As Bleak House plays on our screens in coming weeks we are given an excellent opportunity to see what a master storyteller Dickens is. As always with Dickens, the names of his characters are delicious and are also a useful guide to how we are to understand them. Think of Mr Pumblechook, the odious Uriah Heep and the terrifying and miraculous Magwitch, late of New South Wales.

In the current production for example, we have been introduced to Mr Howard, whose name is not quite “hero” and not quite “coward” and who took his current position from the appropriately depressing Mr Downer and the unfortunate and largely ineffectual Mr Peacock. Howard is now himself nearing retirement and must soon hand over his undertaking business. The story will develop in ensuing weeks but in the meantime let’s look at the following characters and what their names might mean:

Mr Costello. A combination of cost and hello. A man who diminishes wealth cheerily.
Mr Vaile. One who deals in secrets. Possibly engaged in wheat negotiations.
Mr Ruddock. A combination of rodent and buttock. Literally, rat-arsed.
Amanda Vanstone. Amanda, a fixer. Vanstone, up front and hard.
Mr Abetz. One who helps, possibly in dark and nefarious ways.
Mr Minchin. A pinched, mean-spirited person, who gnaws at society’s vitals.
Mr More-Wilton. An amalgam of more and wilt. Self-defeating. Doomed.
Mr Abbott. One who does the work of some sort of religious order.
Mrs Bishop. A person of great rank and importance.
Mr Brough. Part bluff, part rough. A person of whom to be wary.
Mr Hardgrave. An insensitive person, lacking the life-force.
Mr Pearson. One who might pierce, cut, hurt and damage. Possibly a bully
WarrenTruss. Warren, a complex system of burrows. Truss, a gentlemen’s support.
Mr Turnbull. Forceful, larger than life but given to uncontrolled rampage.
Mr Boswell. A big, genial, ruddy-faced character. Part boss, part swell.
Mr Heffernan. Heifer, a young cow. Unpredictable. Absurd.
Mr Windshuttle. Imagines he is telling a story when he is simply shuttling the wind.
Mrs Doubtfire. A federal opposition leader

We hope you enjoy the series.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey