“Oh, indeed?” said the old gentleman. “Your name is George? Then I am here as soon as you, you see. You came for me, no doubt?”

“No, sir. You have the advantage of me.”

“Oh, indeed?” said the old gentleman. “Then it was your young man who came for me. I am a physician and was requested–five minutes ago–to come and visit a sick man at George’s Shooting Gallery.”

“The muffled drums,” said Mr. George, turning to Richard and me and gravely shaking his head. “It’s quite correct, sir. Will you please to walk in.”

[…]

Upon a plain canvas-covered sofa lay the man from Shropshire, dressed much as we had seen him last, but so changed that at first I recognized no likeness in his colourless face to what I recollected.

He had been still writing in his hiding-place, and still dwelling on his grievances, hour after hour. A table and some shelves were covered with manuscript papers and with worn pens and a medley of such tokens. Touchingly and awfully drawn together, he and the little mad woman were side by side and, as it were, alone. She sat on a chair holding his hand, and none of us went close to them.

His voice had faded, with the old expression of his face, with his strength, with his anger, with his resistance to the wrongs that had at last subdued him. The faintest shadow of an object full of form and colour is such a picture of it as he was of the man from Shropshire whom we had spoken with before.

He inclined his head to Richard and me and spoke to my guardian.

“Mr. Jarndyce, it is very kind of you to come to see me. I am not
long to be seen, I think.”

[…]

“You have been courageous with them many and many a time,” returned my guardian.

“Sir, I have been,” with a faint smile. “I told you what would come of it when I ceased to be so, and see here! Look at us–look at us!” He drew the hand Miss Flite held through her arm and brought her something nearer to him.

“This ends it. Of all my old associations, of all my old pursuits and hopes, of all the living and the dead world, this one poor soul alone comes natural to me, and I am fit for. There is a tie of many suffering years between us two, and it is the only tie I ever had on earth that Chancery has not broken.”

“Accept my blessing, Gridley,” said Miss Flite in tears. “Accept
my blessing!”

“I thought, boastfully, that they never could break my heart, Mr. Jarndyce. I was resolved that they should not. I did believe that I could, and would, charge them with being the mockery they were until I died of some bodily disorder. But I am worn out. How long I have been wearing out, I don’t know; I seemed to break down in an hour. I hope they may never come to hear of it. I hope everybody here will lead them to believe that I died defying them, consistently and perseveringly, as I did through so many years.”

[…]

The roof rang with a scream from Miss Flite, which still rings in
my ears.

“Oh, no, Gridley!” she cried as he fell heavily and calmly back from before her. “Not without my blessing. After so many years!”

Please feel free to chime in, whether or not you are participating in the readalong, and whether or not you have read the book!

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14 comments on “Points of view: Bleak House

  1. Hi, I found your blog from the read-a-long. I know it’s a bit late in the game, but I understood Gridley’s death the same as you–heartbreak and his health gave out from the stress of the whole ordeal. In April I was so far behind in reading that I didn’t have a chance to discuss this part. I really don’t see how suicide can be interpreted from those passages. I’m planning on watching the BBC miniseries, so I’ll see how they interpret his death.

  2. Oh, thanks! Don’t worry about being late, I’m also always late to the discussion, and basically that’s why I first wrote this post. I was worried that, English not being my mother tongue, I was missing some obvious clue. Thank you for chiming in! I hope I can get a copy of the movie too.

  3. Oops! I was trying out some of my new HTML skills and did something wrong–I’ll go practice some more.

  4. Thanks for the heads up! Unfortunately no, we don’t get Netflix around here 😦 but I’m strongly considering ordering a copy of the DVD. But in the meanwhile, please do let me know when you watch it!

  5. I started watching the miniseries this weekend and have already come to the part of Mr. Gridley’s demise. It’ s just the way we understood it– he dies of heartbreak and his health wears out . The part of him falling back, is just him falling back on his bed. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia that also confirms our understanding: Gridley Known as the ‘Man from Shropshire’ and an involuntary party to a suit in Chancery in Bleak House. He repeatedly seeks to gain the attention of the Lord Chancellor, but in vain. Frustrated, he threatens Mr Tulkinghorn and then is put under arrest by Inspector Bucket. He dies, his health broken by his Chancery ordeal. His story is based on a real case, according to Dickens’s preface.
    Well, I now feel satisfied that I understood the situation correctly–do you?

  6. Thanks! I feel good 😉
    I had seen the Wikipedia entry, but other character lists online mention him as a suicide, so I guess there’s supporters for both interpretations. Still, I feel good that my interpretation is not unreasonable 🙂

  7. I guess, I used the wrong term by saying “correctly”. I like the way you put it–not unreasonable.

  8. 🙂 I wasn’t criticizing your choice of words! It does feel good to be right!
    I cannot see how one would understand Gridley had committed suicide, but that interpretation is so widely accepted that I feel I cannot completely strike it out. Yet, I will keep to our interpretation as the correct one, that’s for sure!

  9. Oh no, I didn’t think you were doing that. I just thought I needed to correct myself, and remember that when it comes to literature it’s open to different interpretations. 🙂

  10. p.s. Even after saying that, I’m glad you think ours is the correct one! 😉

  11. Thank you! I’m happy you put up the post–I enjoyed the late oppurtunity of discussing, Mr. Gridley with you.

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