The Big Read

No. 79 – Bleak House, Charles Dickens Read 21/4/15

Affiliate Link:Bleak House (Penguin Classics)

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be done with Bleak House. It is my third Dickens from the list, leaving only A Tale of Two Cities, and it is my second book over 700 pages of the 15 I am trying to read this year. You might have noticed that at the rate I am going, I am never going to make it to 15 and I realise this. December is going to be really fun.

Anyway Bleak House. Rather than bore you with my thoughts on Dickens again I shall just leave links to my reviews of David Copperfield and Great Expectations here. However, Bleak House has opened my mind slightly to old Charlie. Whereas before the door was firmly shut it is now ajar. Bleak House is my favourite Dickens so far.

The novel is a satire of a Victorian court system called the Court of Chancery. I shall warn you now don’t bother trying to understand what this court does because it is impossible and always has been. Anyway, this court case called Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been raging for years and years and nobody can make head nor tail of it but what does happen is that two young people become the ward of a Mr Jarndyce of Bleak House. Our Narrator, Ester Summerson, has also been in the care of Mr Jarndyce since her aunt died, although she didn’t know it, and has been invited by Mr Jarndyce to become the companion of his ward Ada. Ester’s narrative runs parallel to an unknown narrator who deals with all the usually Dickensian stuff.

The beginning few chapters of Bleak House had me going “Oh God not again”. I can perfectly illustrate my point with this quote,

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.”

This is one of 5 paragraphs in the first chapter that mention fog. If you make it through the fog you eventually get to Ester’s Narrative which is so much more enjoyable. After a while the Dickens narrator, as I like to think of it, settles down as well and we get into the stories of some other people. That is the other thing about Bleak House there are a lot of characters to keep track of lots of law workers, lots of poor people and they tend to bleed into one.

I was rather disappointed to find out the Bleak House, wasn’t really bleak at all. In fact it is a comfortable, warm environment filled with love and affection. I know. What the hell Dickens? Don’t mislead me like that. The bleak side of Bleak House comes from the Court and the lawyers who uphold it. There is some very good social commentary made about the poor of London and how the Court cripples people but also about the power of the rich. Surprisingly, I found it still relevant today.

If you can wrap your head around all that there is an excellent mystery that runs through both narratives. I mean it’s no Gone Girl but it was enough to keep me turning the pages, if very very slowly. What I did like about this book was the way the characters weave through both narratives and Dickens throws in a few surprises along the way. You have your suspicions as a reader, some of mine turned out to be true, others I missed completely. It was by far the most enjoyable Dickens I have read and I am going into A Tale of Two Cities with a little less dread for having read Bleak House.

Rating: 4/5 (generous maybe more like 3.75)

Would recommend to: start with this one if you are new to Dickens.


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