Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Brief-ish Bleak House Review

*** Warning: Plot spoilers possibly ahead. ***

I just finished reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens on Monday. I feel like I've run a marathon. The last few days of my read it was all I could do to wait until kids where in bed or get dinner ready. I found a very enjoyable read. It took a few chapters to get into it and to be completely honest, there were parts I skimmed really fast.

Charles Dickens started his novel writing with Pickwick Papers which was a comedy. This was followed by Oliver Twist, a novel more about politics and social reforms. Bleak House follows the trend of the later and pokes fun at the government system of the Chancery Courts. The difficulty in reading this novel is the mass of characters. In you are introduced to a new character, the next chapter follows this new character to new circumstances where you meet another new character. This happens again and again. Finally, in the last third of the book do these circles become completed.

The character of Esther is an interesting one. Esther is an angel. She has a few struggles with pride, mostly relating to her disfigurement after her illness but other than that she has perfect perspective and is the kindest and gentlest of people. She is the person many strive to be like and have nearby.

Esther is juxtaposed by Richard who in his selfishness, paints everything as for everyone else, especially Ada, but by his actions and obsession with Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, he ignores the pleas of all those that really care for him including those of Ada, his fiance and finally wife. Richard is by all accounts a lazy young man born of the upper class. When he asked what he wishes for his profession, he has no answer. He wants to try everything out and when he finally settles on one thing gives it a meager try and then moves on to something else with no thought to the effort and sacrifices made on his behalf to acquire each position. In the end his obsession with Jarndyce v. Jarndyce proves his undoing and prevents him from enjoying life with Ada and their family.

Ada isn't really a pivotal character. She is a place keeper and gives purpose to Esther's existence. She is a tool to create the first tensions between Mr. Jarndyce and Richard that eventually becomes the wedge that drives them apart over Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The only place we really see any character at all is when she declares to Esther that she has married Richard and will not be going back to Bleak House with her. She is simply a place keeper for those around her.

As far as the plot goes, it was pretty easy to figure out most of the twist and turns. I will admit that a few things caught me by surprise but not unpleasantly, most notably, the relationship between Mr. George and Mrs. Rouncewell. The writing was what made it interesting. Dicken has a way with words, sometimes too many words, but he expresses well the importance of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce to Richard, the cool elegance of Lady Dedlock, the craziness of Miss Flite, and other such things. He weaves such a tale that at first I had little hope of it being resolved in any good way. I began to expect a true tragedy, but eventually all comes full circle and ends well for those we care about.

I really enjoyed this book. It just cements my love for the British Literature of this period. Though there is a little bit of political commentary the plot isn't bogged down by it. The story still flows while the reader feels the contempt Dickens had for the court system. You come to love the characters and hope for their well-being. It isn't unrealistic in its outcomes either. Some characters end well and others don't, some received the very best of what they wished and others only find comfort in their misfortunes. To say the least, it was an interesting and enjoyable read.

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