In Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, Mr. Vholes is Richard Carstone’s legal advisor. Introduced to Richard by Mr. Skimpole, Vholes encourages and assists Richard as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Chancery. Vholes, however, may not have the best intentions. Through descriptions of his gloomy physical appearance, suspicious actions, and unfortunate connections to English law, Dickens paints a vivid image of Mr. Vholes—a man who cannot be trusted. Vholes, therefore, is made up of multiple layers; as each layer peels away, the reader understands a little bit more of this secretive man. Surprisingly, Mr. Vholes is seen as more and more evil as readers journey to the center of his being.
On the macroscopic level, readers must first consider Vholes’s dilapidated office as a description of the man. This technique of using a description of a room in place of a character occurs frequently throughout the novel; here it provides the reader’s first glance into Vholes’s appearance and character. To start, the office is “in disposition retiring and in situation retired” (620). “Disposition” refers to ingrained characteristics, while “situation” refers to specific circumstances. The omniscient narrator is therefore making two separate points with different meanings of the word “retire”: First, the room seems shy in its manner ("Retiring, Adj."). Second, the room is secluded as a result of its situation (“Retired, Adj. and N."). The difference is that while the office has an introverted presence, a lack of activity causes the isolation. The other sense of the word “retire”—growing old and leaving one’s job—also rings in this sentence. The description can be applied to Vholes himself; he is quiet and closed off, and his old age is noticeable. The office is also replete with images of darkness: “dark passage,” “jet black door,” “dark [angle],” “black bulk-head” (620). While expanding on Dickens’s gothic imagery, these images of blackness encompass Vholes and mark him as a suspicious and secretive character. As readers learn more about Vholes, these images of the dark room linger in their minds.
One layer closer to Vholes is his personal appearance. Vholes is “[d]ressed in black, black-gloved, and buttoned to the chin” (606), giving the impression of a brooding and thoroughly private figure. Because of Vholes’s clothing choice, Esther aptly sees him as a shadow: “I happened to turn my eyes towards the house, and saw a long thin shadow going in which looked like Mr. Vholes” (695). By immediately associating the shadow with Mr. Vholes, Esther reveals a connection between his inky appearance and his shady nature. She later comments, “I said nothing about Mr. Vhole’s [sic] shadow” (695). Here, Esther does not even recognize Vholes as a man. Instead, his shadow has completely taken over his being; the darkness of his clothing has come to define his dark identity.
Vholes’s physical features are no less ominous, and these...