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Bleak House by Charles Dickens
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Bleak House (1853)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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11,123213409 (4.19)6 / 1422
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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Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
This is my sixth outing with Dickens, after "Oliver Twist," "A Christmas Carol," "Hard Times," "Great Expectations" and "Our Mutual Friend" (which almost shouldn't count because I rushed through it for a grad school class and consequently remember very little about it). When I was in high school, I had to read "Great Expectations" and, aside from the creepy opening with Magwich, I don't really remember liking much else about it. Dickens was too long, too verbose, and wrote about people and places in ways I found unfamiliar and disconcerting.

Which, of course, is what I like about Dickens now.

"Bleak House" is an excellent novel, and a good example of Henry James' description of the novel as a loose, baggy monster. The descriptions alone border at times on the surreal as Dickens animates the landscape: portraits, buildings, papers, even woods assume a kind of intelligence, sometimes watchful, sometimes warm and compassionate, sometimes cold and even malignant.

Dickens' real achievement, I think, is in his characters. And he has a boatload of them in here. The names--Esther Summerson, Caddy Jellyby, Prince Turveydrop, Lady Dedlock, Krook, Snagsby, Richard Carstone, John Jarndyce, the lawyers Vholes and Kenge, Harold Skimpole, Detective Bucket, just to name a few--range from the mundane to the suggestive to the outright amusing. But Dickens' genius is in the individual speech patterns and gestures he assigns to each character. These, more than the names, differentiate the characters from one another in the reader's mind and reveals as much about individual characters than even their actions. Snagsby's assortment of coughs, Bucket's wagging finger, Lady Dedlock's reserve and boredom, Esther's constant assertion of her humility (which at times gets too much but is consistent and therefore seems honest), Jarndyce's nervous assertions of the wind growing easterly--these all serve to embed the characters in our minds, transporting them off the page and into our collective unconscious. We know people like this. Read a single paragraph about Mrs. Jellyby, Caddy's mother, and her infatuation with helping the impoversished citizens of the (fictitious) African nation of Borrioboola-Gha while allowing her own children to live in squalor, and you'll recognize her instantly.

While this is a great novel, it has its flaws. Some plot points are too conveniently tied up offstage and later related by a character (Bucket does this at least once or twice too much). And some readers grow annoyed with Esther Summerson's narration (see above). But these are relatively minor quibbles. If you want to lose yourself in a fully-imagined world peopled with characters only slightly more exaggerated than those you find in real life, this is the Dickens for you. ( )
1 vote ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
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 | Apr 27, 2020 |
hb
  5083mitzi | Apr 25, 2020 |
There are many curses that people place upon themselves and their descendants, some are the rest of their actions and others by their indecisions complicated by bureaucratic failures then sometimes it’s both. Charles Dickens shows the effects of both in his 1853 novel Bleak House not only on his main characters but also on secondary characters who are just unlucky to interaction with the afflicted persons.

Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife Honoria live on his estate at Chesney Wold. Unknown to Sir Leicester, before she married, Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, and had a daughter by him. Lady Dedlock believes her daughter is dead. The daughter, Esther Summerson, is in fact alive and is raised by Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock's sister, who does not acknowledge their relationship. After Miss Barbary dies, John Jarndyce becomes Esther's guardian and assigns the Chancery lawyer "Conversation" Kenge to take charge of her future. After attending school for six years, Esther moves in with him at Bleak House. Jarndyce simultaneously assumes custody of two other wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare (who are both his and one another's distant cousins). They are beneficiaries in one of the wills at issue in Jarndyce and Jarndyce; their guardian is a beneficiary under another will, and the two wills conflict. Richard and Ada soon fall in love, but though Mr. Jarndyce does not oppose the match, he stipulates that Richard must first choose a profession. Richard first tries a career in medicine, and Esther meets Allan Woodcourt, a physician, at the house of Richard's tutor. When Richard mentions the prospect of gaining from the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Jarndyce beseeches him never to put faith in what he calls ‘the family curse’. Richard disregards this advice and his subsequent career endeavors fails as a result of his growing obsession while his personal relationship with Jarndyce deteriorates. Lady Dedlock is also a beneficiary under one of the wills and while looking at an affidavit by the family solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, she recognizes the handwriting on the copy and almost faints, which Tulkinghorn notices and investigates. He traces the copyist, a pauper known only as "Nemo", in London. Nemo has recently died, and the only person to identify him is a street-sweeper, a poor homeless boy named Jo, who lives in a particularly grim and poverty-stricken part of the city known as Tom-All-Alone's. Lady Dedlock investigates while disguised as her maid, Mademoiselle Hortense. Lady Dedlock pays Jo to take her to Nemo's grave. Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is concerned Lady Dedlock's secret could threaten the interests of Sir Leicester and watches her constantly, even enlisting her maid to spy on her. He also enlists Inspector Bucket to run Jo out of town, to eliminate any loose ends that might connect Nemo to the Dedlocks. Esther and Lady Dedlock see each other at church and talks at Chesney Wold without recognizing their connection. Later, Lady Dedlock does discover that Esther is her child. However, Esther has become sick (possibly with smallpox, since it severely disfigures her) after nursing the homeless boy Jo. Lady Dedlock waits until Esther has recovered before telling her the truth. Though Esther and Lady Dedlock are happy to be reunited, Lady Dedlock tells Esther they must never acknowledge their connection again. Meanwhile Richard and Ada have secretly married, and Ada is pregnant. Esther has her own romance when Woodcourt returns to England, having survived a shipwreck, and continues to seek her company despite her disfigurement. Unfortunately, Esther has already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce, who sees Woodcourt is a better match for her and sets not only Woodcourt with good professional prospects and sets the two of them up for an engagement. Hortense and Tulkinghorn discover the truth about Lady Dedlock's past. After a confrontation with Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock flees her home, leaving a note apologizing for her conduct. Tulkinghorn dismisses Hortense, who is no longer of any use to him. Feeling abandoned and betrayed, Hortense kills Tulkinghorn and seeks to frame Lady Dedlock for his murder. Sir Leicester, discovering his lawyer's death and his wife's flight, suffers a catastrophic stroke, but he manages to communicate that he forgives his wife and wants her to return. Inspector Bucket, who has previously investigated several matters related to Jarndyce and Jarndyce, accepts Sir Leicester's commission to find first Tulkinghorn’s murderer and then Lady Dedlock. He quickly arrests Hortense but fails to find Lady Dedlock before she dies of exposure at the cemetery of her former lover, Captain Hawdon. A new will is found for Jarndyce and Jarndyce that benefits Richard and Ada, but the costs of litigation have entirely consumed the estate bring the case to an end. Richard collapses and Woodcourt diagnoses him as being in the last stages of tuberculosis and he dies before the birth of his namesake son. John Jarndyce takes in Ada and her child, a boy whom she names Richard. Esther and Woodcourt marry and live in a Yorkshire house which Jarndyce gives to them. The couple later raise two daughters.

The above synopsis only covers the main plot, but expertly woven throughout are two subplots surrounding Caddy Jellyby and Mr. George Rouncewell who interact with the main characters at various times throughout the novel. Dickens masterfully crafts the cast of characters and the plot in an engaging and intriguing serious of plots that make the book a complete whole thus showing why his work is considered among the greatest of literature. Yet Dickens is also a bit too wordy resulting in scenes taking longer than they should and making some readers like myself, to start skimming through places in the later half of the book when a character that likes to spout off begins having a soliloquy of some indeterminable length at the expense of missing something connected to the slowly culminating climax.

Bleak House turns out to show Charles Dickens at his best as well as showing off what might be his one little flaw. The interesting characters and multilayered narrative keep the reader engaged throughout the book even as they must sometimes endure Dickens wordiness that might drown them in unnecessary prose. Though over 900 pages, a reader should not feel intimidated given that many Dickens books are an extraordinary length and the reader keeps on being engaged throughout their reading experience so that length does not matter. ( )
  mattries37315 | Apr 22, 2020 |
"Bleak House is a quintessential Victorian text, but it is also probably the best steam­punk landscape that will ever be. Dickens really nailed it, especially in those proto-Ballardian passages in which everything in nature has been damaged by heavy industry. But there were relatively few voices like Dickens then. Most people thought the progress of industry was all very exciting. Only a few were saying, Hang on, we think the birds are dying."

...William Gibson ( http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6089/the-art-of-fiction-no-211-william-...) ( )
1 vote R.Klein-Rogge | Dec 4, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (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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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

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