Julie Davis's Reviews > Bleak House

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
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May 30, 15

bookshelves: desert-island-books, a-good-story-is-hard-to-find-podcas
Read from August 07 to September 16, 2012

Good Story #47. Fog at Julie's house, fog at Scott's place. Fog. The fog doesn't stop Julie and Scott from discussing Bleak House The risk of overwhelming deportment doesn't stop them either.

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My comments.

Bleak House is on my personal challenge list, meaning that I should be chiseling away at some book from that list or I'll keep putting them off forever and never read one.

Having been surprised by how much I loved A Tale of Two Cities and having heard that Bleak House is Dickens' best, it is the next of his books I thought I'd try. However, it is so intimidatingly hefty that I've had the book on hand for several months before finally launching myself at it.

Dickens begins by introducing several strands of story and then settling on a first-person narrator, Esther Summerson, at least for this section. At this point we are just meeting Mrs. Jellyby and I actually laughed aloud. I know a Mrs. Jellyby. Don't we all? So much engaged in her African cause that she ignores the very real want in her own family gathered around her. I love the way that everything Esther picks up or tries to use garners the comment, "It was dirty." Children fall down stairs unnoticed, the carpet is coming off the stairs in a most dangerous fashion, dinner is almost raw, and all the while Mrs. Jellyby "fixed her fine eyes on Africa again."
However, as she at once proceeded with her dictation, and as I interrupted nothing by doing it, I ventured quietly to stop poor Peepy as he was going out, and to take him up to nurse. He looked very much astonished at it, and at Ada's kissing him; but soon fell fast asleep in my arms, sobbing at longer and longer intervals, until he was quiet. I was so occupied with Peepy that I lost the letter in detail, though I derived such a general impression from it of the momentous importance of Africa, and the utter insignificance of all other places and things, that I felt quite ashamed to have though so little about it.
I laughed aloud reading this.

Meanwhile, the fog is everywhere. One wonders if that fog which makes lawyers focus on details in the Jarndyce case until the money is gone although they are still making a fine living, is the same which clouds Mrs. Jellyby's vision. It is easy to ignore the real significance of life around you when focusing on the intangible elsewhere gives us the excuse to ignore the immediate demands we find less attractive, like a filthy home or crying baby. It adds a disturbingly uncanny element.

I must concede Will Duquette's contention that Dickens characters can be very unrealistic. But who would give them up for the realistic ones? And he does realistic very well, when he needs to. Esther is realistic. Mr. Guppy also ... although so amusing while one is sorry for him. And then there is Mr. Bucket. Possibly one of the best detectives I've ever seen (at this admittedly early point in the book) ... how is it I didn't know Dickens wrote a detective? And one so canny and good at blending in?"

You know, I expected that I'd read a few pages (slogging through them) and intersperse them with a newer book. But I'm hooked. I can never possibly convey how great, how riveting I am finding this book. It is a mystery, a horror novel, a romance, a look at character (or the lack thereof), and much more ... all laced with a self awareness that I find startlingly modern. O Dickens. And here I thought A Tale of Two Cities was sublime. How little I knew...

As a result of my amazement at how good this book is, it will be the November book for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. 900 pages of solid goodness. Ladies and gentlemen, start your reading now!
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Quotes Julie Liked

Charles Dickens
“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. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

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.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.”
Charles Dickens, Bleak House


Reading Progress

08/10/2012 page 50
5.0%
08/13/2012 page 100
10.0% "You know, I expected that I'd read a few pages (slogging through them) and intersperse them with a newer book. But I'm hooked. Even on a weekend where I had almost no time for reading, I managed to clock in another 50 pages just because I couldn't wait to pick it up again. Well done, Mr. Dickens!"
08/15/2012 page 135
13.0% "I must concede Will Duquette's contention that Dickens characters can be very unrealistic. But who would give them up for the realistic ones? And he does realistic very well, when he needs to. Esther is realistic. Mr. Guppy also ... although so amusing while one is sorry for him."
08/21/2012 page 200
20.0% "I can never possibly convey how great, how riveting I am finding this book. It is a mystery, a horror novel, a romance, a look at character (or the lack thereof), and much more ... all laced with a self awareness that I find startlingly modern. O Dickens. And here I thought A Tale of Two Cities was sublime. How little I knew..."
08/21/2012 page 200
20.0% "Now I've done it. This will be the November book for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. 900 pages of solid goodness. Ladies and gentlemen, start your reading now!"
08/22/2012 page 300
29.0% 1 comment
08/23/2012 page 350
34.0% "Mr. Bucket, I presume? Possibly one of the best detectives I've ever seen (at this admittedly early point in the book) ... how is it I didn't know Dickens wrote a detective? And one so canny and good at blending in?"
09/03/2012 page 450
44.0% "Pooor Lady Dedmore. On another subject, I maintain there is a horror element to this novel. Those flecks of soot? I KNEW they were ominous! KNEW IT!"
09/04/2012 page 500
49.0% "I am now wondering ... do I trust John Jarndyce? Would that be the biggest twist ever if Rick were correct, despite all appearances to the contrary? (Wow, Dickens is GOOD, right?). Also, it occurs to me that Esther Summerton seems too kind to be true, while still being very aware of those around her ... but she is not exaggerated at all. She is my sweet oldest daughter Hannah in quite a lot of ways!"
09/14/2012 page 675
66.0% "Murder. Marriage. Etc. Remains fascinating!"
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Jenny (Reading Envy) Have you ever posted your personal challenge list? I'd love to see it. This one would be on mine, as I don't think I've touched Dickens since high school.


message 2: by Melanie (new)

Melanie I had to read Bleak House in high school for senior honors English. (I think I was one of a handful of students in the class to actually finish the book.) Like you, I was hooked from very early on. Still when I think of Bleak House I picture myself curled up on the couch in my parent's living room. I think I sat in the same spot for days, getting up only for bathroom and meal breaks. Maybe I slept, I couldn't be sure. I think I need to go back and re-read it at some point. Esther is definitely my favorite Dickens character.


Andrew Ordover on my kindle and on my list thanks to your rec.


Julie Davis Jenny wrote: "Have you ever posted your personal challenge list? I'd love to see it. This one would be on mine, as I don't think I've touched Dickens since high school."

Somehow I'm not getting notices of comments ... must check my settings ... sorry for the late reply. :-)

Here's where I posted the list although I see that I need to update it.


Julie Davis Andrew wrote: "on my kindle and on my list thanks to your rec."

I feel so influential! :-)


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