One of Charles Dickens’s most critically admired novels, this story of a monumental and life-consuming court case features one of his most vast and varied casts of colorful characters.
In Bleak House, competing claims of love and inheritance—complicated by murder—have given rise to a costly and decades-long legal battle that one litigant refers to as “the family curse.” The insidious London fog that rises from the river Thames and seeps into the very bones of the characters symbolizes the pervasive corruption of the legal system and the society that supports it, targets of Dickens’s satirical wrath. Displaying Dickens’s familiar panoramic sweep and brilliant characters—including the mysterious orphan Esther Summerson, her gentle guardian John Jarndyce, the haughty Lady Dedlock, and the scheming lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn—the novel is also a bold experimental narrative that unforgettably dramatizes our most basic human conflicts.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.24(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.46(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was born in Portsmouth, England, and spent most of his life in London. When he was twelve, his father was sent to debtor’s prison and he was forced to work in a boot polish factory, an experience that marked him for life. He became a passionate advocate of social reform and the most popular writer of the Victorian era.
Date of Birth:February 7, 1812
Date of Death:June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Education:Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington
Read an Excerpt
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 snowflakes — 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 this 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.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.
On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here — as here he is — with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such an afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar ought to be — as here they are — mistily engaged in one of the ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horsehair warded heads against walls of words and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might. On such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause, some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a fortune by it, ought to be — as are they not? — ranged in a line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth at the bottom of it) between the registrar's red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross- bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them. Well may the court be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the fog hang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may the stained-glass windows lose their colour and admit no light of day into the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to the roof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks into the lantern that has no light in it and where the attendant wigs are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give — who does not often give — the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"
Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky afternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause, two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of solicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below the judge, in wig and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy purses, or whatever they may be, in legal court suits. These are all yawning, for no crumb of amusement ever falls from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezed dry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters of the court, and the reporters of the newspapers invariably decamp with the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on. Their places are a blank. Standing on a seat at the side of the hall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary, is a little mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet who is always in court, from its sitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensible judgment to be given in her favour. Some say she really is, or was, a party to a suit, but no one knows for certain because no one cares. She carries some small litter in a reticule which she calls her documents, principally consisting of paper matches and dry lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody, for the half-dozenth time to make a personal application "to purge himself of his contempt," which, being a solitary surviving executor who has fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts of which it is not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at all likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life are ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from Shropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at the close of the day's business and who can by no means be made to understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself in a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out "My Lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint on the instant of his rising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by sight linger on the chance of his furnishing some fun and enlivening the dismal weather a little.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port-wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, the eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers" — a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and purses.
How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt would be a very wide question. From the master upon whose impaling files reams of dusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into many shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Office who has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages under that eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it. In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the wretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr. Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and had appointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and shuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver in the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but has acquired too a distrust of his own mother and a contempt for his own kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed into a habit of vaguely promising themselves that they will look into that outstanding little matter and see what can be done for Drizzle — who was not well used — when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of the office. Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right.
Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.
"Mr. Tangle," says the Lord High Chancellor, latterly something restless under the eloquence of that learned gentleman.
"Mlud," says Mr. Tangle. Mr. Tangle knows more of Jarndyce and Jarndyce than anybody. He is famous for it — supposed never to have read anything else since he left school.
"Have you nearly concluded your argument?"
"Mlud, no — variety of points — feel it my duty tsubmit — ludship," is the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.
"Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?" says the Chancellor with a slight smile.
Eighteen of Mr. Tangle's learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.
"We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight," says the Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come to a settlement one of these days.
The Chancellor rises; the bar rises; the prisoner is brought forward in a hurry; the man from Shropshire cries, "My lord!" Maces, bags, and purses indignantly proclaim silence and frown at the man from Shropshire.
"In reference," proceeds the Chancellor, still on Jarndyce and Jarndyce, "to the young girl —"
"Begludship's pardon — boy," says Mr. Tangle prematurely. "In reference," proceeds the Chancellor with extra distinctness, "to the young girl and boy, the two young people" — Mr. Tangle crushed — "whom I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in my private room, I will see them and satisfy myself as to the expediency of making the order for their residing with their uncle."
Mr. Tangle on his legs again. "Begludship's pardon — dead."
"With their" — Chancellor looking through his double eye- glass at the papers on his desk — "grandfather."
"Begludship's pardon — victim of rash action — brains."
Suddenly a very little counsel with a terrific bass voice arises, fully inflated, in the back settlements of the fog, and says, "Will your lordship allow me? I appear for him. He is a cousin, several times removed. I am not at the moment prepared to inform the court in what exact remove he is a cousin, but he IS a cousin."
Leaving this address (delivered like a sepulchral message) ringing in the rafters of the roof, the very little counsel drops, and the fog knows him no more. Everybody looks for him. Nobody can see him.
"I will speak with both the young people," says the Chancellor anew, "and satisfy myself on the subject of their residing with their cousin. I will mention the matter to-morrow morning when I take my seat."
The Chancellor is about to bow to the bar when the prisoner is presented. Nothing can possibly come of the prisoner's conglomeration but his being sent back to prison, which is soon done. The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative "My lord!" but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre — why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce!
IT IS BUT A glimpse of the world of fashion that we want on this same miry afternoon. It is not so unlike the Court of Chancery but that we may pass from the one scene to the other, as the crow flies. Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles who have played at strange games through a deal of thundery weather; sleeping beauties whom the knight will wake one day, when all the stopped spits in the kitchen shall begin to turn prodigiously!
It is not a large world. Relatively even to this world of ours, which has its limits too (as your Highness shall find when you have made the tour of it and are come to the brink of the void beyond), it is a very little speck. There is much good in it; there are many good and true people in it; it has its appointed place. But the evil of it is that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.
Excerpted from "Bleak House"
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgements Introduction Charles Dickens: A Brief Chronology A Note on the Text
Appendix A: Dickens’s Working Notes for Bleak House
Appendix B: The Reception of Bleak House
- From The Spectator (September 1853)
- From The Illustrated London News (24 September 1853)
- From The Athenaeum (17 September 1853)
- From The Eclectic Review (December 1853)
- From Bentley’s Miscellany (8 October 1853)
- From The Examiner (8 October 1853)
- From The Rambler (January 1854)
- From Charlotte Brontë, Letter to George Smith (11 March 1852)
- From J.S. Mill, Letter to Harriet Taylor (20 March 1854)
- From G.H. Lewes, Letters to Dickens (1852)
Appendix C: The Role and Status of Women
- Marriage and the Law: From William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–69)
- Support for Conventional Views
- From Charles Dickens, “Sucking Pigs,” Household Words (November 1851)
- From “The Laws Concerning Women,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (April 1856)
- From Margaret Oliphant, “The Condition of Women,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (February 1858)
- Opposition to Conventional Views
- From the Review in Foreign Quarterly Review of The Education of Mothers of Families (1842)
- From Harriet Taylor, “The Enfranchisement of Women,” The Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review (1851)
- From Jessie Boucherett, Endowed Schools (1862)
- Personal Testimonies from Women
- From Jane Welsh Carlyle, Letter to John Forster (c. February 1844)
- From Elizabeth Gaskell, Letter to Eliza Fox (12 February 1850)
- From Mary Taylor, Letter to Charlotte Brontë (April 1850)
- From Charlotte Brontë, Letter to Elizabeth Gaskell (20 September 1851)
- From Florence Nightingale, Cassandra (1860)
- Women in Contemporary Fiction
- From Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1848)
- From Geraldine Jewsbury, The Half Sisters (1848)
- From Frances Trollope, The Young Countess or Love and Jealousy (1848)
Appendix D: The Court of Chancery
- From “Reform in the Court of Chancery,” The Times (1 April 1850)
- From “Delays in Chancery,” The Times (8 August 1850)
- From “Court of Chancery,” The Times (25 December 1850)
- Leading Article, The Times (1 January 1851)
- From Alfred Cole and W.H. Wills, “The Martyrs of Chancery,” Household Words
- December 1850
- February 1851
- From Edward B. Sugden, “Prisoners for Contempt of the Court of Chancery,” The Times (7 January 1851)
- From “A Chancery Bone of Contention,” Punch (June 1852)
Appendix E: Attitudes to Religious and Other Proselytizing
- From Charles Dickens, “Whole Hogs,” Household Words (August 1851)
- From Clare Lucas Balfour, “Stopping Half Way,” The Temperance Offering (1852)
- Charles Dickens, Letter to the Reverend H. Christopherson (9 July 1852)
- From R.W. Vanderkiste, Notes and Narratives of a Six Years’ Mission Principally among the Dens of London (1852)
- From the London Quarterly Review (January 1871)
Appendix F: Contemporary Attitudes to Class Inequality
- From Thomas Carlyle, Chartism (1839)
- From Arthur Helps, The Claims of Labour (1844)
- From Jessie Boucherett, “Endowed Schools” (1852)
- From J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy (1859)
Appendix G: Conditions of the Working Class
- Living Conditions as Described in Dickens’s Household Words
- From “A December Vision” (December 1850)
- From “A Walk in a Workhouse” (May 1850)
- From “A Nightly Scene in London” (January 1856)
- Burial Grounds
- From “Spa-Fields Burial Grounds,” The Times (5 March 1845)
- From “Heathen and Christian Burial,” Household Words (April 1850)
- From Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (1843)
- From “How Cholera is Spread,” The Lancet (13 October 1849)
- [Mortality Among the Working Classes], from The Times (4 September 1851)
- Epidemics and Sanitation
- From Edwin Chadwick, Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842)
- [Sanitary Conditions of the city], from The Times (2 January 1851)
- From a Speech by Dickens to the Metropolitan Sanitary Association (10 May 1851)
Reading Group Guide
1. 1. Critics have long regarded Bleak House as Dickens’s most formally complex novel, since it blends together a number of different genres: detective fiction, romance, melodrama, satire. Compare the way the novel conforms to each of these genres. Do you consider Bleak House more a mystery than a satire, or vice versa? In what ways does the novel transcend these categories altogether?
2. 2. Examine Dickens’s use of irony in Bleak House. Which characters find themselves in ironic moments or situations? How might we read the Court of Chancery’s obstruction of justice as the supreme irony of the book?
3. 3. Consider the narrator’s remark in Chapter XXXIX that “The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.” How, precisely, does Chancery “make business for itself”? What instruments, rituals, and/or actors does it employ to create a great chain of inefficiency?
4. 4. Discuss Dickens’s representation of charity in Bleak House. Are philanthropists generally portrayed in a favorable light? You might compare the work of Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, and Mr. Quale with the quieter charitable work of Esther. What type of charity do you think Dickens values?
5. 5. Do you think Bleak House is successful in its attempt to criticize the English legal system? If so, how do you reconcile the novel’s happy ending with Dickens’s critique?
6. 6. Examine Dickens’s use of mud and pollution imagery throughout Bleak House. What different meanings do images of mud, dirt, disease attach themselves to? Which characters become closely identified with pollution?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I never read Dickens in school or college and since have felt that perhaps I missed out on something. Recently I have sought to make up for the lack in my education. I find that I am glad I waited this long to read him. I doubt I would have appreciated him as much in my more impatient years. Bleak House is the second Dickens novel I have read. It's a complex story with a very large cast of characters. At first the indidents seemed unrelated but further reading reveals a carefully constructed tale with surprising turns. This is a book for the patient reader and not one to be hurried through. The writing style does not lend itself to a rushed reading. The payoff is high however, as there are some fabulous turns of phrase and characterizations. In some places I was moved to tears -not something that happens often with me- and in others I was indignant. There is a reason that Dickens has been referred to as the greatest English novelist of all time. Bleak House is one of them. The original Nonesuch edition was the ultimate Dickens but sadly was out of reach for most collectors. This edition is a finely made reproduction. The printing and pictures are exceptionally fine. Some of the intricate detail can only be seen with a magnifying glass. The spine is beautifuly textured bonded leather with cloth boards and embossing on the front cover. The cover is protected by a clear plastic dust jacket. The binding is sewn and the book lays open nicely. I don't think you could find a more beautiful Dickens anywhere, yet these are easily affordable for the collector. I sincerely hope to see the other 17 Nonesuch volumes produced by Barnes and Noble.
I've undertaken to read all of Dickens' major works, from 'Oliver Twist' to 'Our Mutual Friend'. Having recently finished 'Bleak House' I can give it a hardy recommendation with one caveat: the character of Esther is the best example of the worst aspects of Victorian morality. The intrigue, the murder, and the mysteries, are all examples of Dickens at his best; but how can one be sympathetic with a heroine whose annoying, self-effacing, yet self-aggrandizing, modesty causes the novel to continually grind to a halt? If not for this highly disagreeable character this would be Dickens' best. When there are hidden and underrated treasures like 'Barnaby Rudge' in the Dickens canon, I think 'Bleak House' can be put aside and read another day.
I'm a big Dickens fan, and this is probably my favorite of his novels. Unlike a lot of other Dickens books where the story is a little disjointed, jumping from location to location and sub-plot to sub-plot, this book stays very much on point and very little is extraneous to the ultimate ending. Although the characters are perhaps not as memorable as those in some of Dickens' more well known novels, they are extremely well developed and perhaps more relatable to the reader. What separates this book from many of DIckens' other novels, for me at least, is the non-storybook endings that many of the characters encounter, and the struggles that nearly every character in the book faces throughout. Altogether, it makes for a really enjoyable read. I couldn't recommend this book more; it is a must read for Dickens lovers and anyone with the patience to read an 800+ page book.
This is not Dickens greatest work. Coming immediately after the wonderful David Copperfield, it is almost as if he had exhausted his creativity and was merely going through the motions. It is not until about page 250 that the narrative, briefly, comes alive. The book is written in a slightly odd combination of first-person from Esther, interspersed with a standard narrator for the rest of the text. Esther's first person account is well written, but lacks subtlety - one is left in no doubt of her qualities and modesty. There are some of the usual exaggerated characters to liven up the tale - Mr Turveydrop, the master of deportment, is one of the very good ones here. Perhaps the best character is the Equity Court and the never-ending case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The equity court system was abolished not so long after publication of this book - I wonder how much impact Dickens had on the decision? Good book, no cigar.
Very good, but very long and sad. Not sure if I would read again
I read this as part of a Bookcrossing readalong in installments over a period of several months. In spite of a few chapters that were heavy going, I think it is probably my new favourite Dickens.
Another missed classic on my reading journey thus far, another genuinely delightful discovery¿ Dickens¿ particular talent was for imbuing everything with character - fog, mud, London, the law - and then surprising the reader by having more still left over for a marvellous array of actual characters. Bleak House is, for that reason, a companion of a book. The case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, a longstanding preoccupation of the gentleman of the Court of Chancery, is a character of its own right; sprawling, beleaguering and affecting lives that Dickens lifts out of the `London Particulars¿ and follows in absorbing, engaging detail. The lawyers, particularly the watchful and endangered Tulkinghorn, the gentle Esther Summerson who becomes companion to the `wards of Jarndyce¿, the interrogative, amiable and brilliant Inspector Bucket¿ some of the most remarkable people I¿ve ever met lie within these pages. The writing is humorous ¿ either blatantly so, or wry; often shamelessly sentimental (I was chuckling on page five and bawling on page nineteen), often enraging ¿ Dickens¿ disgust at the deprivations visited upon the impoverished lower classes of the time is legendary, and Bleak House contains a smorgasbord of exemplars ¿ the story follows those involved in the case, innocently or not, as they navigate murder, romance, mysterious personal circumstance, charity (in all its manifestations), devotion or self-interest ¿ I cannot think of an aspect of humanity that isn¿t examined within the scope of this fabulous story.I finally understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Dickens. This is what all the fuss is about.
If anyone is in doubt that Dickens was a genius, pick this up and settle in your chair. For the modern reader attuned to a certain spare writing style and relentless pace it may take a few pages to adjust to the different rhythm of rich and complex sentences, but once you do you'll be back in Victorian England in the mire of legal horrors.
This book is the closest Dickens ever got to writing a Jane Austen novel. Read the story of Ada's and Esther's and Caddy's romantic escapades, and tell me that is not Austen-esque. But Dickens, thank goodness for him, shows us life outside the domestic circle also. It's fascinating to watch as he takes a lot of what appear to be unconnected events and characters in the beginning, and ties them all together seamlessly. Dickens is a great believer in the saying, "There is no such thing as coincidence." The characters in this book are wonderful. Well, perhaps I should've said, 'there are wonderful characters in this book'. Characters who seemed wholly unsympathetic will move you to tears by the end, if you are the sort who can be moved to tears by an old Victorian novel (and not just because you've already read 600 pages and there are 160 more to go - actually, by the time I'd gotten to page 600 in Bleak House, I had begun to be a little sorry that it WOULD end - that's how good it was). Bucket is a fascinating detective. I believe Agatha Christie must have modeled Poirot on him. The only characters who I felt lacked verisimilitude were Guster and Jo. Perhaps Dickens didn't spend enough time with the poor - or maybe it's just that their slang isn't our slang. But I felt they were overly pitiable and affected. I understand he was trying to prove a social point. It was still heavy handed. There are a few others who could have obligingly dropped dead/exited stage left at any point and I wouldn't have minded at all. Jo and Guster would be exempt from that sentiment. They were very central to the action. But Volumnia? Who would miss her? Still, she had her part. It is a sad fact of Sir Leicester's life that, without Lady Dedlock, this is what is left to him - these are the people who are supposed to be his social peers and friends. But that ought not to detract from the overall excellence of the book. Guppy is hilarious, Mr. Jarndyce quite lovable, Skimpole hateful. I thought it was interesting what a different take the BBC had on some of these characters. Mr. Jarndyce, for one, is a much more tragic figure in the miniseries. Richard is much less likeable on the screen as well - possibly because in this, the original book, it does seem as though he really tries to give Mr. Jarndyce's ideas a fair trial, and to find a profession, and give it his all. But it just isn't in him, and there is always Skimpole around to spoil everything, little by little, unnoticed by everyone except us, the readers of the book.The ending was also a point in its favor. I won't say much about that, since reviews are ostensibly for people who have not read the book in question. But you should certainly read this book. Don't be put off by the name. It's my favorite Dickens book by far - and I didn't expect to like any Dickens novel better than Great Expectations. More full of mystery than GE, more emotionally affecting than A Christmas Carol, the obligatory crazy French person so you won't miss A Tale of Two Cities - obviously a must for the Dickens fan. And, as I said, full of romance - a little Austenesque.
I've always avoided Dickens before, put off, I think, by those godawful BBC costume drama things. I decided to give him a real go this time after reading Nick Hornby's Polysyllablic Spree, and actually really enjoyed this. There's no point in attempting any sort of critique - what new could I possible have to say? I'll just note that I found the writing, in particular the sentence construction, an absolute delight, and will be reading more Dickens.
This is a lengthy tome, a sort of extended rant about the complications of the Victorian legal system which served only the lawyers and not the litigants. There were welcome moments of light relief - Old Mr Turveydrop, in particular, whose deportment is quite overwhelming my dear. Brilliant.
Superb. Riveting. Definitely one of the master's most underrated masterieces.
I won't write a formal review for this book, because IMO it was just way tooooooo longggg and I don't want to spend anymore of my time on it then necessary. I will say that the story was over populated with characters and need some serious editing. But since Dickens probably had it published as a serial, the longer it was the more money he got. I guess I'm still having problems with CLASSICS.
Dickens at his best. A sweeping and epic story, vivid characters, and Dickens' inimitable style. The plot is dense and features many a Deus ex Machina resolution to tie all loose ends up, but this story of how the rule of law can be misused and abused is as timely today as it was over a hundred years ago. The book also deals sensitively with extramarital sex, illegitimacy, poverty, and drug abuse. It has a mystery as it Maguffin, but the real subject is society at large. As a bonus, much of the London it describes can still be found in the Inns of Court and Lincoln Fields.
The dicken's Bleak house though seemed voluminous in the mid way through, didn't appeared so towards it's end. The wide array of characters, their coincidence and links makes it more interesting. The story is told alternately by Esther Summerson, the leading protagonist, and an omniscient narrator.The confrontation between Lady dedlock and Mr.Tulkinghorn is so vividly depicted by the author and it's becoming a real deadlock situation to the Lady dedlock (as her name suggests) quite amuses the reader.The same is true of the characters who cling to the protracted law suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce forlornly. The story grips you with mystery deaths,amusing parallel stories and gets your imagination going.
I put off reading "Bleak House" because I though it would be "bleak". It is anything but. It is fascinating, humorous, and now my favorite Dickens book.
My favourite Dickens book, I could read this over and over. It has so much depth, and fantastic memorable characters. It's both fun and dark all at the same time. Pure genius.
I would love to write a review about this book, but after traipsing and trundling and tumbling through a book so complex and so wonderful and so crazy-making as this, I don't think I am up to the task! I will then just say, as I said of "Persuasion," that classics are classics for a reason. And so it is with this.
Bleak House is Dickens¿ satire on the British legal system via the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which is generations old and mired in beuracracy. This is a very long read (850+ pages) with a large number of major and minor characters; the back cover was filled with my notes to try to keep it all straight. Many think it¿s one of his best works, for some reason for me it didn¿t resonate quite as much.Quotes:On charity:¿¿he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.¿On lawyers:¿Here, in a large house, formerly a house of state, lives Mr. Tulkinghorn. It is let off in sets of chambers now; and in those shrunken fragments of its greatness, lawyers lie like maggots in nuts.¿¿¿It won¿t do to have truth and justice on his side; he must have law and lawyers,¿ exclaims the old girl, apparently persuaded that the latter form a separate establishment, and have dissolved partnership with truth and justice for ever and a day.¿On marriage:¿My experience teaches me, Lady Dedlock, that most of the people I know would do far better to leave marriage alone. It is at the bottom of three-fourths of their troubles.¿On mothers:¿The time will come, my boy,¿ pursues the trooper, ¿when this hair of your mother¿s will be grey, and this forehead all crossed and re-crossed with wrinkles ¿ and a fine old lady she¿ll be then. Take care, while you are young, that you can think in those days, `I never whitened a hair of her dear head, I never marked a sorrowful line in her face!¿¿And:¿¿and wondering toward evening what his poor old mother is thinking about it, - a subject of infinite speculation, and rendered so by his mother having departed this life, twenty years. Some men rarely revert to their father, but seem, in the bank-books of their remembrance, to have transferred all their stock of filial affection into their mother¿s name.¿On the poor:¿It is said that the children of the very poor are not brought up, but dragged up.¿On railroads, the ¿internet¿ of the 19th century:¿Railroads shall soon traverse all this country, and with a rattle and a glare the engine and train shall shoot like a meteor over the wide night-landscape, turning the moon paler; but, as yet, such things are nonexistent in these parts, though not wholly unexpected.¿On staying up late:¿It was late before we separated: for when Ada was going at eleven o¿clock, Mr. Skimpole went to the piano, and rattled, hilariously, that the best of all ways, to lengthen our days, was to steal a few hours from Night, my dear!¿On the transience of life:¿¿Rooms get an awful look about them when they are fitted up, like these, for one person you are used to see in them, and that person is away under any shadow: let alone being God knows where.¿He is not far out. As all parts foreshadow the great final one, - so, empty rooms, bereft of a familiar presence, mournfully whisper what your room and what mine must one day be.¿On virtue:¿¿Mrs. Bagnet serves out the meal in the same way, and seasons it with the best of temper: being that rare sort of old girl that she receives Good to her arms without a hint that it might be Better; and catches light from any little spot of darkness near her.¿Lastly, this description of the Smallweed family, in a chapter I loved:¿During the whole time consumed in the slow growth of this family tree, the house of Smallweed, always early to go out and late to marry, has strengthened itself in its practical character, has discarded all amusements, discountenanced all story-books, fairy tales, fictions, and fables, and banished all levities whatsoever. Hence the gratifying fact, that it has had no child born to it, and that the complete little men and women whom it has produced, have been observed to bear a likeness to old monkeys with something depressing on their minds.¿
After a couple of failed attempts to get into Dickens, I finally found myself enjoying his writing. Bleak House was a surprise and I'm so glad I gave it a try. I found that it reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, two of my favorites. I couldn't put it down!
Bleak House is a book that has it all: murder, adultery, romance, blackmail, and a touch of the gothic. I have to admit to a bit of a tear at the end, to which my husband says "what? Crying over a book?" My response: you've got no soul. I think it would be difficult not to be moved by this book even a little. My edition also had reproductions of the original artist illustrations. I very highly recommend this one!I can't even begin to summarize because of the complexities of the plot and many subplots, but there are a number of very good analyses available on the internet should you be so inclined. The barebones outline is this: the books starts and ends with the case of Jarndyce & Jarndyce, a lawsuit which has been going on for so long that most of the principals involved have long since passed on. It has become somewhat of a joke in the court of Chancery, an institution that Dickens strongly criticizes by painting a vivid picture of the court's ineptitude, of lawyers whose sole job is to create business for themselves, and of those who find their interests tied up completely in the hands of lawyers & of the courts. Because of this lawsuit, two cousins are taken under the care of one John Jarndyce, who also brings along Esther Summerson as his ward. The story focuses on the fortunes and misfortunes of this group of people, along with several supporting characters and their stories. To go beyond this would be to give the show away, but I can say that this book's strong suit is (as is usual in a Dickens novel) the characterizations. The imagery in this novel is also a part of the story as is the commentary on existing social conditions and his critique of such things as the chancery courts, lawyers, old institutions that should have long passed out of existence, the missionary & do-gooder zeal, and the various types of dandies, fops and leeches that lived off of others.I very highly recommend this book to anyone who may be interested; it is long and it can get complicated, but it is a sterling example of the work of Charles Dickens, and should not be missed.
How can you not love Dickens? There is nothing better than curling up on a cold, rainy day with a cup of tea and a dark, exquisitely detailed Dickens novel. The plot(s) of Bleak House revolves around a never-ending court case. All the appropriate things are there - the pictures of a dark, oppressive, and grimy London, the absurd and inventive characters, and a meticulously detailed plot.
Wonderful story. WAY TOO MANY CHARACTERS. I had to keep a list simply in order to keep track of who was who! Many of the characters names were similar, which made it that much harder.
The best novel ever written, so far
Dickens is terrible with most of his female characters, but the passion of his social commentary and the glorious physical descriptions (the fog to begin the book is marvelous) are not found in many other writers. Bleak House is often frustratingly bad (Skimpole is horrible, and takes up pages and pages) but when it's good, it's great.