Madeline's Reviews > Bleak House

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Nov 04, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009, westernish-canon, class, school, funny, family, mystery, satire-parody, the-victorians, ghosts, houses, orderly-women, novels, social-agenda, thieves-like-us, toughandromantic-as-the-cityheloved
Recommended for: law students, Leigh Hunt
Read in November, 2009

Bleak House is a fairly bizarre novel, but this does not stop it from being extremely compelling. In fact, it probably helps.

In Bleak House, Dickens joins several social issues which he found particularly provoking to quests for identity and happiness. This does not sound strange, because it isn't, but the way in which he executes the novel - in particular the characters with which he populates his world - is so strange! His fascination with the grotesque is really unrivaled by anyone outside of the 1930s American South. The humor Dickens derives from these characters is truly astounding, but so too is the humanity which he can bestow on them (Guppy is, I think, the best example).

The two narrator technique was one I found interesting. Esther Summerson gets a lot of flack from critics and readers, for example: my mother started rereading Bleak House a little bit ago, but had to stop because she could not handle Esther again. I found Esther's passages much more interesting than the third person narrator, who seemed overly keen to show off his satirical scalpels and had no problem taking a cheap shot. Actually, I think the third person narrator is sort of the Dickens qua Dickens voice, which means its flaws belong to him just as much as its assets. This makes it into something of a parody of itself, as it presents a part of the narrative that is highly colored, narrow-minded, sentimental and satirical by turns, essentially masculine, convinced of its own value. Esther's drabness is welcome in comparison, if only because it promises us some shading in of those colors. Esther Summerson is not an exciting character, but she is an interesting one. She needn't be exciting - Dickens signals most of the plot developments far in advance of their actual occurrence (Richard and Ada spring to mind) - so what we need from Esther is emotional analysis. She delivers this to us in spades. What others have criticized as coyness I think is an authentic reaction to her childhood and the expression of an easily-embarrassed personality. The pains Esther takes to hide her insight matter as much as the insight itself.

I want to note that this book was emotionally successful for me, and that I think many of the flaws are 19th century flaws: I find them in many other books of the period. So long as they are books belonging to the period, they do not bother me. Contemporary literature is another matter.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Bleak House.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

09/30/2009 page 102
10/01/2009 page 150
14.65% "This book is nuts. Crazy! Insane!"
10/16/2009 page 365
show 6 hidden updates…

No comments have been added yet.