As It Is Written . . .
by Patrick Henry Reardon
Early in the first autobiographical account in Bleak House, Esther Sommerson speaks of Mrs. Rachael, a domestic servant of Miss Barbary, who is Esther’s aunt and guardian. Mrs. Rachael, a fairly non-descript person in the early part of the novel, disappears after the death of Miss Barbary, nor is there any reason to suppose, at that point, that we should ever hear about her again.
Later in the book, nonetheless, Dickens brings the same lady back, now the wife of a pompous preacher named Chadband. At a crucial point in the narrative, it is this Mrs. Chadband who recognizes Esther’s name in a context that throws light on her parentage. Thus, Dickens uses an otherwise minor character, who appears in only two settings in the novel, to resolve one of the structural tensions basic to the whole story. Mrs. Rachael/Mrs. Chadband is a thin but essential thread in the weave of the narrative. Insignificant in her own person, she serves an important role in the coherence of Dickens’s long book.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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