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Bleak House (1853)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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11,391218416 (4.19)6 / 1435
Bleak House follows the fortunes and relationships of three characters whose fates are tied to the obscure inheritance case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which is tied up in endless litigation. While many deserving and undeserving claim the inheritance, it is ironically being devoured in legal costs.
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English (206)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (2)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (215)
Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
Dickens' 17th important work, his 9th novel, his 1st utter masterpiece. Bleak House is gorgeous, powerful, and diffuse in a way that signals we're on to the author's third act, in which the vibrant characters and internal examination he had been trialling begin to come together. Apparently, as he got to the end of this novel, Dickens was finding his life and its burdensome pile of commitments to be a little much, but perhaps it was because he was giving more than ever to his work. Lady Dedlock and Esther both provide dimensional (well, at least bordering on two-dimensions, which is something for this guy) portraits into this maudlin world. The social satire of the Jarndyce case is barbed in a different way to Dickens' anger on the treatment of the poor: it is a more tongue-in-cheek satire about the inanities of humankind. Richard and Ada aren't exactly fountains of great depth, but their actions still contribute their detail to the many facets that make up this unified whole. While I think that Dorrit and Great Expectations are also masterpieces (and I haven't yet read Our Mutual Friend), Bleak House is absolutely the most Dickensian of CD's achievements. ( )
  therebelprince | Nov 15, 2020 |
A long, rambling novel with tons of characters that pivots around a court case decades long. There's romance and humor and mysteries aplenty and I enjoyed it a great deal. I think I would have outright loved it, but it took me too long to get through it and details were long forgotten in the process. Entirely my own fault and not at all the fault of dear Charles. ( )
  electrascaife | Jul 19, 2020 |
Over the past few years I seem to have begun an accidental tradition of starting a particularly large book early in the year and taking far longer than normal to finish it. Two years ago it was [b:The Tale of Genji|7042|The Tale of Genji|Murasaki Shikibu|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1309376788s/7042.jpg|2212225], last year it was [b:War and Peace|10752432|War and Peace|Leo Tolstoy|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1299673971s/10752432.jpg|4912783]; they're both good books, they didn't take me a long time due to any failing on their part. This year's addition to my honking-great-tomes-that-take-me-a-geological-age-to-get-through-despite-being-rip-snortingly-good-yarns shelf (not a real shelf) is Bleak House.

Bleak House's length (a little over nine hundred pages in my edition) is drawn out by Dickens' dilatory approach to sentence construction. The first sentence of the novel is simply "London." That's the last time the number of words in a sentence dips below quadruple figures for quite some time. That is not to say that he wastes words. Indeed, at a few points in the novel he satirises the writing style of contemporary journalists who were paid by the word. The contrast between Dickens' writing and these sections is palpable. The journalists' writing is full of useless minutiae and detours into abortive side points, it almost creaks, being so hulking and yet so lacking in support. Sure Dickens writes with a flourish, but I never reached any of his extensive sentences honestly wishing that he'd taken a shortcut.

The story itself is impeccable. There are more plot twists than 24, a higher body count than a John Woo film, and more gritty realism than some particularly realistic grit. There is no romantic fancy allowing the "good guys" to live happily ever after and the "bad guys" to get their comeuppance. The book's main antagonist, the British legal system, even scores a quite literal last laugh.

And speaking of laughter, the further I penetrated the book the more I realised what was missing when I read [b:The Count of Monte Cristo|596370|Count of Monte Cristo|Alexandre Dumas|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1176139812s/596370.jpg|391568] a few months ago. Both works were serialised and yet Dumas clearly had no idea where he was going with his story. In Monte Cristo the plot twists pile up as means to explain cracks in the narrative architecture, moreover the characters—while excessively emotional themselves—never engendered much emotion in myself. Compare and contrast with Dickens' well scripted work, or perhaps it wasn't scripted at all which frankly makes it all the more impressive. Similarly observe his characters whose names may be over the top but who only ever behave like their realistic selves. Yet for that they made me laugh and they made me cry; I shared in their triumphs and in their grief.

To try to sing all the praises of this outstanding work would be folly, so I'll just close by saying that while I don't like to throw around words like "favourite" or "snatch", if I were forced under threat of tickling or no coffee for a week to pick a favourite book then this one might just snatch the title. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
Over the past few years I seem to have begun an accidental tradition of starting a particularly large book early in the year and taking far longer than normal to finish it. Two years ago it was [b:The Tale of Genji|7042|The Tale of Genji|Murasaki Shikibu|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1309376788s/7042.jpg|2212225], last year it was [b:War and Peace|10752432|War and Peace|Leo Tolstoy|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1299673971s/10752432.jpg|4912783]; they're both good books, they didn't take me a long time due to any failing on their part. This year's addition to my honking-great-tomes-that-take-me-a-geological-age-to-get-through-despite-being-rip-snortingly-good-yarns shelf (not a real shelf) is Bleak House.

Bleak House's length (a little over nine hundred pages in my edition) is drawn out by Dickens' dilatory approach to sentence construction. The first sentence of the novel is simply "London." That's the last time the number of words in a sentence dips below quadruple figures for quite some time. That is not to say that he wastes words. Indeed, at a few points in the novel he satirises the writing style of contemporary journalists who were paid by the word. The contrast between Dickens' writing and these sections is palpable. The journalists' writing is full of useless minutiae and detours into abortive side points, it almost creaks, being so hulking and yet so lacking in support. Sure Dickens writes with a flourish, but I never reached any of his extensive sentences honestly wishing that he'd taken a shortcut.

The story itself is impeccable. There are more plot twists than 24, a higher body count than a John Woo film, and more gritty realism than some particularly realistic grit. There is no romantic fancy allowing the "good guys" to live happily ever after and the "bad guys" to get their comeuppance. The book's main antagonist, the British legal system, even scores a quite literal last laugh.

And speaking of laughter, the further I penetrated the book the more I realised what was missing when I read [b:The Count of Monte Cristo|596370|Count of Monte Cristo|Alexandre Dumas|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1176139812s/596370.jpg|391568] a few months ago. Both works were serialised and yet Dumas clearly had no idea where he was going with his story. In Monte Cristo the plot twists pile up as means to explain cracks in the narrative architecture, moreover the characters—while excessively emotional themselves—never engendered much emotion in myself. Compare and contrast with Dickens' well scripted work, or perhaps it wasn't scripted at all which frankly makes it all the more impressive. Similarly observe his characters whose names may be over the top but who only ever behave like their realistic selves. Yet for that they made me laugh and they made me cry; I shared in their triumphs and in their grief.

To try to sing all the praises of this outstanding work would be folly, so I'll just close by saying that while I don't like to throw around words like "favourite" or "snatch", if I were forced under threat of tickling or no coffee for a week to pick a favourite book then this one might just snatch the title. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
I really enjoyed this. You might say that Dickens had two different approaches to the novel: there's the bildungsroman that focuses on a single character, told in the first person, like David Copperfield (1849-50) or Great Expectations (1860-61). Or there's the "vast sweep of London" novel, taking in numerous strands and characters, like A Tale of Two Cities (1859) or Our Mutual Friend (1864-65). Bleak House is both, alternating between sections told in the first-person past tense by Esther Summerson (Dickens's only female narrator) and those told in the third-person present by an omnipotent narrator. (Anyone who thinks Victorian novels were stodgy in their formats has clearly never actually paid attention to them. Take that, modernists!)

Each of these would be a good novel on its own. Esther is a great Dickens protagonist, Dickens bringing his usual attention to detail when it comes to the development of the self. There are some great jokes (I love the one about the kid who fell down the stairs). The other half is one of Dickens's best crafted sweep-of-London novels, I think, with so many disparate parts that all revolve around a central point even when it doesn't seem like it. There are lots of great characters: the Jellabys, Vholes (if you made the law comprehensible, men like him would be out of work!), Sir Leicester, many more.

I'd be curious to see sometime if I'm right, but I actually think you could read each of these strands as its own novel and it would work fine, a book called Esther Summerson and another called something like In Chancery or Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Dickens has done great work (well, and bad) in both of these forms, but here he's wedded them together. I think it works really well, thanks to the divergent styles. Dickens is always interested in how people are shaped by societal forces, and Bleak House gives us both a novel of a person and a novel of societal forces at once, letting Dickens explore that balance to its fullest effect. Esther wouldn't be Esther without all the machinations around Jarndyce and Jarndyce, but if her sections were told like all the others, I think she might get lost in the novel. This isn't my favorite Dickens (that's probably still Great Expectations), but it's definitely up there.
  Stevil2001 | Jun 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
Bleak House represents the author at a perfectly poised late-middle moment in his extraordinary art.
 
You have to embrace Bleak House for what it is – a rambling, confusing, verbose, over-populated, vastly improbable story which substitutes caricatures for people and is full of puns. In other words, an 800-page Dickens novel.
added by tim.taylor | editThe Millions, Janet Potter (Jan 31, 2011)
 

» Add other authors (61 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrett, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, NicolaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Browne, Hablot KnightIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chesterton, Gilbert KeithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dickson, HughNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eagleton, TerryPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eikli, RagnhildTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallagher, TeresaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holway, TatianaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, EdgarIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juva, KerstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Margolyes, MiriamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, J. HillisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nabokov, VladimirContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicholson, MilNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, NormanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sitwell, Sir OsbertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Solomon, AbrahamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zabel, MortonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
Dedicated, as a remembrance of our friendly union, to my companions in the guild of literature and art

Dedication of the 1853 edition
First words
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall.
Quotations
This world of ours 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).
His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might get on without hills, but would be done up without Dedlocks. He would on the whole admit Nature to be a good idea (a little low, perhaps, when not enclosed with a park-fence), but an idea dependent for its execution on your great county families.
Indeed, he married her for love. A whisper still goes about, that she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family that perhaps he had enough, and could dispense with any more.
He is of what is called the old school - a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young.
He must confess to two of the oldest infirmities in the world: one was, that he had no idea of time; the other, that he had no idea of money.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Bleak House follows the fortunes and relationships of three characters whose fates are tied to the obscure inheritance case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which is tied up in endless litigation. While many deserving and undeserving claim the inheritance, it is ironically being devoured in legal costs.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439726, 0141199091

Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400102642, 1400109086

Urban Romantics

An edition of this book was published by Urban Romantics.

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