Background.

Bleak House
  • When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her that influence even crowded places full of life‘ is a quotation from Bleak House (Chapter 48).
  • Bleak House was the ninth novel by Charles Dickens, intended to illustrate the evils caused by long, drawn-out legal cases in the Court of Chancery. Serialised between 18521853, the story unravels through the use of double narration, in part from the perspective of a third-person narrator and in part from the first-person point of view of the main protagonist, Esther Summerson.

Context.

This quotation is a description of the moon, as observed by the lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn as he crosses a small yard to retire to his apartment. It is just before 10pm and Tulkinghorn has returned from seeing Lady Dedlock at her London residence. The moon, which is almost a full one, is set amongst a sky full of stars.

The serenity of the moon is in marked contrast to the fateful events that will unfold soon after inside Tulkinghorn’s residence.


Mr. Tulkinghorn
Illustration of Mr. Tulkinghorn by the British artist Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clark).

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 48 (Closing In) of Bleak House:

A fine night, and a bright large moon, and multitudes of stars. Mr. Tulkinghorn, in repairing to his cellar and in opening and shutting those resounding doors, has to cross a little prison-like yard. He looks up casually, thinking what a fine night, what a bright large moon, what multitudes of stars! A quiet night, too.

A very quiet night. When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her that influence even crowded places full of life. Not only is it a still night on dusty high roads and on hill-summits, whence a wide expanse of country may be seen in repose, quieter and quieter as it spreads away into a fringe of trees against the sky with the grey ghost of a bloom upon them; not only is it a still night in gardens and in woods, and on the river where the water-meadows are fresh and green, and the stream sparkles on among pleasant islands, murmuring weirs, and whispering rushes; not only does the stillness attend it as it flows where houses cluster thick, where many bridges are reflected in it, where wharves and shipping make it black and awful, where it winds from these disfigurements through marshes whose grim beacons stand like skeletons washed ashore, where it expands through the bolder region of rising grounds, rich in cornfield wind-mill and steeple, and where it mingles with the ever-heaving sea; not only is it a still night on the deep, and on the shore where the watcher stands to see the ship with her spread wings cross the path of light that appears to be presented to only him; but even on this stranger’s wilderness of London there is some rest. Its steeples and towers and its one great dome grow more ethereal; its smoky house-tops lose their grossness in the pale effulgence; the noises that arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the pavements pass more tranquilly away. In these fields of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s inhabiting, where the shepherds play on Chancery pipes that have no stop, and keep their sheep in the fold by hook and by crook until they have shorn them exceeding close, every noise is merged, this moonlight night, into a distant ringing hum, as if the city were a vast glass, vibrating.

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When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her that influence even crowded places full of life.
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