Bleak House Day 3 – Mr. Skimpole

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

I’ll admit Mr. Skimpole provided a bit of riddle for me from the beginning.  He shows up just after we are truly introduced to Mr. Jarndyce (we had met Mr. J once before and had heard of him often, but we had only just begun to actually know him when Mr. S shows up).  He is a character that is very often in Esther’s narrative but never, I believe, in the third person narrative.  The thing is, I never really figured out his purpose.  I know that sounds odd, but even though Dickens wrote a whole telephone book of names into his novels, each one has a purpose, and the more they show up, the more important the purpose. Mr. S. is one of the biggest characters in Esther’s narrative but did not figure in either of the big plots (the law suit, Lady Dedlock’s mystery) nor did he further any subplot at all.

So what was Mr. Skimpole’s purpose?

When he was first introduced, although all of the characters made a big deal about how welcome he was and how much they enjoyed his company, I personally resented him a little since I wanted to know the main characters more at this point, and not this “child”.  Of course it was only a few pages later when he totally took advantage of Esther and Richard that I could be justified at all in these feelings.

We all know that Mr. Dickens was a master at manipulating emotion, so I know that bit of resentment came from him.  And since it was Esther’s narrative, even though she only said nice things about Mr. Skimpole, Mr. Dickens wanted to plant that Esther was a little resentful at the man for getting in the way of her getting to know Mr. Jarndyce better.

As time went on, I grew to dislike Mr. S. more and more and understood that Esther did as well.  At first she didn’t mention it, but later she would admit it, at least if you read between the lines.  And by the end, well, she did let her true feelings out a bit.

But at the beginning?  No, only kind and good words were used.

Oh, Charles Dickens, this is you at your most subtle, and I think at your very best!  You got me to dislike this character when only good things were said about him!

My first instinct was to think he was the anti-Mr. Jarndyce.  They were about the same age, but different in so many ways, including points where Mr. J. might not seem perfect… Despite all of his good points, Mr. J is a little moody, is predisposed to be dark on occasion.  Mr. S is light, bright and always fun to be around.  He is outgoing and the life of the party.

But the more I thought about, the more I decided that Mr. S. is actually the anti-Esther.

There are some similarities.

Esther had nothing after her “godmother” passed away (the word “desolate” was used) and Mr. J. took her in.  He was kind and giving to her and in ways she owed everything to him.

Mr. S. had nothing and lived 100% on Mr. J’s charity and kindness.  He owed everything to him.

Although Esther was self-depreciating, she was, in fact, charismatic and pretty much was liked and admired by everyone.  People were natural attracted to her, even after she “lost her looks”. 

Mr. S. was charismatic and everyone loved him, at least at first blush they did.  After the first blush, many put him at a distance, but most seemed genuinely happy to have him around.

Esther was, I am sorry, neurotic.  She had a deflated sense of self-worth and much of what she did she did in hope that she could have some little value in life and perhaps even be liked, nay, even loved, though she might not be deserving (in her opinion).  Her first words in the book are that she isn’t clever, something she proves false from the very next paragraph.

Mr. Skimpole was very neurotic and everything he did in life was done from that center.  His mental illness, though, was Esther’s opposite – he believed himself the worthiest individual to have ever lived.  Everyone, and everything, was on Earth for no other reason than his pleasure, and he got irritated when something did not give him pleasure – they were going against HIM personally.

Esther was truly intelligent and had a creative side.

Mr. S. was actually quite intelligent (except for numbers, or at least the oddball pre-decimal British monetary system) and was highly creative, even if he had zero ability to carry any creative task to completion.

I’m going to go over some facts about Esther and talk about some of her traits.

From the time she was very small she was put to work and always worked (she taught at the school where she was sent to learn, and becomes Mr. J’s housekeeper after she left the school).  She had a huge sense of responsibility, not just for her work, but for the people around her.  She had great empathy for the people around her, be they the top of society or the little piece of human trash known as “Jo”.  She had deep compassion.  She felt her one and only purpose was to serve people, even those who were her servants, like Charley.  She was selfless and giving to a fault, often putting others above herself (see that part about being neurotic).  Although she was quick to laugh, she was also quick to cry and could be quite serious to the point that her friends nicknamed her after very dull and serious characters.  She was, in some ways, love itself.

Mr. Skimpole was idle and had never worked.  He had zero sense of responsibility, not for himself nor for others, including his children.  Mr. S. was the most selfish person in existence, making Lord Dedlock look humble in comparison.  Sir Leicester was anything but humble!  And yet… (see my next post).  Mr. S. would take and take, even if he knew for a fact that the person he took from had nothing to give, even if he knew that it might literally kill the other, he would take just to satisfy a passing fancy.  He had absolutely zero care, empathy or compassion for another individual on the face of the Earth.  Every person existed only to make him happy.  If a person could not make him happy, he had no use for them.  Love had no meaning to this person, Mr. Skimpole.  He was anti-love, which is not hate, it is worse – it is not caring at all for the other, only for self.

The big issue with Mr. Skimpole was that he did everything with eyes wide open.  He knew he was hurting people.  For instance, he knew that he was filling Richard’s head with false hope, and continued to do it because it entertained him to have Richard happy.  He knew the effects of his actions, and yet he still did them.  He may have “been a child”, but he wasn’t naive. He found “being a child” too convenient because if he stuck to it, he always, always got what he wanted. 

And Mr. J would always bail him out.

I guess it would be possible to feel sorry for him – he was obviously very neurotic, possibly psychotic.  He was obviously extremely ADHD and could not continue one task for more than a few minutes.  Well, except for sitting a dreaming.  He did have an issue with math, though when he talked, it was obvious that his issues centered around the fact that he couldn’t take the time to learn how to make change in that oddball system (which, in ways, Dickens might have been poking fun of – that system was odd and I was never able to learn it!  But I never had to use it, just read about it (I visited England after the decimal system was put in place)).  It is possible that he was autistic to some degree, or even that he had lead poisoning as a child (very common in the 19th century), which causes anti-social behavior.  Although Mr. J. helped him from all of his self-created problems, you can say Mr. J. was an extreme enabler and actually made the problem worse – the best thing for Mr. S would have been for him to pay his own way, even if it meant spending most of his life institutionalized.  What difference would it make if there were people around him to laugh at his jokes?  He destroyed all that was given to him anyway.  Ah, but he said that the world owed him 100% freedom…

Anyway, with all of the other bad characters in the book, it is odd that I liked Mr. Skimpole the least.  But if you see him as the anti-Esther, who, of course is the most likeable person in the book, well, it all makes sense.

*

Long after writing this, I read an opinion that Mr. Turveydrop was a similar type leach, but in many ways worse, living an extravagant lifestyle off of the back of one who couldn’t afford it (his son and later daughter-in-law), while Mr. Skimpole was attached to Mr. J., who could.  But Mr. Skimpole played a much bigger part in the book.

*

Bleak House Main Challenge Post

***

Warningsome might find this part offensive (it is rated PG-13).  Dickens was a genius for names.  Most of his characters have very fitting names, and often humorous.  In Bleak House we have Bucket, who gathers information and keeps it in his bucket mind.  We have that small fry, Guppy.  I mean, Lady Dedlock?  Esther Summerson?  I’m sure you can see Skim-pole as someone who uses a long pole to skim everything he can off of the surface.  However…

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I went back to research a few items for this little essay that I noticed it was an “m” instead of an “n”.  I had read the entire book reading this name as “Skinpole”.  Now, I don’t know what bad names they used for people back in Dickens’ day, but I am sure calling a man a “penis” was not a compliment, and in today’s terms, I don’t think anybody would doubt that Mr. Skim(n)pole was a complete and total Dick.  I am 100% certain that it was no accident that the name did resemble “Skinpole” and that Dickens had similar thoughts about this character…

34 thoughts on “Bleak House Day 3 – Mr. Skimpole

  1. Pingback: Too Early to Have Coffee Today – Marsha Ingrao – Always Write

  2. Marsha

    You two have carried on quite an extensive conversation here. Wow! Story Chat on steroids! I agree that Simpole is short for Simple. He was simple except in his reasoning. His reasoning was convoluted but ended up being understandable, if detestable. It definitely marked him as more intelligent than Simpole Mr. J’s reaction to him angered me somewhat. I wanted him to be stronger and help Mr. “Simple” change his ways. Mr. Simpole was a rather flat character – no change from beginning to end. Thanks for hosting and writing these character sketches, Trent. :)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      We did have a few major conversations in the comments, but this may have been the largest. lol, yeah,not your typical blog comments ;)
      To me he was too complex to be just “simple”. He fed off people and used them for his own purposes. He used is “infirmary”, not being able to make heads nor tails of the British money system (12 pennies in a shilling, 20 shilling in a pound), to take advantage of people.
      Yes, he was one of the “flat” characters, that didn’t change from start to finish. There was no growth.
      It was a lot of fun doing these posts :) Thanks for joining in.

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      1. Marsha

        I agree that he was complex and much more deceptive and intelligent than he painted himself. He was masterful in pulling the wool over people’s eyes. He was often referred to as entertaining, but I found him tiresome. Have you ever seen the movie “Inventing Anna,” played by Julia Garner star of the Netflix Series, Ozark? Anna is the perfect copy of Simpole. She never changes either. Interestingly, that movie was adapted from a real-life story.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I read a review of “Inventing Anna” and remember when the person behind the story was in the news but I didn’t see it. I can understand how that charterer would be a lot like Skimpole.

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  4. Pingback: Dickens Challenge – Bleak House Recap Post | Trent's World (the Blog)

  5. Retirement Reflections

    I also liked Skimpole the least of all characters in the book. From the beginning, I believed Skimpole to be a fraud. I was delighted that by the book’s ending he was exposed in this way.
    Throughout the novel, I was fascinated that so many of the characters were inspired by real life people. Dickens confirmed that Skimpole was based on English essayist, critic and poet, Leigh Hunt. That tidbit makes me want to know more about Hunt!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I knew that Dickens based the characters on real people, but I didn’t know there was a name to the person who influenced Skimpole. I wonder if Hunt was truly that bad or if Dickens just didn’t like him and exaggerated, as he did for effect in a few other places.

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  7. Prior...

    Regarding Esther’s name – I can’t help but think of the Old Testament book of Esther who had the life that was appointed for “such a time as this” and was placed in a position of power to help her family line.
    So I was looking for this with Esther but never felt the connection to that Jewish history.
    However – both Esther’s had a himbke and teachable spirit

    And self-deprecating is a layered and not straight forward concept
    Humble people and easily contented folks are sometimes misunderstood as lacking confidence or as being “off”
    But they sometimes just “need” less and their fulfillment does come from
    Serving and yielding (the highest form
    Of living can be that which involves giving)
    And so with Esther in Bleak House – I see the hard early years seemed to have stirred up gratefulness – appreciation for little- and contentment –
    – having such a rough start (being told you are nothing and a mistake) could damage but somehow our little Esther has the innate intelligence and innate self soothing to ponder and grow rather than get scarred and stay wounded.

    I can see why she is a favorite character for so many – but my top two characters are Bucket and George (first George and then Bucket)
    George because he shows grit and resiliency – he doesn’t give up Hawden’s handwriting (yeah baby) and even mentors a disabled guy and runs a decent business
    bucket is at the top of characters for me because (as you noted) he holds buckets of info and all that
    But he also shows a worker who is good at what he does, genuine, Likes people and is not out to destroy anyone and actually has some care in how he goes about an arrest!
    He is observant and just dang good at what he does – and as the first literary detective in fiction 😊- dickens brings us a hard working and clever detective who is not rigid and not too quick to draw conclusions
    he is no Javert (the detective in Les Mis who is rigid and lacks grace).
    If more folks like Bucket were in the police force the world would benefit!

    Okay that is enough for now

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      So, I said that Esther is the most likable character in the book, but that does not mean she is the character that I like most in the book 😉
      I don’t know if I have a favorite, truthfully.
      There is so much that is noble about George! I completely understand how he could be a favorite. And in many ways Skimpole is George’s opposite as much as he is Esther’s opposite. We have the leech compared to the valiant.
      And Bucket -as I said, I had mixed feelings through a lot of it, but admired him greatly by the end. And I do believe that he was very sympathetic to most of those around him. He was the most personable man and people naturally took to him, and yet, there was the scheming (for good reasons!) and the manipulation (again, for good reasons!) that made him a lot less straight forward.
      In ways, even though I have said bad things about the semi-creepiness of his proposal, I really liked Jarndyce. Even when we look at some of his bad traits, I really identify with him. I don’t run away from things quite like that (he actually stopped doing it once he had wards to care for), but I do identify. But then, he had a lot of good traits – he was kind and compassionate. He was generous, unfortunately to a fault. There is a big difference between us that I will bring up in another post (well, just a feeling I get about this life-long bachelor, and you may totally disagree…).
      And then, there was something about Lady Dedlock…
      Anyway, Esther is a very compelling character. I only half remember the Biblical Esther since I spent so little time with that book (book of Esther), so I didn’t really think about it except recognize that it was a Biblical name.

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      1. Prior...

        Well sorry for saying Esther was for fav – I misread that and have it clear now!
        ***
        There was something about lady dedlock and how is that for a name?
        Dead and locked in! Which reminds folks to never marry for money or status – unless that will bring joy and not “lock you in”

        And you know how I watched the Bleak House TV shows ?
        That will
        Be one of my 25 takeaways –
        But the two things I felt about the shows was the difficulty in portraying Lady Dedlock – nothing comes to close to the book’s depiction – and the 2005 series was closer to her image that was with the book – reallY matched well
        And then both shows did not really depict how wealthy Mr J or the Dedlocks were (IMO)

        See you tomorrow for day 4

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I think it is hard to depict that type of wealth wealth – sometimes Downton Abbey did a good job. I think that would have been closer to the Dedlock estate, but Mr. J was super wealthy as well.
          Lady Dedlock did find herself trapped in the system, but she was extremely loyal to it – she would kill herself rather than bring shame on the Dedlock name!
          Anyway, today’s post is about Sir Leicester, but I don’t really explore this stuff too much. Can’t wait to see your list :)

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          1. Prior...

            Sometimes I wonder if the part of lady dedlock’s demise was also dickens showing how off human thinking can be
            Perhaps she never saw that forgiveness could happen
            Perhaps she assumed scandal was the all end (it to some it ver well could be for those in the system) but was dickens trying to show that there are those who can break out and when her husband said he forgave all – is there a message there for the reader
            “Never assume all is lost and never let a social scandal be the end all”

            And yes –
            Downton Abby depicts the wealth very well – so does the estate of Me Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1995) –

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            1. trentpmcd Post author

              Forgiving all was his true love for her showing through – it transcends all. Her death? I’m not sure. Maybe it it was an escape from the society that so locked her in. Maybe it was that those rules society had were so strong she never thought she would be able to escape. But then, she was his true love, but she escaped to be with her true love… A pauper’s grave meant more at the end than the largest manor house, though she did everything to try to save what she perceived as shame to fall onto that manor and the name that went with it..,. I did touch on this a little in today’s post and will a little more tomorrow, but not in depth (from her side at least) in either.

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              1. Prior...

                Yes – well said
                This love story (which made my
                Top 25) is a stomach churn –
                Well for some of us- I believe dickens knew the topic of “love” well – from
                Experience and from observing –
                And be over to check out the last two essays soon!
                Had a little blog break (my monthly interview took a little more time than normal so when I unplugged – it was like “hallelujah and sigh” – hahaha – the interviews are so rewarding and glad I made myself so one per month – because Trent –
                I know it would not be happening without that schedule and pan !
                And speaking of that – how awesome of you to feature black house a full week on your blog – I know you have a routine and cheers to bleak house getting the stage !
                ☀️😊📚📖

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                1. trentpmcd Post author

                  It was a great interview, so I understand why interviews like that are so time consuming and energy stealing! But I am sure they are also rewarding.
                  I did write about Sir Leicester’s love affair with Lady Dedlock, in the post you haven’t read so far, but didn’t go into much detail about her love affair that defined her and sets the mood of the entire book. I think you will like the essay about Sir Leicester, though I realize that I forgot one of the most important parts – all is forgiven! But it is implied.
                  I really enjoyed doing these essays, so devoting an entire week was not a problem. Of course I could only have done it with them already written and ready to go! i had zero time this week…

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                  1. Prior...

                    Well you get a good star for being organized
                    – I did something similar in April – planned posts and scheduled them
                    However – a mistake I made was planning to post while not being around to interact – I know some bloggers do that but it didn’t work for me so I stopped the scheduled posts and waited until I could come back and be here!
                    But I like your mater post lead in and then how each day an easy!
                    Also / you were available to chat!

                    And “all is forgiven” has so much grace that it floods the reader with This heart tug

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                    1. trentpmcd Post author

                      “All is forgiven” is so important to the themes of the book.
                      A few years ago I scheduled some posts for when I was traveling. Nope, not something I will do again! This was a busy week, but I found that it wasn’t too hard to carve out a bit of time for this – I’m glad I did :) Though I am even more glad that I wrote the posts, even the recap, ahead of time! (I wrote the recap in mid-May, the others in late March)

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Prior...

                      your batching of posts sounds so awesome –
                      I the “atomic habits” book the author (James clear) has some good stuff to say about batching – or preparing stuff ahead of time like you did here!
                      I guess it still takes some tweaking, of course, and might need to be assessed Regularly
                      – in fact – I have been batching photos for my blog or a while now – I make a folder with about 50 photo I want to use and then when a challenge comes up – I skim the folder (or take a new one) but that photo folder has given me a great Structure !

                      Also – another perk to finishing the book early was that it allowed you to prep like that – good for you Trent

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                    3. trentpmcd Post author

                      I don’t do that type of batching all of these time,but it is super helpful when I do. As you said, in this case I did go back occasionally to reread and tweak. Of course I went over all of them several times in the before I posted them.
                      I don’t do many photo challenges, so I usually just post when ready, but I can see doing it this way as well.
                      Oh yeah, I never would have been able to do posts like these if I didn’t finish so early! And the last two months have been so stressful at work I might not have been able to finish the book at all…

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  8. Prior...

    Hi Trent
    This was so interesting
    1) start with the smile in our ending – the skin pole and connection to that name calling! Hahaha
    Also – if you say the name aloud it sounds like “simple” and this man was single minded and simple in his existence – and not in the good way of simple and minimal today!
    Nope – his simple existence was Leach like (glad you had that word with the other character you mentioned) because this leach and parasitic man really does irk the reader
    Like you said, dickens was masterful in how he sets this up and lets us form the opinion – he reminds me of some folks today who have narcissistic traits- they lack empathy – they have substance abuse – they always think of self because there needs are many!
    However – in today’s checklist for narcissism – the person usually has something they excel at (or think they do) and often in childhood they had something that elevated them above their peers – this leads to self importance and this feeling of superiority which is strange because it comes with low self esteem depression –
    So I see Skimpole with these narcissistic traits – it is considered a mood disorder and wow – you described his character so well
    Here!
    Further – we know that dickens based his character development on people he met in real life.
    I can imagine the man that inspired Skimpole – he was likely from a washed up aristocrat family – and that status as a child fueled his early mood disorder – and likely drank at a young age – no empathy early on and so it is easy to prey on others – and he did more than falsely give the Jarndyce ward hope – he had him sign notes and get knit debt! Anyhow – the real life inspiration or Skimpole must have been someone dickens observed well !
    And sad when you know someone in real like who has this mood disorder – people think narcissistic disorder is self obsession and ego – but it is this weird mix of “inflated self worth, bouts of depression, always thinking of self because so damn needy all the time – there needs are insatiable, they hurt others constantly because in their pain,
    They unconsciously feel a sense of justice or they just don’t see the pain they cause, and they take and take.

    💥💥💥
    And your through about Esther not liking him? I agree – yet I also wonder if some of her dislike was related to her being housekeeper and then secretly engaged to Mr J- where even In that society – she was in a position where Mr J’s stuff was becoming her own – or feeling that way and so Skimpole’s hand outs were more personal
    Oh and mr J was an enabler big time
    – and with many mood disorders that fester there are usually circumstances that allow the disorder to progress – they don’t get super bad over night – it is an “accumulative progressive disorder” and really difficult to work with older folks who have many of these traits.
    💥💥💥
    Regarding the word “neurotic” for Esther – I say no way!
    But that is because I think you and I define the word differently
    My definition of neurotic related to the big five spectrum with the acronym OCEAN
    Openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
    The neuroticism actually refers to emotional revaluation and stability and many folks are getting away from using that term- neurotic is just a terrible word – too ambiguous and when Costa and McCrae (1992) introduced it the word had a different meaning –
    So!
    Defining neurotic as emotional stability or emotional revaluation – in my view – Esther is low neurotic (she is stable and calm) and she is high conscientious, high agreeable, low extrovert and more toward introvert , and medium openness
    I’d say that Mr J is in the middle
    With neuroticism as emotional regulation because he is smooth and altruistic – but has his vent sessions and moods
    The high neuroticism goes to Skimpole – which is why he consumes so many spirits and also why (as you well noted) he hides behind that affronted weakness and constantly presents himself as so limited –
    Sigh – such a character indeed!!
    😩
    His excess and harm to others really is the opposite of our heroine in Esther!
    Your thoughts on that were interesting.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Ah, good point about “Skimpole” and “simple”. He plays the simpleton, but is both more and less.
      It is scary that he knew someone like this! Of course he could have been exaggerating, but… And things like lead poisoning was very common. Agree Skimpole was most likely from a rich if not aristocratic family.
      I agree, we have different meanings for the word “neurotic”. I base mine on just popular usage and a couple of classes from the early 1980s.
      We all have idiosyncrasies and quirks. To me, they move from “idiosyncrasy” to “neurotic” when it has an impact on your life. In my opinion, Esther’s sense of self-worth and needing to please went beyond just being humble, particularly early on. She did grow, as did some of the other characters (Mr. J actually grew a lot), and by the end wasn’t as “needy”, but early on… She mentioned it on several occasions, not holding back that she did what she did to try to get someone, anyone, to like her. She also said she wanted love so bad, though she didn’t feel worthy. Of course, as she found those things (love), first as a mentor at her school, but much more with Ada and Mr. J (and, of course, Caddy), that bit of low self-worth and hard work to please did mellow somewhat, but it still continued at a lower degree to the end.
      One thing is that if this was a true history, Esther wrote it something like 7 years after she was married to Alan. How much of it was seen through the older, wiser Esther’s eyes? Did she show the bit of dislike for Mr. S. from the start because it was the older Esther writing, or because that is how she felt when she met him? That older Esther is the one I think was more than a little embarrassed by how the young Esther did so much to try to win people over when just being herself was enough. Several times she was so matter of fact about her lack of self-worth, to me those words really jumped out.
      But, as I said, I did admire the character for many reasons. You are right, she did rise above her harsh upbringing, she did become a kind, empathetic, caring and loving person, and that isn’t even mentioning how industrious she was, how big of a sense of responsibility she had, etc.
      Lol, our comments will grow longer than the essay!

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      1. Prior...

        Well
        Considering our comments are longer than the essays it frees me up to not feel pressure with my final post this weekend

        I think Esther disliked Mr S from day one – she was a good read of people

        I am curious to see if you are going to discuss Krook and how he spontaneously combusts

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I do agree with you that she was a good read with people. I think at first she didn’t trust this trait as much, but grew to as the book went on.
          I skipped a lot of people, including Krook. You know how sometimes things are fashonable for a while and fade out, like Big Foot was huge (no pun) in the 70s and then became background. I think the same was with spontaneous combustion – I think it was very popular to talk about when the book came out, so it wouldn’t have seemed as strange as it does now. Of course, he had so much alcohol in, on and around him, that perhaps one wrong spark from the fire…

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          1. Prior...

            Hi – I might mention Krook in my list – I have notes in two journals and then have three or four excerpts to select from !
            But internal conditions can vary for humans and here in Virginia – a lady was pulled over and cited for a dui – but with a doctor’s note it was cleared – why? Because she had internal conditions that cause her to have a bad reading on alcohol tests
            She likely had such systemic yeast infection and intestinal degradation – and most folks with autoimmune disorders should look at internal gut foulness and corrupt body terrain

            So … I think the alcoholic Krook could have had something spark – like you said he had such a dangerous environment

            So I might mention him!
            -/

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