On Our Bookshelves:
Bleak House

NOVEL: Bleak House

AUTHOR: Charles Dickens



Not everyone is going to love a complicated Dickens novel.  Some people will just find Bleak House too long, and the pace too slow, and the plot too convoluted, and will repeat the old saw about the author being paid by the word.  Other people just can’t get past Dickens’ names and therefore can’t take seriously characters named Peepy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop.

I, however, think it best to take this book in the spirit in which it was written, and just enjoy what is outlandish in it (including a death by spontaneous human combustion).  It’s a good one to read while commuting, actually. As with most of Dickens’ novels, it was initially published in serial form, and as such, is appropriately episodic, one chapter per subway ride being a good pace, and it will last more than a month if you don’t get hooked and stay up all night to find out what happens.

If you’re at all interested in the history of the English courts, you may appreciate the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which some consider the absolute finest indictment of a legal system ever published.  If you’re interested in Victorian notions of feminine behavior, this is a fascinating look at some of the results of the overstrict standards, leading to secrecy and deception, and ultimately, tragedy.  If you’re interested in analysis of English literature, you’ll be intrigued at the way the omniscient third person narrator alternates with the voice of Esther Summerson.  And if you just love words, you may enjoy the names of Miss Flite’s 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 Spinach.

There was a rather good BBC television adaption in 2005, which is worth seeing as well.  But do read the book.  It is really good stuff.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): Four-And-A-Half Whistles




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Image: Cover Of The First Serial Published March 1852, Art By H.K. Browne


Laura LaVelle can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com