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Bleak House
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Archived Group Reads 2018 > Bleak House: Week 1: Ch. 1-11

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message 1: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1993 comments Mod
Comment from your Discussion Leader, Judy...

I hope that everyone is coming along nicely with this book...I'm looking forward to great discussions!

Money often changes people's lives. If you inherited a substantial amount of money would it change yours? Would you work or quit your job? Would you feel entitled to various privledges due to your wealth? Would you act differently? These are some of the issues in Bleak House.


message 2: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1993 comments Mod
Comment from your Discussion Leader, Judy...

The novel opens with description of the fog and mire that surrounds the High Court of Chancery and much of London. What kind of London and what kind of England is depicted in the setting?

Please feel free to respond in this thread. :)


Brittany (Lady Red) (ladyred19) | 152 comments Definitely a very dirty one, literally. Around the 1850s I think?


message 4: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments The opening section is full of symbolism linking weather and the actual filthy conditions of London to the Chancery Court in particular and more broadly people’s lives in general as it affects all segments of the population. The clarity of truth is obscured by fog and soot and muck. While the Court holds itself in high regard with allusions to a temple, it is mired in legal bureaucracy and shenanigans to the detriment of legal truth and decisions in the issues before it.


message 5: by Judy (last edited Sep 05, 2018 01:47AM) (new)

Judy | 49 comments Dickens uses chapters 3 through 6 to introduce us to many of his characters and to lay the groundwork for much of the action which is to follow. As the story moves forward, Esther is the central character in contrast to Richard and Ada. Dickens satire is found in certain characters and situations such as Mrs Jellyby and her unkempt family, Mr Skimpole who takes every advantage of his friends and Krook along with Miss Flite.


message 6: by Judy (last edited Sep 05, 2018 03:46AM) (new)

Judy | 49 comments The fact that we have a whole chapter dedicated to Esther tells us of her importance in the novel.

Perhaps another clue comes from her name - Esther - which is ancient Persian name meaning "A Star". There are only two books in the Bible with female names - Ruth and Esther. We learn that Esther becomes a queen.

The ages of - Esther 20, Ada 18 and Richard 17.


message 7: by Judy (new)

Judy | 49 comments I found it interesting in Chapter 1 goat hair was used for judges wigs which was bleached and horse hair was used by barristers who presented arguments in court


Trev | 290 comments Despite the darkness, gloom and depression of fog bound London and the frustrations of the Chancery court, I am enjoying the humour most of all in these first few chapters. The chaos of the Jellyby household and Esther's reaction to it is just one example, but there are many more. I am also intrigued by the parentage of Esther, a question further enriched by some of the subtle hints already provided to the reader. Dickens has been quick to describe the enormous gulf in wealth between the privileged Sir Leicester and the desperately poor folk living within a stone's throw of the Chancery court.


Brittany (Lady Red) (ladyred19) | 152 comments I agree
This is a wonderfully funny novel.


message 10: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments What strikes me particularly is the array of characters we are introduced to and the range of class and circumstance which they represent. So far Esther serves as the lens through which we observe these people and their activities.

Dickens doesn’t have much good to say about sanctimonious philanthropic do gooders such as Mrs. Jellyby or Mrs. Pardiggle.

His depiction of the poverty suffered by the bricklayers family and the death of the baby remind me of Gaskell’s unflinching portrait of the poor in Mary Barton. Unlike the female visitors in Gaskell, however, Mrs. Pardiggle is blind to how she could actually help the people she visits despite their rejection of her.

So many things are mysterious at this point. What is John Jarndyce’s relationship with Skimpole who appears to be a conman? Why did he choose Esther? What is Lady Dedlock’s background and who truly are all the people renting rooms from Krook?


message 11: by Trev (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trev | 290 comments Linda wrote: "What strikes me particularly is the array of characters we are introduced to and the range of class and circumstance which they represent. So far Esther serves as the lens through which we observe ..."

John Jarndyce refers to Skimpole as a 'child.' A more apt description would be 'completely irresponsible.' Yet the rest of the household are charmed by him, hanging on to his every word. Esther was naive enough to provide him with (her own) money to keep him out of prison and she has been given the great responsibility of housekeeping. Was it purely a practical decision by Jarndyce to appoint Esther into this role or has he some other ulterior motive?


message 12: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Yet another mystery! John Jarndyce certainly thinks quite highly of Esther, more than she does of herself. Hopefully an increased sense of self respect will be something we will see as the story progresses.


message 13: by Mariana M. (new) - added it

Mariana M. (marianamfm) | 4 comments Esther is such a compelling narrator, maybe because, when reading chapter 3, one can feel nothing but sorry for her: she's so fiercely vulnerable (nevermind the apparent paradox).
I found it quite interesting the way Esther thinks about her childhood. Even though she felt lonely, she describes that period "like some of the princesses in the fairy stories". She always seems to look on the bright side of life, which has been very inspiring so far.

PS: was anyone reminded of Great Expectations in the beginning, with the whole Mr. Kenge plot, or was it just me?


Brittany (Lady Red) (ladyred19) | 152 comments There’s definitely similarities to Great Expectations.


message 15: by Nina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nina Clare | 135 comments I'm a bit late starting on this group read, but finished ch.11 last night. Great to be back in the Dickensian world, haven't been there for a while.
I'm enjoying Esther as a first person narrator. I can't think of any other Dicken's books I've read that has a female narrator.
Poor Peepy Jellyby - I wish Esther could have squirrelled him away with her, it's not as if Mrs Jellyby would have noticed!


message 16: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1267 comments Mod
I'm enjoying the Esther parts too. Skimpole definitely doesn't come across as naive as he seems to project himself.


message 17: by Nina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nina Clare | 135 comments Lady Clementina wrote: "I'm enjoying the Esther parts too. Skimpole definitely doesn't come across as naive as he seems to project himself."

I can't understand why all the characters seem to like Skimpole, I think he's a dreadful sponger! Esther criticises Mrs Jellyby for not putting her family duties first, while Skimpole completely abandons his family yet is tolerated.


Brittany (Lady Red) (ladyred19) | 152 comments I hate to be that person, but probably because he’s male and she’s female.


message 19: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1993 comments Mod
Skimpole is one of the more fascinating Dickens characters. He IS a total sponger but I think he’s affable. At least at first, before you catch on that his situation is never going to change because HE is never going to change. What a total and complete narcissist! And like a true narcissist, he can be charming when he wants something.


He was apparently based on one of CD’s contemporaries, who recognized himself and was pissed. Can’t remember who it was right now but it’s not the first time that happened. The woman on whom Miss Mowcher was based (David Copperfield) recognized herself and was deeply, deeply hurt. Dickens felt bad about that one which is why the character ends up becoming something of a heroine before the end.


message 20: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1267 comments Mod
Renee wrote: "Skimpole is one of the more fascinating Dickens characters. He IS a total sponger but I think he’s affable. At least at first, before you catch on that his situation is never going to change becaus..."

Leigh Hunt, the poet.


message 21: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1993 comments Mod
Thank you! That was going to nag at me.


message 22: by Nina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nina Clare | 135 comments Lady Clementina wrote: "Renee wrote: "Skimpole is one of the more fascinating Dickens characters. He IS a total sponger but I think he’s affable. At least at first, before you catch on that his situation is never going to..."

Renee wrote: "Skimpole is one of the more fascinating Dickens characters. He IS a total sponger but I think he’s affable. At least at first, before you catch on that his situation is never going to change becaus..."

Interesting facts!


message 23: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Skimpole’s facade of being a naive child seems to work for him. Everyone accepts this as reason enough for his behavior. I don’t like him either. Esther, who may be the moral conscience of the novel, seems to be growing suspicious of him.


message 24: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1993 comments Mod
I think it’s an especially true portrait of trusting young adults. You want to believe the best of someone introduced to you through trusted channels. Your inclination is empathy. It can be such a hard-knock lesson in Life to have to come to terms with that level of manipulation and self-indulgence.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Sorry, I am incredibly late and this is a very big novel so I am not sure if I will be able to catch up, but I enjoy reading the comments still.

Does anyone know if Dickens (or other Victorians?) used this narrative method? I can't recall another book with both first person and third person narratives. I think it works to give us an overview of London which Esther couldn't understand, and also her innocent viewpoint.
I like Esther but she seems like she might be an entirely good heroine compared to say Pip in Great Expectations.
I have read this novel before, but I don't really remember too much, so this is more or less like reading for the first time!


message 26: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1267 comments Mod
Clari wrote: "Sorry, I am incredibly late and this is a very big novel so I am not sure if I will be able to catch up, but I enjoy reading the comments still.

Does anyone know if Dickens (or other Victorians?) ..."


Never mind- we still have three weeks. I am pretty far behind myself.

No I haven't come across any novel which uses both kinds of narratives, and like you am also enjoying the contrast.


Brittany (Lady Red) (ladyred19) | 152 comments Not in the Victorian era, no it’s mostly non limited third person.


message 28: by Nina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nina Clare | 135 comments Clari wrote: "Sorry, I am incredibly late and this is a very big novel so I am not sure if I will be able to catch up, but I enjoy reading the comments still.

Does anyone know if Dickens (or other Victorians?) ..."


Bleak House is regarded as Dickens' most experimental novel. I can't think of another one that mixes first and third person narration, even today it's an unusual technique. I think Dickens pulls it off really well.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Nina wrote: " I think Dickens pulls it off really well. .."

Yes, me too! It seems very natural slipping between the narrator observing Lady Dedlock and Esther talking to her doll. If it was done in a modern novel I think it would be very self conscious and used as a narrative trick, but here it seems very entwined in the story telling. If that makes sense?


message 30: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments In a short, far from exhaustive search, it does seem that Bleak House stands alone in Victorian literature in Dickens' use of omniscient third person and first person narratives. Many modern critics point to it as a precursor of modernist literary techniques. I agree he is successful with the changing voice not being disruptive, but providing a much enhanced understanding of the characters and society.

The only similar technique I can think of would be a novel which used a third person narrator, but in which either letters or diary entries written by specific characters were inserted. These would provide at least a limited first person narrative and was not an uncommon technique.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Linda wrote: "In a short, far from exhaustive search, it does seem that Bleak House stands alone in Victorian literature in Dickens' use of omniscient third person and first person narratives. Many modern critic..."

Thank you for your research! It is very interesting. I wonder what made Dickens experiment with this novel but never use the technique again as it seems to work very well.


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