I had no problem with the dual narrative structure. So the book was told partly from the point of view of omniscient external point of view, and partly, the parts Esther is personally privy to, as though Esther is reading from her diary at a date after all events in the book? It was always clear to me when one or the other applied as the narrative. I do wonder if the fact that this book was written in serial from for publication in parts influenced that choice by Dickens.
One thing that I feel is important to keep in mind for this books, and number of other books by Dickens, is that Dickens was certainly writing popular fiction, and did want commercial success, but he also was consciously writing to achieve social change. Maybe the most important writer in this regard of his age.
Not a spoiler, just a long quote from another book:
“First it produced the horrors of urban poverty and then the dismal counter-measures of bureaucracy and regimentation. It must have seemed―may still seem―insoluble; yet this doesn't excuse the callousness with which prosperous people ignored the conditions of life among the poor on which to a large extent their prosperity depended, and this in spite of the many detailed and eloquent descriptions that were available to them. I need mention only two―Engels' Conditions of the Working Classes in England, written in 1844, and the novels written by Dickens between 1840 and 1855, between Nicholas Nickelby and Hard Times.
Engels' book is presented is presented as documentation, but is in fact the passionate cry of a young social worker, and as such it provided, and has continued to provide, the emotional dynamo of Marxism. Marx read Engels―I don't know who else did: that was enough. Everybody read Dickens. No living author has ever been more hysterically beloved by a larger cross-section of the community. His novels produced reform in the law, in magistrates' courts, in the prevention of public hangings―in a dozen directions.”
from Civilisation by Kenneth Clarke
The need for reform of courts and the legal system was of course the major theme of this book. Not only the central thread of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, but also the case of Mr. Gridley and even the lawsuit between Sir Leicester Dedlock and Lawrence Boythorn. Then there is the fact that the villain of the story, to the extent that there is what could be called a villain, is the lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn. One can almost imagine Dickens, while writing this, chuckling over such jokes as:
How can you spot a lawyer in a crowd?
He will have his hand in someone else’s pocket.
Dickens was often writing with the hope of prompting social change. However, his characters were seldom what one would call social activists, and real social change almost never occurs in his books. Dickens seems to have been content to hold up a mirror in order for mid-19th England to examine itself.
I guess I didn't really find the ending strange. As I stated Dickens seems to have had the intent to bring the problems and inequities of England to the attention of his readers without proposing a solution. And as far as the characters go I thought he tied everything up rather well.
One can imagine the children of Allan and Esther Woodcourt always happy at visits from wealthy 'Uncle' Jarndyce after the couple settles into a comfortable middle class life.
I really like the John Jarndyce character by the way, and did from this passage when he was first introduced:
I thought he was very strange; or at least that what I could see of him was very strange, for he was wrapped up to the chin, and his face was almost hidden in a fur cap, with broad fur straps at the side of his head, fastened under his chin; but I was composed again, and not afraid of him. So I told him that I thought I must have been crying because of my godmother's death, and because of Mrs. Rachael's not being sorry to part with me.
"Con-found Mrs. Rachael!" said the gentleman. "Let her fly away in a high wind on a broomstick!"
However, I actually found him too good, first in his seemingly bottomless generosity and philanthropy to all, even the richly undeserving. I also thought Skimpole detestable. Also the magnanimous way he steps out of way for Esther to marry Woodcourt, and even facilitates that. Did he never really love, or lust after, Esther that he was so happy to give her up in the end?
The ends for Lady Dedlock and Richard Carstone, dying, were to my mind consistent with what was necessary for the novel. What would Lady Dedlock's future be with her past, including the existence of Esther, revealed? Would she acknowledge Esther? I know that she was supposed to be a tragic figure, but I did not think much of her. When she reveals to Esther that she is Esther's mother the reasoning she offers for insisting that that must never be revealed is about the benefit of Lady Dedlock more than anyone else. I believe that Dickens did not want here to be accorded too much sympathy as revealed in the implied contempt in this quote:
My Lady Dedlock (who is childless), looking out in the early twilight from her boudoir at a keeper's lodge, and seeing the light of a fire upon the latticed panes, and smoke rising from the chimney, and a child, chased by a woman, running out into the rain to meet the shining figure of a wrapped-up man coming through the gate, has been put quite out of temper. My Lady Dedlock says she has been "bored to death."
A social parasite like most English wealthy nobility.
The death of Richard Carstone also made sense. What could become of a man who had grown to adulthood never applying the effort to accomplish anything , being content with waiting for the inheritance to fall in his lap, when that inheritance vanishes?
The fate of Ada Claire is left hanging, but then she was never much of a character anyway. Dickens often introduced these female characters who, other than being young an beautiful, had little else to offer. Like some beautiful knick-knack on a shelf, and just as consequential. This is often counterbalanced by a female character, usually of similar age, that is not as physically attractive, but is someone more substantial and more of the type one would want to spend time with, including the rest of ones life. Here it was Ada Clare and Esther Summerson as the pair.
I agree that Inspector Bucket had admirable qualities in his dedication to his duty and no-nonsense approach to things. On the other hand he mercilessly hounded poor little Jo, even to Jo's death, simply because a wealthy patron found Jo's presence in London inconvenient.
One of the characters in this novel I really liked was William Guppy. Guppy because he was a character who though starting from nothing manages to make something of himself, and this while maintaining a code of morals and honor and attempting to do good. That and he is just one of these somewhat bizarre characters that Dickens fleshes out so well.
This book also shared a characteristic common to all of Dickens' novels. The wordy passages describing people and places. Personally this is one of the things I really like about Dickens, the way he uses the English language so well to create living images in the reader's mind.
In all I liked this book as a a good tale and as a moral indictment of the injustices of English society at the time.