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Shivering in unheated gaslit quarters Mrs Winklebottom, my plump and inquisitive landlady, treats the heat as very dear, and my radiator, which clanks and hisses like the chained ghost of a boa constrictor when it is active, had not yet commenced this stern and snowy morning , I threw down the volume I had been endeavoring to study certainly I am not clever, neither am I intrepid nor duly digligent, as after several pages I found the cramped and tiny print an intolerable strain on my strabismic eyes Straightening my bonnet, I passed outdoors into the frigid, sooty streets, where shoppers bustled by in a frenzy, now rushing into the 99 cent store, bedecked with PVC Santa Claus banners, now into Nelson s Xmas Shoppe, in search of glistening ornaments Bowing my head perversely against busy crowds and fierce wind, I stepped into a subway, which conveyed me to a winding street down which I hurried until I reached a peculiar establishment, the shingle for which had been battered by the strain of city winters, by pollution, and no doubt by the small mischievious hands of vandals, who had modified the sign with their colorful signatures and illustrations, but upon which could still be read with some effort Amperthump Hagglestern, Booksellers.I entered to a sound of tinkling bells affixed to the heavy door, the hinges of which creaked as I propelled myself through its narrow passage Proceeding forward, I heard a sullen voice squeak, Check yer bag, miss and glanced up to see an urchin, nearly lost amidst piles of remaindered volumes, beckoning with one grubby hand while clutching a wrinkled comic in the other I refused, smiling gently, and passed into the densely cluttered shop, where I was intercepted by Mr Amperthump, the proprietor, a gentleman of about three and forty, whose thick rimmed spectacles and corpulent physique recall two of a tragic trinity of dead singers, who upon seeing me took my cold hands in his ink stained ones and kissed them How can I assist, my dear he boomed so loudly that a little one eyed spaniel started from its slumber, and the urchins shelving books glared up at their master with undisguised annoyance.Drawing out my small copy of Bleak House, which I had obtained from the Queens Public Library supported, to wonderous effect, by the subsciption of tax dollars, and no doubt supplemented by charitable impulses of certain gentleladies and endeavored to explain, as simply as I could, that I desired an edition of the same narrative writ larger and inmercifully legible print However Mr Amperthump appeared distressed and could not remain silent long, flinging my book away NO he cried You are too young and pretty at this I blushed and tried to protest, for I am not pretty, in fact I am plain to be reading this antiquated rot Here, instead, is the latest experimental fiction from Rajistan D McGingerloop At this he placed in my hands a queer volume, unlike any I had seen before Throughout his controversial career McGingerloop has exploded one by one conventions of the novel in this latest work he has done away with pages And indeed, when I examined the book I discovered he was quite right, and that the book I held was a brick of paper, and could not be opened, having as he indicated, no pages at all I thanked Mr Amperthump for his solicitude, at which point he pressed that I try Petunia al Gonzalez Mjobebe s story of a love affair between an Iranian transexual and a Chinese android, a meditation, Mr Amperthump assured me, on globalization and identity, but also, he said, a suspenseful legal thriller in its own right, albeit one subverting the conventions of that genre quite, he added, subversively Finally I was given to understand that in addition to Mr Amperthump s conviction that I should not be reading Dickens, he had none in stock, and finally I gave my thanks for all his kindness and passed out again into the filthy snow and gloom. Bleak House Opens In The Twilight Of Foggy London, Where Fog Grips The City Most Densely In The Court Of Chancery The Obscure Case Of Jarndyce And Jarndyce, In Which An Inheritance Is Gradually Devoured By Legal Costs, The Romance Of Esther Summerson And The Secrets Of Her Origin, The Sleuthing Of Detective Inspector Bucket And The Fate Of Jo The Crossing Sweeper, These Are Some Of The Lives Dickens Invokes To Portray London Society, Rich And Poor, As No Other Novelist Has Done Bleak House, In Its Atmosphere, Symbolism And Magnificent Bleak Comedy, Is Often Regarded As The Best Of Dickens A Great Victorian Novel , It Is So Inventive In Its Competing Plots And Styles That It Eludes Interpretation Okay, so this is the 1853 version of The Wire But with less gay sex And no swearing And very few mentions of drugs And only one black person, I think, maybe not even one And of course it s in London, not Balti But other than that, it s the same.Pound for pound, this is Dickens best novel, and of course, that is saying a great deal I ve nearly read all of them so you may take my word Have I ever written a review which was anything less than 101% reliable, honest and straightforward Well, there you are then.Bleak House gives some people a leetle problem insofar as you have half of it narrated by Esther Goody Three Shoes, too good for just two Summerson, who you ache to have a few bad things happen to, because she trills, she sings, she sees the best in everyone, tra la la, tweedly dee dee This does get on some people s nerves But I downloaded a dvd called Dickens Girls Gone Wild last week and let me tell you there s a whole other side to Esther Summerson given the right surroundings I think it was Malta, and the sangria was flowing she could be good company However Bleak House as a whole does nothan take it upon itself to explain how society works And it s utterly gobsmacking There are a lot of words in Bleak House s 890 pages but gobsmacking is not one of them It s a word that was invented to describe Dickens novels. Is a lawsuit justice, when it goes on and on.and on, seemingly in perpetuity In Bleak House located in the countryside outside of London, that is the center of the story, years pass too many to count, the lawyers are happy the employed judges likewise the litigants not money is sucked dry from their bodieslike vampires whose fangs are biting hard, the flesh weakens and the victims blood flows , cash evaporates and soon nothing is left but the corpses the gorged lawyers are full until the next too trusting suckers walk by In the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce the quite unimportant truth be told, little known except to thoseinvolved in the Court of Chancery, notorious well renowned for its slow pace ZZZ The court clerks, audiences or should I say spectators, and even the attorneys are amused, laughter frequently heard, not a surprise this British institution no longer exists Esther Summerson is a typical orphan in another Charles Dickens book raised by a cold woman, and others previously of the same type that calls herself the child s godmother, Miss Barbary, with a mysterious background too somehow connected to the young girl but how Often telling the unloved Esther it would have been better for all , if she had never lived Nevertheless this enigma which the few people in contact with Summerson, maybe that name is really hers , none will discuss with the teenager The unfriendly lady keeps the puzzle a puzzle, from the past she won t reveal who the Miss is, the old woman Barbary can keep a dark secret Sent to a girls boarding school later, Esther bills are paid by an extraordinary kindly gentleman John Jarndyce, yes the man unwillingly entangled in the detestable lawsuit like many others started by his uncle, ironically deceased still he inherited the case Soon the courts give custody to him his two distant cousins, orphans, there are many in Victorian England, set circa the 1830 s before the railroads made travel easy Richard Carstone an amiable but lazy boy and the beautiful loyal Ada Clare, they are also distant relatives Bleak House Mr Jarndyce home is not empty any , to this rather gloomy place arrives another ward of the court Esther, their guardian is the bright spot, strangely she has somehow a relationship to the suit also The three become quick friends all around 17 Richard and Ada fall in love, Esther is their best friend Sir Leicester Dedlock, the arrogant Baronet get the symbolism is a party in the suit, his haughty wife Honoria, pretty and intimidating but there is something not quite clear there The family lawyer Mr Tulkinghorn, has unseen power over the proud aristocrats, he is a very capable man yet somewhat soft spoken and very quiet for his noisy professionbut what is it And the Inspector Mr Bucket of the London police he never seems to sleep hovering over everyone, especially the notorious underworld criminals ofthe entire city, solving crimesOne of Dickens best novels and I ve read ten so far..The opening scene a description of London s famous bad weather is priceless, nobody could have done it better Bleak House How can it be over I hold this incredible book in my hand and can t believe I have finished it The 965 page, 2 inch thick, tiny typed tome may seem a bit intimidating Relax, you can read it in a day that is, if you read one page per minute for 16 hours And you might just find yourself doing that Bleak House is Twilight Zone thanMasterpiece Theatre However there is enough spirit of both to satisfy everyone And indeed it should it has it all unforgettable characters, intrigue, plot within plot, ruined love, enormous themes, complications, and description and what description it goes so far, a lesser writer would be lost forever trying to find their way back Above all, it has that brilliant, constant satirical voice of Dickens That is the thing lost in TV, film and radio adaptations of his work One merely gets a hint of it in the best of these.The plot, the characters, the very fog that we encounter in the introduction, are all connected to one main thread a lawsuit, the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case It involves an inheritance with several wills, and it cannot be decided which one is legitimate The case is before the Courts of Chancery and has dragged on for generations Someone stands to gain a lot of money and property, but the long entanglement of the law has made it a curse While greed and madness consume certain characters sometimes literally , there are also those who know how pointless and destructive it is to live under such hopeBleak Houseis another reminder what an important influence Dickens was on Dostoyevsky, who understood his power very wellBleak Houseis alternatively narrated by the orphan Esther Summerson, and an omniscient third person Dickens s sophisticated juggling of narrative invents a style that really can t be defined, just like the novel itself Is it a thriller, a romance, magic realism, a murder mystery Yes and no Is it a treatise on poverty, domestic violence, false charity, obsession Again, yes and no All is mixed into the fog along with that forty foot long Megalosaurus that Dickens summons in the opening paragraph and emerges as one of the best novels ever written. 19 ,, , , , ,,, ,, , , , , , , , , ,, , ,, , ,, ,, , , , ,, , , ,, ,. Nomen Est Omen, in the world according to Dickens But don t take it literally, especially not when reading the title of Bleak House For Dickens also requires you to read between the lines, and letters, just like in an acrostic poem BLEAK HOUSELovely charactersElegant proseAgonising cliffhangersKnowledgeable descriptionsHumorous plotOutrageous social conditionsUnusual dual narrativeSuits in ChanceryEverlasting favouriteYes, Christmas is approaching, it s Dickens time I spent it in Chancery this year And what can I say Bravo Dickens No, I stole that Thackeray phrase for David Copperfield last year already Bravissimo, you fulfilled every single one of my great expectations, as did Great Expectations Yes, I will just say a simple Thank you, Sir I have spent delightful hours in the company of good and bad, funny and passionate, silly and intelligent characters, brought to life in inimitable prose Where else can I laugh and cry and bite my nails at the same time, while bowing to the elegance of the sentences that follow each other like pearls on one of Lady Dedlock sexpensive necklaces Where else can I hate and feel compassion, and wonder at the immense difference between my contemporary world and the London society of Dickens times, and yet recognise it anyway, for being almost identical For could not Dickens short comment on the state of British politics have been heading a newspaper article in 2016, just as well England has been in a dreadful state for some weeks Lord Coodle would go out, Sir Thomas Doodle wouldn t come in, and there being nobody in Great Britain to speak of except Coodle and Doodle, there has been no Government Following my reading itinerary, from start to finish, I realise how much I grew to love the many characters, all different, but equally at home in the Bleak House chocolate box, some nutty, some sweet, some rather plain, others exotic In the end, they all lived up to my expectations, from the very first encounter with the complicated lawsuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which gives the novel its unique flavour In which I would say every difficulty, every contingency, every masterly fiction, every form of procedure known in that court, is represented over and over again And what a range of characters I met, circling around the two stable elements of Mr John Jarndyce and Miss Esther Summerson, a young woman who shares the narration of the story with an omniscient voice, so that the narrative is swapping back and forth between her personal experience and impersonal overarching description.Some characters, like Skimpole, get away with sponging ruthlessly on others because of their presumed innocence All he asked of society was, to let him live That wasn t much His wants were few Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol board, and a little claret, and he asked noIt is not as innocent as that of course, as the story will tell Many characters have reason to be frustrated, and Bleak House inspired me to rename my workroom as well, in honour of John Jarndyce s favourite place This, you must know, is the Growlery, When I am out of humour I come and growl here The Growlery is the best used room in the house There is no one like Dickens to introduce the reader to a love story in the making, simply by changing the tone used to add a small piece of information at the end of a long chapter on something completely unrelated I have forgotten to mention at least I have not mentioned that Mr Woodcourt was the same dark young surgeon whom we had met at Mr Badger s Or, that Mr Jarndyce invited him to dinner that day Or, that he came Another favourite feature in Dickens novels is the punny sense of humour that appears over and over again, and shows off both his talent for and his pleasure at playing with words for their own sake, as well as his mastery when it comes to giving all his characters their own stage time, beautifully shown in the following short lesson in mental geometry and verbal comedy But I trusted to things coming round That very popular trust in flat things coming round Not in their being beaten round, or worked round, but in their coming round As though a lunatic should trust in the world s coming triangular I had confident expectations that things would come round and be all square , says Mr Jobling Sociologists must love Dickens too There isthan just a little irony in the sermon that Mrs Snagsby takes to be literal truth, directly applicable to her faulty perception of reality What a comedy show A victim of her own imagination and jealousy, Mrs Snagsby interprets preacher Chadband s words as a revelation of her husband s infidelity, which leads to her total collapse during a sermon, completely inexplicable to the rest of the assembled community Finally,becoming cataleptic, she has to be carried up the staircase like a grand piano Meanwhile, Mr Snagsby, trampled and crushed in the pianoforte removal , hides in the drawing room What a marriage The linguistic pleasure of reading Dickens should not be underestimated either His vocabulary is diverse, rich, and sophisticated, but he does not shy away from repeating the same word over and over again, if he thinks it has a comical effect and suits the story line He was clearly on a mission to ridicule the habit of having missions, when he introduced a whole society of different do gooders who were absorbed in their own commitments and oblivious of the existence of anything outside their narrow field of vision One other singularity was, that nobody with a mission except Mr Quale, whose mission, I think I have formerly said, was to be in ecstasies with everybody s mission cared at all for anybody s mission As always, Dickens has a special place in his heart for his minor characters, and fills them with so much intensity that they could easily lead the whole plot A favourite example is the Bagnet marriage Mr Bagnet, knowing that his wife is a better judge of situations than he is himself, and worththan her weight in gold, has a habit of letting her express his ideas whenever he is consulted about anything, for it is important to him that the appearance of marital authority is maintained Old girl , murmurs Mr Bagnet, give him another bit of my mind And then there is sweet, crazy Ms Flite, who sums up the tragedy of her family in a few lines of incredible suggestive power, showing the effect of long law suits on the dynamics of generations of people living in suspense and frustration First, our father was drawn slowly Home was drawn with him In a few years, he was a fierce, sour, angry bankrupt, without a kind word or kind look for anyone He was drawn to debtor s prison There he died Then our brother was drawn swiftly to drunkenness And rags And death Then my sister was drawn Hush Never ask to what Ms Flite herself is also completely guided by Jarndyce and Jarndyce in every aspect of her life She follows the suit in Chancery almost like a contemporary woman would watch the interminable episodes of EastEnders, always expecting a judgment , despite knowing that the ultimate purpose of the show is to keep the actors and producers busy, and the spectators in excitement She cries when the show finally wraps up and she sets free her birds, named after the passions that constituted the essence of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.That s it for now No wait, there isDickens is also a master of special effects, almost cinematic in nature Everybody starts For a gun is fired nearby Good gracious, what s that cries Volumnia, with her little withered scream A rat, says My Lady And they have shot him Enter Mr Tulkinghorn, And this shot turns out to be one of foreboding, for nothing happens without purpose and connection in Dickens world, and the story turns into a murder mystery The man whose specialty was using secrets to control others finds his end with a bullet in his cold heart What a good thing that Hercule Poirot has a worthy predecessor in Mr Bucket, who has the immeasurable advantage of being married to Miss Marple.That s it, now, finally No I can t leave Dickens to tie up loose ends and make his surviving characters lead the lives they deserve, without mentioning the little boy who broke my heart Jo is brought in He is not one of Mrs Pardiggle s Tockahoopo Indians he is not one of Mrs Jellyby s lambs, being wholly unconnected with Boorioboola Gha he is the ordinary home made article Dirty, ugly, disagreeable to all the senses, only in soul a heathen The description of how that illiterate, starving child s heart stopped beating is one of the most touching moments in the whole story, along with the haughty, elegant Sir Leicester s love and anxiety over his disappeared wife In Dickens world, pity is to be found in very different places That all Nope But I will be quiet now anyway Just stealing a phrase from Oliver Twist, and applying it to Dickens novels rather than food Please, Sir, I want some Reading Bleak House has had a redeeming effect for me Before this marvel took place Dickens evoked for me either depressing black and white films in a small and boxy TV watched during oppressive times, or reading what seemed endless pages in a still largely incomprehensible language Dickens meant then a pain on both counts.In this GR group read I have enjoyed Bleak House tremendously.In the group discussion many issues have been brought up by the members First and foremost the critique on the social aspects has been put on the tray, but also the treatment of women and or children, the critique of the Empire and of the Legal profession and institutions, the interplay between the two narrators, he humour, the richness in literary and historical references, the musings on ethics, etc All this makes for a very rich analysis.For me this book is certainly a reread And apart from all the aspects above, what have struck me most, because it has surprised me, were the very rich plot and the way it was constructed That is why, if I read Bleak House again, I will do so while drawing a diagram that, similarly to those charting engineering processes, would plot the plot.Using an Excel sheet as my basis, the graph I have in mind would be a two dimensional chart, with the X or horizontal axis extending up to the 67 chapters of the book, while on the vertical or Y axis I would mark out three different bands These bands would correspond to what I see as the main threads of the story I am thinking of 1 The Chancery, with all the Legal aspects In this story line belong the Court itself, and the legal offices such as Kenge and Carboy and Mr Tulkinghorn s The characters related to these legal aspects would belong to this band 2 Esther, with her upbringing and Godmother And here belong major characters such as John Jarndyce and the two Wards, Ada and Richard.3 Chesney Wold, with the Dedlocks, Mrs Rouncewell and Rosa, etc.Each chapter would be plotted according to its number and to the story band to which it belongs, and so it would be drawn as a square To each chapter square I would give one of two colors, depending on who is narrating it When Esther is telling the story I would color the square pink, and when it is the Narrator, it would be blue For the early chapters, Band 2 would be mostly pink, while the other two would be mostly blue but as the novel advanced, I think the pink would begin to invade other band stories and vice versa.In each chapter square I would include little cells, each one corresponding to one character as they first appear in the story As the chapters advanced and the characters reappeared, I would draw connecting lines for those reappearing cells which would trace clearly how those character cells started to move from story band to story band.I wish I could draw the graph I have in mind in HTML format for this GR box But to give you an idea, I think it would look like a combination of the following graphs and this Then I would also mark when some episodes or stories within the stories, were presented To these I would give the shape of a sort of elongated bubble or ellipse and they would be superposed on the chapter boxes, since they would not quite belong, nor not belong, to the three story lines above In this ellipse category I place the episodes involving the Jellybys, the Badgers, the Turveydrops, etc.Some of the characters, even if they first appear in the context of one of the bands, eventually move from one story to another a great deal In the end they do not really belong to any one of them in particular These characters I conceive as major connectors in the plot I would then mark them with bold big dots linked by lines and would eventually look like a connecting grid I call these the Connexions, and Jo, Mr Guppy, Mr Smallweed, amongst others, belong to this category Mr Guppy, one of my favourite characters, has a major connexion function although he is succeeded in his ability to precipitate the plot by the most determinant of the connecters, Mr Bucket As The Detective, his role is precisely that of connecting everything and thereby reach or propitiate the conclusion There is another group of characters who have a lighter connexion function, because they do not really advance the plot, but help in pulling it together and make itcohesive To this class I place Miss Flint and may be Charlotte Charley Neckett As we draw further to the right of the X axis, the connecting lines linking the pivotal characters become increasingly busy and tangled as they extend overandboxes The connecting nodes would become something like By the end, as we approach the final chapters, all the story bands would have conflated into Esther, and the graph would become something like this one in which the central heart stands for the All Loving Esther.And Charles Dickens planned all this without a Computer. Which house in Charles Dickens s novel is Bleak House It surely cannot be the house which bears its name a large airy house, which we first visit in the company of the young wards of Jarndyce, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, and their companion Esther Ironically, this Bleak House is anything but bleak It is a pleasant place of light and laughter Mr Jarndyce imprints his positive outlook on life, never allowing the lawsuit to have any negative influence Indeed, when he first took on the house from a relative, Tom Jarndyce, he says,the place had become dilapidated, the wing whistled through the cracked walls, the rain fell through the broken roof, the weeds choked the passage to the rotting door When I brought what remained of him home here, the brains seemed to me to have been blown out of the house too it was so shattered and ruined Neither can it be another house, which is to bear its name far later in the novel So does the title perhaps refer toTom All Alone s , originally owned by Tom Jarndyce, but now a decrepit edifice inhabited by poor unfortunates who have nowhere else to go, sleeping crammed on top of each other Tom All Alone s certainly represents the worst of society s injustices Or could it be the immensely grand, laybrinthine mansion,Chesney Wold , owned by Lord and Lady Dedlock That is a magnificent abode, complete with its ominously suggestiveGhost Walkmuch admired, much respected, but devoid of happiness It embodies a bleakness of spirit those living in it live a lie, and mourn the past Or is itlikely to be one of the smaller neglected dwellings, such as that of Krook the rag and bone merchant, whose house is packed to the brim with junk and paper or his neighbour, the mad Miss Flite, herself once a ward of Jarndyce, now reduced to living with her caged birds,Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and SpinachOr the house inhabited by Mrs Jellyby yet another neglected house near to falling down, as she furthers her missionary zeal, leaving her daughter Caddy to cope as best she can with the crumbling household Her self righteous friend Mrs Pardiggle s house, is also a candidate,The room, which was strewn with papers and nearly filled by a great writing table covered with similar litter, was, I must say, not only very untidy but very dirty We were obliged to take notice of that with our sense of sight, even while, with our sense of hearing, we followed the poor child who had tumbled downstairs I think into the back kitchen, where somebody seemed to stifle him And the hovel lived in by Jenny and her brickmaker husband, is surely a contender that meagre hut visited with an ostentatious show of charity by the abominable Mrs Pardiggle with herrapacious benevolence if I may use the expressionThere is no shortage of candidates for a Bleak House in this behemoth novel but it is by far from clear which house is meant Dickens has given us a surprisingly short title, but it is as well disguised as the sixty two word long title for the novel we now call,The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewitor even simply,Martin Chuzzlewitin which throughout the novel we think it is called after one character, but on consideration, it islikely to be about another Dickens loved his mysteries, and this is his greatest completed mystery novel Even the characters are in disguise One has called himselfNemono one and another has taken great pains to obfuscate her history yet another has never known his own name In some cases the disguise is not by intention one of the main characters genuinely does not know who she actually is, and thinks she is someone else.But before this review becomes as baffling as some of the nascent strands in this novel never fear, with Dickens everything is tied up nicely by the end , perhaps I should set the scene properly.Bleak House was Charles Dickens s ninth novel, written when he was between 40 and 41 years of age Whilst writing it Dickens s wife Kate gave birth to their tenth child, Edward, orPlornA few months later Dickens himself went on tour throughout England with his amateur acting troupe He then became seriously ill with a recurrence of a childhood kidney complaint, and was bedridden for six days, but still had 17 chapters to write He went to Boulogne, France to recover, and celebrated finishing Bleak House by holding a banquet in Boulogne, for his publishers Bradbury and Evans, his close friend, the writer Wilkie Collins, and several others.Each part of the serial was illustrated by his favourite illustrator and great friend Hablot Knight Brown, orPhiz , with remarkable skill His illustrations take great care to convey the dark brooding mood of the novel, or the quirkiness of the characters They even cleverly manage to convey the novel s theme of disguise Esther s face, for instance, is rarely shown She is usually turned away from the viewer s eye This novel is often considered Dickens s finest work although it is not by any means his most popular His working title for Bleak House was actuallyTom All Alone s , which seems to indicate that of all the many themes in this book, the paramount one in his mind was his hatred of the London slums Dickens loathed both the despicable conditions there, and the governmental practices which allowed them to exist He tirelessly campaigned for their improvement But the action itself is intended to illustrate the evils caused by long, drawn out suits in the Courts of Chancery Much of it was based on fact, as Dickens had observed the inner workings of the courts as a reporter in his youth In Bleak House he observes bitterly,The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble This, then, is the crux of the story, but it is wrapped in a magnificently complex tale of mystery and intrigue In fact there are about five major stories all interwoven in Bleak House, and it would be difficult to say which the main story is Each is connected to the case of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, and the destructive ramifications of two conflicting and contesting wills echo down the generations, and across all strata of society It is a breathtaking accomplishment to plot, develop and tell such a complex story in such a riveting way For it has to be borne in mind that this, like his preceding novels, was only accessible to Dickens s readers in small chunks of three or four chapters at a time, once a month, stretched over a year and a half March 1852 to September 1853 Yet his readers were gripped, entranced, demanding able to remember the myriads of characters from one episode to the next Perhaps this is why Dickens gave his characters such memorable tags Jo, the crossing sweeper, whodon t know nothink , subject to grinding poverty and ignorance, forever beingmoved onthe languidMy LadyDedlock, fashionably fatigued, forever full of ennui andbored with life, bored with myself , Miss Flite, whoexpects a judgment shortly , John Jarndyce, to be avoided ifthe wind is in the eastand he is in hisgrowlery , Harold Skimpole, protesting he isbut a childin matters of money The Smallweeds are a grotesque family of caricatures The miserly money lender Grandfather Smallweed is a very old man confined to a chair, where he is probably sitting on a large sum of money His wife is living in fear of him, and permanently panicked by any mention of money She starts up and talks nonsense until Grandfather Smallweed throws his cushion at her, silencing her but reducing himself to a bundle of clothes, whereupon we get his catchphrase,Shake me up, JudyThere is the lawyer Tulkinghorn the man of secrets,a great reservoir of confidences , or the lesser lawyer Vholes, theevil geniusThere are many short quips such as these, carefully planted by Dickens, to jog our memories should we need them.Perhaps the easiest story to follow is that of Esther Summerson, a nobody whosemother was her disgraceShe was a poor child, with a sense of being guilty for having been born, feeling that her birthdaywas the most melancholy in the whole yearShe was offered an education and a home by the benefactor John Jarndyce Dickens invites us to view her story as key, by alterating passages of the novel, making some chapters by an omisicient narrator, and some by Esther Unfortunately for a modern audience, we quickly lose sympathy with Esther, who seems to protest her gaucheness and ineptitude rather too much Perhaps after all it is telling that she is Dickens s only female narrator.In the narrative she makes it very clear how unworthy she is, how unattractive and dull compared with her peers She also makes it abundantly clear that anyone reading her words knows that everyone in Bleak House argues with her about this, always complimenting her kindness, virtue, wisdom, hard work and her strong sense of gratitude and duty It is tempting to view this as an ironic depiction of Esther, were we not now to know that a modest, self effacing woman such as this, was what Dickens himself admired or at least professed in public to admire The character of Esther was thought to be based on Georgina Hogarth, his wife s youngest sister, who had joined his household in 1845, and was taking overandof the running of the house She was apparently a self sacrificing sort of person, who immersed herself in household duties and was dedicated to the welfare of others.Many other characters in Bleak House were also, as was so often the case, based on people Dickens knew, and sometimes they were famous with his readers too For instance Harold Skimpole, that dissembling, conniving hypocrite, lover of Art, Music, culture and everything that was fine and tasteful, was a thinly veiled portrait of Leigh Hunt, an English critic, essayist, poet, and writer, who continually sponged off his friends, Shelley and Byron Dickens himself admitted this,I suppose he is the most exact portrait that was ever painted in words It is an absolute reproduction of a real manMrs Jellyby was based on Caroline Chisholm, who had started out as an evangelical philanthropist in Sydney, Australia, and then moved to England in 1846 Over the next six years Caroline assisted 11,000 people to settle in Australia Dickens admired her greatly, and supported her schemes to assist the poor who wished to emigrate However, he was appalled by how unkempt her own children were, and by the general neglect he saw in her household, hence his portrayal of Mrs Jellyby.Another character, Laurence Boythorn, who was continually at odds with Sir Leicester Dedlock over land rights, was based on Dickens s friend, Walter Savage Landor He also was an English writer and poet critically acclaimed but not very popular His headstrong nature, hot headed temperament, and complete contempt for authority, landed him in a great deal of trouble over the years His writing was often libellous, and he was repeatedly involved in legal disputes with his neighbours And yet Landor was described as,the kindest and gentlest of menPerhaps the most poignant character is Jo the crossing sweeper He has,No father, no mother, no friends , yet is essential to the plot, and clearly has a lot of innate intelligence Perhaps Dickens took especial care with this portrayal, as according to Dickens s sixth son, Alfred, Jo was based on a small boy, a crossing sweeper outside Dickens s own house Dickens took a great interest in the lad, gave him his meals and sent him to school at night When he reached the age of seventeen, Dickens fitted him out and paid his passage to the colony of New South Wales, where he did very well, writing back to his benefactor three years later.If Jo is the character likeliest to tug at the heartstrings, Inspector Bucket may be the one to admire most the one who seems before his time, presaging much of the detective fiction we enjoy today The character of the astute Inspector Bucket, uncomfortable unless he givesSir Leicester Dedlock Baronet , his full title every time, is the first ever portrayal of a detective in English fiction, as he,stands there with his attentive face, and his hat and stick in his hands, and his hands behind him, a composed and quiet listener He is a stoutly built, steady looking, sharp eyed man in black, of about the middle agethere is nothing remarkable about him at first sight but his ghostly manner of appearing.Dickens based him on the real life Inspector Charles Frederick Field, about whom he had already written three articles inHousehold WordsLady Dedlock s maid, Mademoiselle Hortense, is one of Dickens s most powerful females a prototype of Madame Defarge inA Tale of Two Cities , full of passion, outrage, and talk of blood She was modelled on a real life Swiss lady s maid, Maria Manning, who, along with her husband were convicted of the murder of Maria s lover, Patrick O Connor, in a case which became known asThe Bermondsey HorrorAll Dickens s contemporary readers would have been familiar with the case.Amusingly, one character is named after a real person though she is not a human being at all but a cat Krook s catLady Jane , is named after Lady Jane Grey who reigned as Queen of England for a mere nine days in 1533 She was forced to abdicate, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded Although the theme of greed and corruption within the law is bitingly serious, and a passionately held belief by Dickens, and although the mysteries pile one on top of another throughout the book, Dickens provides plenty of comic characters to lighten the mood and pepper his stories As well as those mentioned, there is the twittery Volumnia Dedlock, a poor relation of Sir Leicester Dedlock, described asa young lady of sixty rouged and necklacedAnd we have the junior lawyer Mr Guppy, almost too clever for his own good, presented in a ridiculous light, although actually having a sound and loyal moral core He is one of my personal favourites There is also Mr Turveydrop, the owner of a dance academy, and amodel of deportment He was pinched in, and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bearEsther comments,As he bowed to me in that tight state, I almost believe I saw creases come into the whites of his eyesHis hardworking, dancing master sonPrincenamed after the Prince Regent is another humorous portrayal, as is Caddy Jellyby Albeit a drudge and slave for her philanthropic mother, we are first intoduced to Caddy as a comical crosspatch with inky fingers The tiny tot Peepy Jellyby is a delight, and Caddy s father too, is almost pathetically comical, finding consolation in leaning his head on walls any wall seeming to suffice We do get a slightly different view of the other characters through Esther s eyes, which makes for interesting reading Harold Skimpole, for instance is, I think, only shown within her purview But with the comic episodes it matters not whose eyes we are viewing them through we just enjoy their exuberance as a contrast to the simpering sentiments of Esther,Dame Durden , Old Woman , Little Woman , Mrs Shipton Mother Hubbard , or any of the other appellations coined by the inhabitants of Bleak House She herself is irritatingly wont to call Adamy dear , my darling , my pet , ormy love , rarely using her actual name, even in reported speech My, how tastes do change So which house do I personally think Bleak House refers to It could well be Chesney Wold, which by the end has itself become a kind of tomb for the ghosts,no flag flying now by day, no rows of lights sparkling by night with no family to come and go, no visitors to be the souls of pale cold shapes of rooms, no stir of life about it ,But given all the metaphors in the novel, I am bound to conside the title itself as a metaphor.In most of his works, Dickens imbues buildings, particuarly old houses, with their own personality Each become a character in its own right Bleak House, in my view, is a metaphor for the High Court of Chancery.So would it be too fanciful of me to suggest that the main character in this novel in the Law itself Read it and see what you think You don t need to take 18 months, as Dickens s public had to But it may be a good idea to not race through this book, if you want to follow all the mysteries Perhaps you may wish to explore the contrasting themes of antiquity and tradition represented by Sir Leicester Dedlock, set against the ever encroaching Industrial Age an age of progress, represented by the housekeeper s grandson, the iron master s son, Watt such an appropriate first name Rouncewell Or perhaps the theme of being trapped, being a prisoner, being caged calls to you There are a host of examples within Or the theme of unhappy families bad child rearing is shown time and time again in all its many guises, with equally devastating effects for rich and poor alike Nearly all the lives of these characters seem to be unfulfilled, and have been blighted by coincidences or misunderstandings They are people trapped by their circumstances You may find that you enjoy spotting the codes, or the continuing motifs of paper, birds, disguised faces, fire, and so on not to mention getting the most out of Bleak House s masterly complexity and thrilling atmosphere You may love the richness of the language and description Or you may, in the end, become addicted to the mystery element and read it strictly for the story itself There are many interwoven plots in this novel and altogether there are ten deaths as it proceeds all of them tragic in different ways, and most of them key characters One is due to a hot topic in scientific debate, so contentious that Dickens felt the need to defend it in his preface In February 1853, just over halfway through this novel, he became involved in a public controversy about the issue of view spoiler spontaneouse combustion hide spoiler Incredible blows away any other Dickens that I have read although it has been a couple of years Now, there are issues with it it FEELS long in a way that some great long books don t, which I think is due to the varying narrative stakes of the subplots Esther Summerson, though delightfully written, is perhaps the most consistently GOOD character in the history of literature you root for her but it is the rooting of a manipulated reader and the absurdity of the coincidences is just downright staggering But, it s a huge achievement on 5 fronts.1 On the line level, it s gorgeous Dickens was on a roll for 800 pages I am often guilty of skimming through landscape descriptions but not here.2 The plot should seem Byzantine, but there are confluences of subplots and A plot that are massively satisfying, the love stuff is mostly juicy and good, there is a 70 page sequence toward the end that is so suspenseful that you ll read it in 2 seconds, and it is varied enough in voice that you mostly sail along with it A lot of the criticism I ve read focuses on the alternating 1st and 3rd person I really dug that and thought it was an accomplishment 3 I think a great book needs to have at least one completely unique scene that just sears itself into memory e.g the flood sequence in the Makioka Sisters This book has it the spontaneous combustion section is as good and creepy as anything 4 The most important part for me This is even beyond Gaddis the most generous book with tertiary characters that I have EVER read 40 50 characters deep, and they are all unique, and well drawn, and quirky, and hilarious A few favorites are Detective Bucket, who is a mixture of Gene Parmesan and Marlowe the woman who loves her two ex husbandsthan her current husband Mr Chadband, a preacher who runs on train oil and the foppish Mr Turveydrop Throw in the exceptionally likable main supporting characters and it s a helluva cast.5 it s really, really, really funny Bleak House is, I think, not quite as good as East of Eden, but it slots in with it nicely It s epic, familially inclined, socially critical, has some great evil characters, and, as far as I have read, is an accomplishment beyond the rest of the author s oeuvre Recommended, if you can spare it the time and the occasional eyeroll.