There are many sets of family relationships in Bleak House, so much so that the inter-relationships of families could be described as one of the main themes of the books. From the healthy, stable relationships of the Bagnets, to the completely distorted and corrupted family of the Smallweeds, almost all levels of the social structure of England in the nineteenth century are analysed and criticised from the perspective of their families. It is interesting that from this perspective, it is the not rich yet proud Bagnets that probably come off the best. It is the middle-class families of Pardiggles and Jellybys whom probably come in for the most criticism. Their outwardly moral quest has lead to exactly the sort of decay that Mrs. Pardiggle at least has dedicated her life to preventing and rectifying. The Jellyby household has descended into the kind of anarchy that Mrs. Jellyby is trying to remove with her relocation and civilisation of her African natives in the village of Boriboolaga. Indeed caddy comes to resent her mother's work so much that "she wishes that Africa were dead". Mrs. Pardiggle’s family, whilst appearing dutiful and noble, are in reality extremely resentful of their mother’s work, and indeed their mother. They receive money, only to have it taken away from them again, in the guise of ‘donations’ to local charities, run by their mother and people like her.
The Pardiggles are the classic Victorian family, outwardly moral and upright, yet in reality Mrs. Pardiggle is a hypocrite who fails to help the poor in any real way, whilst at the same time neglecting her own family. In this way she is kin to Mrs. Jellyby, with her aforementioned quest to help the African natives.
The most dysfuctional parent-child relationship of the book is probably that of Ester and Lady Dedlock, being for most of the book no relationship at all. Until Guppy tells his tale in "The Young man" Lady dedlock believes her child dead, and all Ester knows is that "You are your mother's greatest disgrace, and she yours", hardly a healthy way to grow up thinking of one's mother. Even once the relationship is revealed to Lady Dedlock, the situation hardly improves. Once the intial shock has worn off, she returns to her previous icy state. indeed she later goes so far as to require of Esther that she imagine that "I am dead to you", causing Esther not only to aviod her mother wherever possible, but to go so far as to avoid any conversations about her, and to stop any of her aquantancies meeting with her.
However we must not think that Lady dedlock is entirely an "ice maiden"; during the scene in which Esther and herself met up for the first time since the relationship between them has become known to them, she becomes highly emotional, kissing and hugging her daughter, yet still able to pull away at the end and detach herself from the situation, restoring the Victorian veneer. This I feel is perhaps one of the most telling and succint attacks Dickens makes on victorian society, that Lady Dedlock can be so emotional one minute, yet completely calm and cold the next, a cruel comment on what lies beneath the Victorian air of "respectablity".
Esther does of course have a surrogate parent figure in John Jarndyce, however the question of how healthy this relationship is must be raised. While John Jarndyce does appear for the most part to be a most benevolent and upright benifactor, he does seem to harbour a desire to keep everything as it was. He sets up a new Bleak House with a Growlery for Esther and Alan, and even wishes to marry Esther at one point, a desire which could perhaps be seen in an insestous light, given his status as Esther's guardian, although this is probably taking things too far. However, if as Jarndyce himself says "the suite corrupts and infects all whom it touches", it seems unlikely that he copuld have completely avioded its corrupting influence himself
Prionce and Mr. Turveydrop, the "master of deportment" have a rather strange parent/child relationship. Prince does not seem to resent his father in any way, despite his fatehr's overbearing, not to mention pompous manner. Mr Turveydrop appears to consider everything he does to be a favour to others, eveb when his actions appear to greatly inconvience others. For example, when Prince and Caddy marry, he says "you shall live with me" and smiles, suggesting that they should be honoured that he would consider living with them.
As stated earlier, the most healthy parent-child realtionship is probably to be found in the Bagnet family, between Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet and their children Woolwich, Malta and Quebec. Theirs is certainly a loving relationship, witness Mrs. Bagnet's anger at George when it is suggested that their finanical situation may be threatened. It is interesting to note that the bagnet's belong to the same class that Dicken's family belonged to when he was a child.
All in all, Dickens certainly had some ratehr harsh views on the parent/child relationships tyo be found in the Victorian era. Indeed, throughout the book harsh critisms of almost every aspect of the Victorian social structure can be found.