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Bleak House by Charles Dickens
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Feb 17, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in November, 2006

Grinding away the lives of all involved, the interminable case known as "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" in the Chancery courts is the sticky tape that brings our large Dickensian cast together. And that cast is pretty awesome as always with all their ticks, quirks and foibles. Bleak House, unlike the name, is anything but sorrowful.

There are two main stories that make up the book. The first is the court case, and the other is the mystery of a Mr. Nemo, his connection to Lady Dedlock and how that finds itself attached to our narrator Esther Summerson. This is the only Dickens book I've read where the protagonist is a female, but true to his other novels, she is an orphan and must make her way in the world. She has more help than Oliver Twist by being the ward of the current Mr. Jarndyce, the owner of Bleak House. He is an amiable and amazing philanthropist who has given up all his rights to the case rather than have it drive him to distraction and ruin his life. His great uncle blew out his brains due to it, and it will also be the demise of several other characters in the book. Mr. Jarndyce says that when he first inherited the manor, it was bleak and had "the signs of his misery upon it." But Mr. Jarndyce's resolution and directions in life change it so when our protagonist Esther Summerson arrives, it's a cheerful and cozy place to live.

I think that one of the main themes that connects this book is how people decide to live and make their way in the world, as well as what consequences their choices wreck and how they must live by those consequences. The people involved with the case and who are awaiting a decision must decide whether to put their lives on hold till a verdict is reached or live. But the Chancery court has decided to eke this case out until its dried up, and the side characters must decide if they will associate with the main characters due to the potential outcome of the case or for better purposes. It's not all one decision, of course, but a string of decisions. For instance, Mr. Guppy is a young man working his way up in a world from a low position to that of a lawyer. He goes through the book deciding to love Esther forever, help her up in the world, discover the secret that is her birth, reject her, still help her, then propose marriage to her again.

It's a huge book but very rich, tense and expansive in the way Dickens can include so many aspects of English class society in one novel. It's got one of my favorite casts of Dickens characters, and oh yes, one spontaneously combusts. Bet you didn't expect that!

P.S. If you're interested in a great miniseries, Masterpiece Theatre showed a "Bleak House" with stellar performances from everyone. In that series, I had such a hard time dividing and smoking out the good characters from the bad characters. Often I was at the edge of my seat for fear that a person I thought was good was about to turn evil. Also, the second main story is more fleshed out and given more screentime, and it's well worth it.

P.P.S I've finally figured out why Dickens endows even the most insignificant character with such a dollop of weirdness that would make them recognizable 400 pages after they've appeared. It's because it makes them recognizable to the reader and easy for the author to reuse them 400 pages after they've appeared. Amazing!

A few quotes of funness:

Mr. Turveydrop, the model of Deportment, "'In some respects [my son:] treads in the footsteps of his sainted mother. She was a devoted creature. But Wooman, lovely Wooman, ' said Mr. Turveydrop, with very disagreeable gallantry, 'what a sex you are!'"

From Mr. Chadband, an impressive clergyman, "Peace be on this house! On the master thereof, on the mistress thereof, on the young maidens, and young men! My friends, why do I wish for peace? What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? Oh yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and yours"

"The fair Volumnia being one of those sprightly girls who cannot long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the dragon Boredom, soon indicates the approach of that monster with a series of indisguisable yawns."
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane Vandenburgh What a gorgeously written and affectionate review, thanks!


Black Elephants Jane wrote: "What a gorgeously written and affectionate review, thanks!"

Why thank you! I hope you also enjoy Bleak House. :-)


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