Tom All Alone’s.

The illustrator Phiz created this image of Tom-all-alone’s for Dickens. It is one of a number of particularly dark sketches he drew for Bleak House.

Although predominantly a story centering on a legal case, Bleak House has a strong theme on the lack of sanitation in the novel. We see this in Dickens’s treatment of the brick-maker’s house and the slum area called Tom-all-Alone’s.

Whilst writing the novel, Dickens used “Tom-All-Alone’s” as a working title for Bleak House.



The character Jo in Bleak House is a young boy who lives on the streets and tries to make a living as a crossing sweeper. Jo was the only person with whom Nemo had any real connection. Nemo expressed a paternal sort of interest in Jo, (something that no human had ever done). Nemo would share his meagre money with Jo, and would sometimes remark, “Well, Jo, today I am as poor as you,” when he had nothing to share.

Jo is called to testify at the inquiry into Nemo’s death, but knows nothing of value. Despite this, Mr. Tulkinghorn pays Mr. Bucket to harry Jo and force him to keep “moving along” [leave town] because Tulkinghorn fears Jo might have some knowledge of the connection between Nemo and the Dedlocks. Jo ultimately dies from a disease (pneumonia, a complication from an earlier bout with smallpox which Esther also catches and from which she almost dies).


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. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and the Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years—though born expressly to do it.