Esther Summerson.

The narrator and protagonist. Esther, an orphan, becomes the housekeeper at Bleak House when she, Ada, and Richard are taken in by John Jarndyce.


John Jarndyce express his frustration at the Chancery suit that dominates the story of Bleak House.

John Jarndyce.

Proprietor of Bleak House and Esther’s guardian. Jarndyce becomes the guardian to the orphans Ada and Richard and takes Esther in as a companion for Ada.


Richard Carstone.

A ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. A straightforward and likeable but irresponsible and inconstant character who falls under the spell of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.


Ada Clare.

Also a ward of Chancery in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. She falls in love with Richard Carstone, who is a distant cousin.


Sir Leicester Dedlock.

Husband of Lady Dedlock, a proud and rich aristocrat. Owner of the Chesney Wold estate in Lincolnshire.


Lady Dedlock.

Mistress of Chesney Wold. The revelation of her past drives much of the plot. Before her marriage, Lady Dedlock had an affair with another man and bore his child. Lady Dedlock discovers the child’s identity (Esther Summerson), and because she has revealed that she had a secret predating her marriage, she has attracted the noxious curiosity of Mr Tulkinghorn, who feels bound by his ties to his client, Sir Leicester, to pry out her secret. At the end of the novel, Lady Dedlock dies, disgraced in her own mind and convinced that her husband can never forgive her moral failings.


Lawrence Boythorn.

Life long friend of John Jarndyce who visits Bleak House. Involved in a property dispute with his neighbour, Sir Leicester Dedlock. Dickens based Boythorn on his highly litigious personal friend, the poet and writer Walter Savage Landor.


Mr Tulkinghorn.

Sir Leicester’s lawyer. Scheming and manipulative, he seems to defer to his clients but relishes the power his control of their secrets gives him. He learns of Lady Dedlock’s past and tries to control her conduct, to preserve the reputation and good name of Sir Leicester. He is murdered, which gives Dickens the chance to weave a detective plot into the closing chapters of the book.