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kev67
09-09-2014, 10:48 AM
I started to read Bleak House yesterday, which is some undertaking as it is nearly 1000 pages long. I found the first two chapters dense reading. The third and fourth chapters are narrated by a young woman, Esther Summerson. I was slightly surprised by this, because I had heard that Dickens only used first person narrators in two books: David Copperfield and Great Expectations. I will be interested to see if this continues. I know one or two things about Bleak House already, but I suspect it will not be predictable. A Tale of Two Cities was spoilt for me because I could tell what was going to happen from half way through. Partly because of that, I have decided not to read any more chapter notes at the back of the book. Introductions quite often give away a lot of the plot, but the notes do too. This is annoying, because I see an obsolete word, for example 'patten', with a chapter note number beside it, I then turn to the notes to check what it means, and it gives away spoilers on the plot.

Jackson Richardson
09-09-2014, 12:35 PM
No spoilers. The construction is unique as far as I know. The first person narratives in the past tense are alternated with the third person narrative in the present tense. It is some time before characters and situations in the two narratives begin to relate, and you see how they go together. It must have been very confusing for the first readers reading in instalments because they must have been three months or so in before they could see any connections.

Do plow on with it, kev. It's my favourite Dickens novel. And the plot isn't that important, unlike Two Cities. You can pm me if you like to answer any queries!

AuntShecky
09-09-2014, 03:55 PM
Continue reading this, as in many ways it is Dickens's most rewarding work. A number of years ago, PBS broadcasted a dramaticized version on "Masterpiece Theatre." Maybe you could find a DVD of it at your public library or online. Although it is an adaptation, this version might clarify some of the confusing portions of the novel.

Jackson Richardson
09-09-2014, 04:46 PM
The way I read, I don't bother about the odd word I don't understand and just keep on reading. If it's important, then the context will make it clear. That also applies to details. If you don't know what a "pattern" is, you should be able to work out from the context that it is something worn, probably footwear, and possibly worn in wet weather, and possibly typically by working class women. And if you don't, it doesn't matter.

I just don't bother with film or TV versions. The individual scenes as Dickens wrote them are so compelling: the corny and improbable plot on which he grafted them is almost irrelevant. (Technically the book is one of the earliest of detective murder novels, but who dunnit is the least interesting side of the work.)

There comes a disappointment for me in re-reading a Dickens novel about half way through when I realise no more new characters will be introduced. By the time you reach Mr Vowles and his three daughters in the Vale of Taunton, there will be nobody more.

Enjoy, kev. And I look forward to your comments.

mona amon
09-09-2014, 11:25 PM
I too like to read right through, without looking up the little things I don't understand.

I love Bleak House! It's way better than Tale of Two Cities, which, except for the Defarges doesn't really have any interesting characters. Bleak House has lots of interesting characters, lots of suspense, drama and plot (too much actually), laugh out loud passages, ironic social commentary - in short, Dickens at his best, and I can't imagine how the serial readers were able to wait a whole month for the next installment.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

Jackson Richardson
09-10-2014, 02:45 AM
Bleak House has lots of interesting characters,

And wonderfully evocative and atmospheric locations and scene setting. The opening chapter of a fog bound Lincoln's Inn, Mr Tulkinghorn's house, the rag and bone merchant's shop, Tom All Alone's, the churchyard and above all Chesney Wold.

mal4mac
09-10-2014, 03:58 AM
I agree so much with what is being said in this thread :) Bleak House is one of my favourite novels by Dickens, and that fog-bound opening scene is perhaps my favourite of any novel. It is way better than Tale of Two Cities, where Dickens is off home turf, and you just don't get the same immersion in character or place. As a criticism, having just re-read The Pickwick Papers, it may be a bit lacking in humour. But it has so much else that it's not really a criticism. Is Bleak House the greatest novel in the English Language? For me, it's probably between Bleak House and Middlemarch.

Jackson Richardson
09-10-2014, 04:19 AM
It's so nice to find something I can totally agree with you, mal.

I've recently re-read all Dickens' novels except Edwin Drood (unfinished) and Pickwick Papers. If Pickwick isn't funny, what's the point of it? But I'll give it a go again.

Iain Sparrow
09-10-2014, 07:07 AM
I too like to read right through, without looking up the little things I don't understand.

I love Bleak House! It's way better than Tale of Two Cities, which, except for the Defarges doesn't really have any interesting characters. Bleak House has lots of interesting characters, lots of suspense, drama and plot (too much actually), laugh out loud passages, ironic social commentary - in short, Dickens at his best, and I can't imagine how the serial readers were able to wait a whole month for the next installment.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

I never made it through Bleak House... but I loved A Tale of Two Cities, though between the two books I recognize Bleak House as being far superior. Bleak House was sort of like Les MisÚrables for me... which I truly hated, even though I know it to be great literature.:)

AuntShecky
09-10-2014, 05:13 PM
like Les MisÚrables for me... which I truly hated, even though I know it to be great literature.:)

Then I'm not alone!
Since I loved The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I read a translated version in 8th Grade, decades later I thought I'd give Les MisÚrables a go. I dislike both the novel --and the dreadful filmed musical version , but I seldom mention it to avoid arguments. Like mentioning how much I detest the movie "Psycho."

About Bleak House though -- it's not all that humorless, albeit the humor is of the dark variety. The shadow of the never-ending lawsuit --Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and the satirical portrait of the convoluted legal system is a metaphor for the messed-up Victorian society. The depiction of Richard and Ada pinning all their hopes upon a satisfactory outcome is touching, yet the eventual ironic outcome comes as a shock, especially since Dickens typically resolves his plot lines on a positive note.

mona amon
09-11-2014, 12:18 AM
I never made it through Bleak House... but I loved A Tale of Two Cities, though between the two books I recognize Bleak House as being far superior. Bleak House was sort of like Les MisÚrables for me... which I truly hated, even though I know it to be great literature.:)

I read a lot of Victor Hugo when I was in school - 93, Man who Laughs, Toilers of the Sea, Hunchback....but fortunately our library didn't have Les Mis. I'm sure I wouldn't have had the staying power to read the whole enormous thing when I was younger. As it is I skipped some parts, including the whole chapter on the Paris sewage system. :)

mal4mac
09-11-2014, 03:28 AM
If Pickwick isn't funny, what's the point of it? But I'll give it a go again.

It's also a poignant work - Pickwick *is* living the life of a young man about town rather late in life; plus the scenes in the debtors prison are up to Dickens usual high standard in this regard. The characters are wonderful. Many are as good as any in Dickens - Pickwick, Sam Weller, Jingles... In places, it gets up to the standard of Bleak House for atmospheric locations and scene setting - Christmas at Dingley Dell, that prison again, various coach journeys, the hustings,... I hope you enjoy your re-read.

mal4mac
09-11-2014, 03:36 AM
Then I'm not alone!
Since I loved The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I read a translated version in 8th Grade, decades later I thought I'd give Les MisÚrables a go. I dislike both the novel ...

I (mostly) liked Les MisÚrables, but couldn't get on with the Hunchback - he failed my fifty page test. (I give up at fifty pages if a novel hasn't gripped me.) Did you read an abridged version in 8th grade? The full thing I found very heavy going - endless descriptions of places in Paris you'd never want to visit - worse than the descriptions of the sewage system in Les Mis.

Jackson Richardson
09-11-2014, 06:08 AM
It's also a poignant work - Pickwick *is* living the life of a young man about town rather late in life;

That's an interesting point I hadn't thought about.

Having done jury service and seen how barristers will argue that black is white until the cows come home, Serjeant Buzzfuzz is only too vivid.

I find Sam Weller irritating, but then think I'm just a snob. But the scene in Bath with Sam and the other footmen shows up the ideal of "a gentleman" that was so important to Thackery and Trollope mercilessly.

I must give it a go again. And I've never read Les Mis.

Iain Sparrow
09-11-2014, 12:32 PM
I read a lot of Victor Hugo when I was in school - 93, Man who Laughs, Toilers of the Sea, Hunchback....but fortunately our library didn't have Les Mis. I'm sure I wouldn't have had the staying power to read the whole enormous thing when I was younger. As it is I skipped some parts, including the whole chapter on the Paris sewage system. :)

I'm a sucker for anything Paris, and especially The French Revolution!.. the guillotine is way more romantic than a noose. I found Les MisÚrables too overwrought in places, and just plain too long. I recall thinking, c'mon Victor, stop sidetracking and let's get this story moving along.:)
One of the few books a finally gave up on thinking I'd return someday... but that someday has yet to happen.:)

Jackson Richardson
09-11-2014, 03:52 PM
Gosh, a really long classic novel I haven't read. Trouble is, I think of it as a tacky musical that has been running for years, but I'll give it a go.

After Clarissa, Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow, it should be a breeze. (C and U, interesting, G's R ghastly to my mind.)