Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bleak House

Bleak House. Charles Dickens. 1852-1853. 912 pages.

London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

How did I feel about Bleak House? Overall, I liked it. I more than liked it. I really, really liked it. What did I like best? The characters, the story, or the writing style? Hard to choose--for me. I think some readers may be so intimidated by the writing style--Dickens way of using a thousand words to paint a picture--that it becomes almost impossible to connect with the characters and enjoy the story.

The characters and story. Esther, a young woman who's clueless about the identity of her parents, becomes a companion to Ada, one of the wards in the legal dispute of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. These two young women--along with Richard, the second ward in the case--are under the guardianship of a Mr. John Jarndyce of Bleak House. Their guardian is kind, compassionate, generous, and an all-around good fellow. He hates, hates, hates Jarndyce and Jarndyce and wants absolutely nothing to do with the matter. Richard loves Ada. He desperately wants to marry her, but Mr. Jarndyce disapproves of the match because Richard doesn't have a way to provide for her. He feels Rick needs to grow up a little and find a career. Unfortunately, Rick doesn't take to this idea of having a profession--of making a living. Though he isn't quite as childish--as shallow--as Mr. Harold Skimpole, a man who borrows freely from anybody and everybody. (He's also fond of philosophizing about how wonderfully childish he is!) Through the course of the novel: Esther discovers the identity of her parents and falls in love; Rick fails at one profession after another until he decides once and for all to devote his entire energy to a law case that his been in the system for several generations, all the while Ada continues to love Rick unconditionally. Then there's the mysterious side of Bleak House. The murderous side. Lady Dedlock has a secret from her husband, Sir Leicester. A secret that Dedlock's lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn, discovers, after much unscrupulous searching and digging. There are MANY characters who are despicable. MANY characters who have enemies. MANY characters who have strong motives.

Dickens did a great job with his characters. You'll find characters that you'll absolutely love and adore. You'll find characters that are so enjoyable, so fun, to spend time with. You'll find characters that make you laugh--or at least smirk. You might find a few characters that you love to hate, or hate to love. You'll find characters that are just so despicable, so nasty, so horrid that you hate them--with a passion. There might even be a few that drive you crazy! But I hope that you'll find a few characters that genuinely surprise you! I know a few surprised me! There are so many characters. Some are very important to the plot. Others are very minor. But just because they're minor doesn't mean they're pointless. (For example, I *liked* Mr. Chadband!)

The writing. I won't lie. It took me more than a few chapters to make any sense of this one to begin to like this one. The style of the first chapter is very off-putting. In my opinion. That and the fact that so many characters are introduced in the early chapters.  It's not until the reader is introduced to Esther, Ada, and Richard--not until these three are taken to Bleak House--that it began to work for me. But. I did like this one. I really came to like the style. I came to appreciate his descriptions, his details.

A word from Esther:
I don't know how it is, I seem to be always writing about myself. I mean all the time to write about other people, and I try to think about myself as little as possible, and I am sure, when I find myself coming into the story again, I am really vexed and say, "Dear, dear, you tiresome little creature, I wish you wouldn't!" but it is all of no use. I hope any one who may read what I write, will understand that if these pages contain a great deal about me, I can only suppose it must be because I have really something to do with them and can't be kept out. (102-3)
A description of Sir Leicester:
Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state, and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man, to have so inexhaustible a subject. (139)
A description of Mr. Smallweed:
Everything that Mr. Smallweed's grandfather ever put away in his mind was a grub at first, and is a grub at last. In all his life he has never bred a single butterfly. (257)
From Lady Dedlock to Mr. Tulkinghorn:
"Of repentance or remorse, or any feeling of mine," Lady Dedlock presently proceeds, "I say not a word. If I were not dumb, you would be deaf. Let that go by. It is not for your ears." (509)
I liked the flavor of Bleak House. It has its difficulties--I suppose. (Though no more than any other classic of its size, its substance). But. I really enjoyed this one. There were so many things that I just loved about it. (For example, Mr. Jarndyce's growlery. I loved that! Don't we all need a place to go when we're out of humor?!)

Is it worth reading?! I think so! I think the characters are very well done--very human, very memorable. I think the writing--especially once the mystery begins--is very suspenseful.

Is it worth watching?! I think many people who might be intimidated by reading the novel would enjoy seeing an adaptation of it. I saw the 2005 adaptation. It was long--fifteen episodes--but I enjoyed it. It definitely has its differences--it's not the book--but I did enjoy the drama. It was DRAMA! It was very compelling.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Katie Edwards 1:11 PM  

I read this one about three years ago. I love Dickens though agree it takes a while to get into his books what with all the characters being introduced and subplots being set up. And the BBC DVD is perfect for when I'm ill and don't feel up to doing anything - real comfort viewing. Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous,  1:42 PM  

Loved your review - thanks, Becky!:) L.

bookwormans 7:18 PM  

Bleak Hose is my absolutely favorite Dickens novel (so far). So glad that you enjoyed it!

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