Page 352. " Prove all things, Mr Dickens recited "

This is a Biblical quote from Thessalonians 5:21.

Page 352. " Bleak House, my most recent tale "

 Bleak House was published in Household Words from March 1852 to September 1853. The plot centres on an interminably long court case, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which forms a critique of the Byzantine legal system in the Chancery. It is widely held to be one of Dickens' best novels.

In Bleak House Mr George, an ex-military man, owns a shooting gallery, where the street-sweeper Jo is hidden. It is the setting for several important scenes in the novel.



Page 353. " The famous author was commencing some kind of impromptu performance "
Dickens performing his work
Public DomainDickens performing his work

Dickens was an accomplished performer of his own work. As a young man he had considered becoming an actor, and performance came naturally to him. From the late 1850s he embarked upon a series of ambitious public tours, during which he acted out scenes from his work. His tours were hugely profitable – he earned £19,000 in one year from an American tour – and hugely popular – the Scotsman newspaper wrote:

Hear Dickens and die; you will never live to hear anything of its kind so good.

However the strain of the tours affected Dickens' health, and they are thought to have contributed to his early death.

Page 356. " the open sewer of the Thames "
The inside of a Victorian sewer pumping station at Crossness
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe inside of a Victorian sewer pumping station at Crossness - Credit: Steve Cadman

This was quite literally true. In the 1850s the river Thames was London's sewer. London was the largest city in the world, home to 2.3 million people in 1851. Cholera epidemics were frequent. In 1858 the smell from the river became so overwhelming that Parliament and the Law courts considered evacuating to Hampton Court and Oxford respectively.

After The Great Stink of 1858, measures were taken to modernise London's sewer system. Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, designed a complex system which was constructed between 1859 and 1865. This greatly improved both the smell of the Thames and the health of those living on its banks. Bazalgette's great-great-grandson is Peter Bazalgette, the man behind a number of British reality television shows.

Page 357. " the possibilities for a Bill Sykes or a Mademoiselle Hortense "

Two of Dickens' villains:

Bill Sykes (or Sikes) is a character from Oliver Twist, a violent and barbaric criminal who is responsible for one of the most horrifying murders in Dickens' work.

Mademoiselle Hortense appears in Bleak House as Lady Dedlock's maid. Dickens based her character on the real-life case of Maria Manning, who murdered her lover in August 1849.