Lovelorn Gentleman: Mr. Guppy of Bleak House

SEPT / OCT 2011: BY CAITLIN HORTON

guppy

Envision, if you will, a young man, puzzling in appearance and dedicated to his art. He wears clothes of a mixed nature, a tall, unsightly hat, well tended coat with tails, and fashionable cravat. He marches hither and thither with a purpose, papers in one hand, hat held firmly down by the other, only taking time off for a lunch of lobster ‘n’ lettuce at a local establishment. He is justly proud of his accomplishments: his position and pay are rising and he is able to afford a nicer home for himself and his mother to reside in. Yet, there is one thing lacking in his life: a wife.

This is the unfortunate, lovelorn tale of Mr. Guppy, the gentleman no woman wants to marry. If there had been modern dating services in his time, in the 1850s, he might have put something akin to this on his profile:

I am an engaging young gentleman with rising prospects and position in the world, seeking an enchanting young lady who also has matrimony on the mind and who likes to eat the occasional bit of lobster ‘n’ lettuce for lunch. All replies to be sent in care of Mr. William Guppy at Chancery firm of Kenge and Carboy’s.

Though perhaps not the absolute best bit o’ brass on the market, Mr. Guppy, in theory at least, should have been able to obtain a proper wife. So why exactly were women rejecting him in Bleak House? He proposed most avidly to Miss Esther Summerson, to the point of being slightly annoying, yes, but his intentions were honorable. He was thinking of her low position in life and that she might also be lonely in her singleness. She told him directly that she would never think of entering matrimony with him, and across the globe, many modern single women all thought the same thing: “Stupid ninny.” Even now, we have the hardest time attracting the attentions of even one male of a marriageable age and Miss Summerson, for all her lack of parentage and finances, had three.

Perhaps now the problems have swapped genders but back then a good wife, capable of running a smart house and maintaining a tight budget, was what every man thought of once his fortune was made. The husband might have brought home the bacon, but that piece of meat was carefully scrutinized and every possible bit of it used by the wife. And in most cases, there was genuine warmth and love, several children, hot meals with crusty pudding and fresh bread, and many wonderful, joy-filled days and evenings.

It would appear the case of the “lovelorn single” is not confined to one era that tends to fantasize about days when “everyone” got married. It was a condition that afflicted many at all times and often there was absolutely no cure. It’s quite sad that time-travel is not possible, because Mr. Guppy would probably find a bevy of modern single women willing to become his housewife. We can only hope that his story does end happily, with several little Guppys running about as he and his wife sit in front of a crackling fire, he reading the paper and she knitting a pair of socks.

However, that is only in our imaginations; the end of Bleak House is no comfort. Mr. Dickens seems to enjoy leaving at least one character in misery per story, but it should be noted that Mr. Guppy is not one to wallow in self-pity. He always picks himself up, dusts off his coat, puts on his hat, and straightens the rather floppy cravat about his neck. In being able to carry on he shows his true nature, strong, steadfast, and noble. His heart breaks but he always stitches it back together with thread and a needle, none the worse for life, though maybe a bit wiser. And so it would seem, then, that Mr. Guppy ever was and always shall be, the lovelorn gentleman of Bleak House. ■

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!

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