Just a bit more anthropomorphism from Bleak House.
The moon has eyed Tom with a dull cold stare, as admitting some puny emulation of herself in his desert region unfit for life and blasted by volcanic fires; but she has passed on and is gone… and Tom is fast asleep.
Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. (Ch. 46)
Tom is a slum, Tom-all-Alone’s. The paragraphs that follow make it clear that Tom-all-Alone’s is also The Destitute Poor more generally.
There is not an atom of Tom's slime, not a cubic inch of any pestilential gas in which he lives, not one obscenity or degradation about him, not an ignorance, not a wickedness, not a brutality of his committing, but shall work its retribution through every order of society up to the proudest of the proud and to the highest of the high. Verily, what with tainting, plundering, and spoiling, Tom has his revenge.
This is Dickens invoking the other Tom, Thomas Carlyle, rhetoric that is pure Carlylese (“verily”), the kind of passage that reminds me that Hard Times will be the next Dickens novel.
I finally understood this time something of the place of Tom-all-Alone’s in Bleak House. It is just a street, “a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people,” full of squatters in rotting, collapsing buildings – “the next crash in Tom-all-Alone’s may be expected to be a good one.” The street has taken this turn because of the lawsuit that is the novel’s backdrop. Dickens plainly says this a few pages into Chapter 16, but I did not understand it. I did not understand that the winner of the lawsuit wins this, a poisonous tenement.
And Tom-all-Alone’s birthed, somehow, Jo the street sweep who “’don’t know nothink,’” one of the children Esther Summerson tries to save.
Jo lives – that is to say, Jo has not yet died – in a ruinous place, known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s.
Because someone was kind to him poor Jo becomes an accidental instrument, almost a kind of connective tissue, of the novel’s complex plot, which will resume later in this chapter after Dickens lets Jo walk a round a bit, accompanied by a vagabond dog, “a terrific dog to sheep; ready at a whistle to scamper over their backs, and tear out mouthfuls of their wool.” What this dog is doing in London is likely a sad story. But this line does explain why, in Chapter 25, “Jo has been standing on the spot where he woke up, ever picking his cap, and putting bits of fur in his mouth,” an odd habit that I now see he learned from that dog.
“‘Go before me, and show me all those dreadful places,’” another character says to Jo back to Chapter 16. That’s Jo, and that’s Tom.
Because vacation and Best of the Year celebrations are upon me, I will have to put down Bleak House. The next post would have been about Little Swills, the Comic Vocalist, who for many novelists would be the best character they ever invented, but for Dickens is just a recurring gag.