Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother Character Analysis

Miss Barbary is Lady Dedlock’s sister and Esther Summerson’s aunt. She is a hard, judgmental woman, who despises her sister because she gave birth to an illegitimate child. Esther claims that her aunt (whom she originally believes to be her godmother, not her aunt) is a “good woman” but that she is so good that she cannot stand sin in others. Miss Barbary is a hypocrite, however, and is arrogant because she believes she is without sin. In actuality, she is cruel to Esther as a child and blames her for her mother’s sin and is not a kind or forgiving woman. These traits come back to haunt Miss Barbary and she is struck down by a stroke while Esther reads a passage from the Bible which suggests that no one is without sin. She dies soon after this. Miss Barbary also resents Esther because she breaks off an engagement to Mr. Jarndyce's friend, Mr. Boythorn, in order to raise Esther in secret to hide Lady Dedlock’s shame.

Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother Quotes in Bleak House

The Bleak House quotes below are all either spoken by Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother or refer to Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Wordsworth edition of Bleak House published in 1993.
Chapter 3 Quotes

‘Submission, self-denial, diligent work, are the preparations for a life begun with such a shadow on it. You are different from other children, Esther, because you were not born, like them, in common sinfulness and wrath. You are set apart.’

Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother Character Timeline in Bleak House

The timeline below shows where the character Miss Barbary / Esther’s Godmother appears in Bleak House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
...is her only companion. She is raised, like a child in a fairy tale, by her godmother , Miss Barbary, who is a “good, good woman.” Her godmother is so good, however,... (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...Esther is an affectionate child and longs to be accepted. One year, on her birthday, her godmother tells her that it would be better if Esther had never been born, and that... (full context)
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Not long after this, Esther comes home from school to find her godmother in discussion with a smart-looking gentleman. Her godmother introduces Esther to this man, who is... (full context)
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
One night, two years later, Esther is reading the Bible to her godmother when she comes to the passage in which Jesus defends an adulterous woman. As she... (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
On the day after Miss Barbary ’s funeral, the smart-looking man visits the house again and asks to see Esther. The... (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...take Esther to Reading, and Mrs. Rachael coldly dismisses her. Mrs. Rachael remains behind in Miss Barbary ’s house, which has been left to her. (full context)
Chapter 6
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...Mr. Jarndyce is the man she met in the coach when she was removed from her godmother ’s house. He asks them what they thought of Mrs. Jellyby and seems upset (he... (full context)
Chapter 17
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...instead. He tells her that nine years ago, he received a letter from her aunt, Miss Barbary , which told him about a little girl whom she had raised in secret to... (full context)
Chapter 18
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Esther thinks that Lady Dedlock looks like her godmother , and, also, that she looks a little like herself. She is surprised to find... (full context)
Chapter 24
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...stops them and tells Esther that there is a woman to see her. It is her godmother ’s servant, Mrs. Rachael, whose married name is now Mrs. Chadband. She greets Esther haughtily... (full context)
Chapter 29
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
...he has met someone who helped raise Esther and that this woman worked for a Miss Barbary . The color drains from Lady Dedlock’s face, but she gives no other sign that... (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Mr. Guppy then explains that Miss Barbary admitted to his acquaintance that Esther’s real name is not Summerson, but Hawdon. Lady Dedlock... (full context)
Chapter 36
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...letter. It tells Esther what she already knows: that she was raised by her aunt, Miss Barbary . Esther burns her mother’s letter and, as she does so, is haunted by her... (full context)
Chapter 43
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...that she knows this, and that this woman was also the aunt who raised her, Miss Barbary . (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Esther asks why Mr. Boythorn and Miss Barbary separated. Mr. Jarndyce says that he doesn’t know, but that, one day, Mr. Boythorn received... (full context)