This article initially argues that Dickens's pivotal paragraph uniquely requires and inspires 24 pages of text to explore its 158 words in the novel. Esther's “looking two ways” paragraph describes, often through ironic forms of comparison and contrast, her twilight perspectives and projections as she looks through an inn window (or windows) during her and Bucket's search for her mother, Lady Dedlock. The paragraph remarkably looks before and after in the text as it contextually explores the “middle way” dynamics of four major clarifying approaches to Esther's self-development: the via negativa, Holy Grail myths, liminal motifs, and the Freudian uncanny. These four approaches sometimes support one another and sometimes conflict with, if not challenge, one another. Throughout, the article not only discusses and documents Esther's problematic self-development and Dickens's profound artistry in detailing that development, but it also examines the extent of reader involvement in evaluating both Esther and Dickens.

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