View Full Version : Literary The MobileRead Literary Book Club July 2011 Discussion: Bleak House


sun surfer
07-17-2011, 11:58 PM
It is now time to discuss our July selection, Bleak House by Charles Dickens. fantasyfan has volunteered to lead the discussion, and any of you may post your thoughts at any time you like. Anyone is free to join in the discussion. Let us begin!

fantasyfan
07-18-2011, 04:55 AM
OK Here we go!


Bleak House is vast, complex and creates a feeling of chaos, so it might be useful to start with one specific area which has received a great deal of attention and branch out from that hub.

The most striking feature of Bleak House is its use of a dual narrative structure. This has caused considerable controversy. Some take the view that it is this structure that makes the book great and others, like E.M.Forster, feel that it is the book’s most serious flaw.

Briefly the two voices are as follows:

1. First, there is the omniscient narrator who easily switches between characters and scenes. The tone tends to emphasize cynicism, anger. and indignation. The ON writes in the present tense. This voice seems concerned with the malignant effect on the vulnerable by the actions of societal power structures and power manipulators.

2. The other is the first person limited narrator, Esther. She tends to be more gentle and specifically compassionate in her attitudes and relationships with those who suffer; she apparently personifies Dickens’ ideals of femininity and is more optimistic than the ON. Esther writes in the past tense--apparently from a journal.

As I read through the novel some exploration routes opened for me. I’ll share some of these with you and you can ignore, comment upon or branch out from them as the spirit strikes!

What did you think of the narrative structure? Is it relevant at all? Did it contribute to your enjoyment of the novel?

Do you think that Dickens has successfully managed to play these two voices off against each other?

Do the voices help illuminate Dickens’ world, his themes and character portrayal?

Is Esther really a believable and engaging character?

What do you think of that awful Skimpole? He was evidently based on Leigh Hunt. I detested him. One of the most engaging characters for me was Detective Bucket--also based on a real individual. I think that both tie into the power structures of the novel in different ways.

And what of that strange ending? Is Esther saying that life simply goes on? That there is no finality? After all, she and John Jarndyce can only salvage things; they have no permanent answer to the problems presented in the novel

astrangerhere
07-18-2011, 07:49 AM
I, for one, found Dickens to be more flowing and readable when he was speaking through Esther. The omniscient narrator often irritated me with his style. I understand that Dickens was always criticising the society around him, but it felt much less sledge-hammer when Esther was speaking than when the narrator was.

fantasyfan
07-18-2011, 08:51 AM
I suspect that Esther is an idealised version of his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth who moved in with Dickens and his wife Kate and eventually supplanted Kate in the home. Dickens worshipped Georgy {as he called her} and he died in her arms. There's absolutely no evidence of any sexual relationship between the two and it seems that Georgy was brought into the home partly because she had an uncanny resemblance to another sister-in-law, Mary who died suddenly, only 17 years old. Dickens remained obsessed with Mary and probably transferred that to Georgy whom he referred to as his "little house-keeper" Note how John Jarndyce refers to Esther! ;)

TGS
07-18-2011, 09:39 AM
There is something of a contradiction in Esther. We develop a view view of her as good, kind, modest, self-effacing, patient and so on. But from where do we get this impression? Why, from Esther herself when she chooses to narrate other people's positive appraisals of her. Hardly the act of a truly kind, modest, self-effacing person.

Hamlet53
07-18-2011, 12:49 PM
I had no problem with the dual narrative structure. So the book was told partly from the point of view of omniscient external point of view, and partly, the parts Esther is personally privy to, as though Esther is reading from her diary at a date after all events in the book? It was always clear to me when one or the other applied as the narrative. I do wonder if the fact that this book was written in serial from for publication in parts influenced that choice by Dickens.

One thing that I feel is important to keep in mind for this books, and number of other books by Dickens, is that Dickens was certainly writing popular fiction, and did want commercial success, but he also was consciously writing to achieve social change. Maybe the most important writer in this regard of his age.


Not a spoiler, just a long quote from another book:

“First it produced the horrors of urban poverty and then the dismal counter-measures of bureaucracy and regimentation. It must have seemed―may still seem―insoluble; yet this doesn't excuse the callousness with which prosperous people ignored the conditions of life among the poor on which to a large extent their prosperity depended, and this in spite of the many detailed and eloquent descriptions that were available to them. I need mention only two―Engels' Conditions of the Working Classes in England, written in 1844, and the novels written by Dickens between 1840 and 1855, between Nicholas Nickelby and Hard Times.

Engels' book is presented is presented as documentation, but is in fact the passionate cry of a young social worker, and as such it provided, and has continued to provide, the emotional dynamo of Marxism. Marx read Engels―I don't know who else did: that was enough. Everybody read Dickens. No living author has ever been more hysterically beloved by a larger cross-section of the community. His novels produced reform in the law, in magistrates' courts, in the prevention of public hangings―in a dozen directions.”
from Civilisation by Kenneth Clarke

The need for reform of courts and the legal system was of course the major theme of this book. Not only the central thread of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, but also the case of Mr. Gridley and even the lawsuit between Sir Leicester Dedlock and Lawrence Boythorn. Then there is the fact that the villain of the story, to the extent that there is what could be called a villain, is the lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn. One can almost imagine Dickens, while writing this, chuckling over such jokes as:


How can you spot a lawyer in a crowd?

He will have his hand in someone else’s pocket.


Dickens was often writing with the hope of prompting social change. However, his characters were seldom what one would call social activists, and real social change almost never occurs in his books. Dickens seems to have been content to hold up a mirror in order for mid-19th England to examine itself.



I guess I didn't really find the ending strange. As I stated Dickens seems to have had the intent to bring the problems and inequities of England to the attention of his readers without proposing a solution. And as far as the characters go I thought he tied everything up rather well.

One can imagine the children of Allan and Esther Woodcourt always happy at visits from wealthy 'Uncle' Jarndyce after the couple settles into a comfortable middle class life.

I really like the John Jarndyce character by the way, and did from this passage when he was first introduced:

I thought he was very strange; or at least that what I could see of him was very strange, for he was wrapped up to the chin, and his face was almost hidden in a fur cap, with broad fur straps at the side of his head, fastened under his chin; but I was composed again, and not afraid of him. So I told him that I thought I must have been crying because of my godmother's death, and because of Mrs. Rachael's not being sorry to part with me.
"Con-found Mrs. Rachael!" said the gentleman. "Let her fly away in a high wind on a broomstick!"

However, I actually found him too good, first in his seemingly bottomless generosity and philanthropy to all, even the richly undeserving. I also thought Skimpole detestable. Also the magnanimous way he steps out of way for Esther to marry Woodcourt, and even facilitates that. Did he never really love, or lust after, Esther that he was so happy to give her up in the end?

The ends for Lady Dedlock and Richard Carstone, dying, were to my mind consistent with what was necessary for the novel. What would Lady Dedlock's future be with her past, including the existence of Esther, revealed? Would she acknowledge Esther? I know that she was supposed to be a tragic figure, but I did not think much of her. When she reveals to Esther that she is Esther's mother the reasoning she offers for insisting that that must never be revealed is about the benefit of Lady Dedlock more than anyone else. I believe that Dickens did not want here to be accorded too much sympathy as revealed in the implied contempt in this quote:

My Lady Dedlock (who is childless), looking out in the early twilight from her boudoir at a keeper's lodge, and seeing the light of a fire upon the latticed panes, and smoke rising from the chimney, and a child, chased by a woman, running out into the rain to meet the shining figure of a wrapped-up man coming through the gate, has been put quite out of temper. My Lady Dedlock says she has been "bored to death."

A social parasite like most English wealthy nobility.

The death of Richard Carstone also made sense. What could become of a man who had grown to adulthood never applying the effort to accomplish anything , being content with waiting for the inheritance to fall in his lap, when that inheritance vanishes?

The fate of Ada Claire is left hanging, but then she was never much of a character anyway. Dickens often introduced these female characters who, other than being young an beautiful, had little else to offer. Like some beautiful knick-knack on a shelf, and just as consequential. This is often counterbalanced by a female character, usually of similar age, that is not as physically attractive, but is someone more substantial and more of the type one would want to spend time with, including the rest of ones life. Here it was Ada Clare and Esther Summerson as the pair.

I agree that Inspector Bucket had admirable qualities in his dedication to his duty and no-nonsense approach to things. On the other hand he mercilessly hounded poor little Jo, even to Jo's death, simply because a wealthy patron found Jo's presence in London inconvenient.

One of the characters in this novel I really liked was William Guppy. Guppy because he was a character who though starting from nothing manages to make something of himself, and this while maintaining a code of morals and honor and attempting to do good. That and he is just one of these somewhat bizarre characters that Dickens fleshes out so well.

This book also shared a characteristic common to all of Dickens' novels. The wordy passages describing people and places. Personally this is one of the things I really like about Dickens, the way he uses the English language so well to create living images in the reader's mind.

In all I liked this book as a a good tale and as a moral indictment of the injustices of English society at the time.

fantasyfan
07-18-2011, 06:25 PM
For me one of the high points of Esther's narrative occurs in chapter 35 when she has the delirium while suffering from Smallpox. It is written with remarkable beauty and is very moving. It's the one point where Esther shares something of the universality of the Omniscient narrator.

I very much like John Jarndyce too. In fact I think Esther should have married him, not Allan Woodcourt. Allan comes into the novel rather late and does a series of good deeds {to make him worthy of Esther}. His actual relationship with Esther and why they should love each other is never spelt out in any significant way. I know there's an age difference between Esther and John, but the Victorians weren't really hung up on that.

BTW do any of you have an opinion about the way Dickens generally portrays women in this novel?

CharlieBird
07-21-2011, 05:52 PM
As I said elsewhere, I had very mixed feeling about the novel. I disliked most of the characters, especially Esther. The only ones at all interesting to me were, of course Jo, Phil (Mr. George's employee), Mrs. Bagnet (Mr. B somewhat) and Bucket. Mr. Snagsby became more interesting as the novel wore on and I was glad of his frequent appearances. The rest for me were so totally one dimensional that they quickly became boring. John Jarndyce...I expected to like him from his introduction passage mentioned by Hamlet , but I quite soon tired of his fecklessness. Even though he did make something of himself I can't even say I liked Mr. Guppy (Hamlet).

Fantasyfan is right on about Esther and Jarndyce: they should spend eternity together admiring one another. Well, that's not quite what she said. The Jellybys and the Smallweeds, were they supposed to add some humor? Old Mr. Smallweek being constantly "shaken up", throwing things at his senile wife?

What kept me going (other than the thought I was missing something given Dickens' lofty reputation) was his descriptions of 19th Century London. And I have to say Dickens is a pro at characterization, just that I don't find his characters sympathetic.

Having spent my working years around lawyers, judges, courts, etc., I did find some of Dickens' complaints valid, but I also knew a good many that were anything but his dour portayals of them and that spent the major part of their careers helping the underpriviledged. Writing this last sentence it just came to me...my major complaint against Dickens is his total lack of balance.

I probably did miss something because, I'm embarrassed to say, I didn't catch the dual narrative structure until fantasyfan mentioned it.

Even considering the serialization and need for expansion, I probably would have liked it better if it was a good deal shorter.

I can't say I found the ending strange...I was just glad it ended!
d

toomanybooks
07-21-2011, 07:48 PM
This is the fifth or sixth Dickens novel that I have read and it is not one of my favorites. I just didn't warm up to Esther,Allan and John Jarndyce. In other Dickens novels, he managed to have characters who were good without being bland and dull. The main good characters in this novel Allan, Esther and John just didn't work for me. They came off as walking sermons and I didn't care what happened to them.

I liked George/Phil and the Bagnet family best. I liked the Inspector Bucket scenes. Unlike Charliebird , I did find the Jellybys funny, but I agree with him about the Smallwoods.

In the end I enjoyed reading this novel because like all the Dickens that I have read, he creates a fantastic world and I enjoy getting to experience such a different time and place.

fantasyfan
07-22-2011, 03:27 PM
I did have problems with Esther's character--not least for the reasons outlined by TGS. In trying to create this modest, gentle, saintly, self-effacing character Dickens really set himself a nearly impossible task. She's maybe too good to be true. Another fictional orphan, Jane Eyre, works far better simply because she is something of a rebel against and critic of the system. Esther seems to accept it and work within it.

There are some good moments for Esther all the same. She is aware of the horrors of marriage for some women in the lower classes. In one of her visits she clearly witnesses the brutalization of a wife. Later when visiting a family with Detective Bucket, it's clear that the husband holds the threat of physical violence over his wife all too obviously. Dickens must have felt that dramatizing this social horror was far more emotionally effective when filtered through the Esther character than it would have been if it had been simply stated by the omniscient narrator.

I think this is the key to Esther's narrative function. The ON is a very powerful voice but he is remote. Esther provides a personal view. She humanises the themes and relates directly to the various characters. Since she is clearly an optimist and tries to see the best in people--much more so than the ON--her criticism of Richard Carstone is especially damning. The same applies to her dislike of Mrs Jellyby and her support for Caddy.

Esther's relationship with Charley was quite sensitive and very believable. Through this specific maid-mistress relationship, Dickens could effectively dramatise the general truth of the essential human equality of all despite differences in social class and occupation.

I rather liked the way Esther accepted the proposal of John Jarndyce. There actually was something quite sweet about the scene. On the other hand, as i said before, I didn't find the "romance" with Allan Woodcourt at all convincing. He was really a very boring character. But, then, I suppose in the heel of the hunt, Esther isn't exactly a live wire either.

Hamlet53
07-22-2011, 05:40 PM
Chiming in on some of what has been said since my first post. I agree that many of the characters are thinly developed. However there are so many characters in the constellations of characters swirling about the principal characters of Esther, John Jarndyce, and Lady Dedlock that to pursue development for all would have created a massive work. Sometimes the characters seemed to be there for color and humor, e.g. the Smallweeds, and sometimes to to serve as archetypes for a class or type of people in the book, e.g. Jenny.

I enjoyed how Dickens' took aim at various 'do-gooders'―Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, and Reverend Mr. Chadband―who ignore the poverty and injustice right around them, including in their own families, while expending time and money accomplishing nothing for distant strangers. In fact if anything making the world a worse place.

The female characters in this book were all rather weak in my opinion. Most because Dickens really did not devote enough attention to them, Mrs Bagnet being an exception. The two principal female characters also struck me as weak. Esther while she had a good heart, confined herself largely to expressing her views in her diary, while taking what ever bone was thrown her direction and not being confrontational in the face of the wrongs she encountered all around her. Lady Dedlock was a bland character that invoked no sympathy from me.

CharlieBird
07-23-2011, 03:11 PM
I am surprised that someone hasn't whacked me for not recognizing the very obvious: Dickens' characters are vehicles for his social commentary, they are characterizations! It's so obvious...maybe that's why it's not been mentioned.:)

In that vein it's hard for me to be so critical. I would say if Dickens' were writing now it would not be television scripts but Doonesbury-like comic strips.

Expanding on Hamlet's comment about the number of characters and given Dickens' penchant for lengthy and repeated descriptions, imagine the length of a novel with fully developed characters.:eek:
d
Forgot to mention how much the original illustrations by "Phiz" in the MR copy of BH so defly capture Dickens' various caricatures and much enhanced the reading experience for me.

fantasyfan
07-24-2011, 03:50 PM
One of the things that impressed me most in the novel was the fact that the Court of Chancery which is supposed to be one of the pillars of order in the state and im meant to provide stability and fair judgements does exactly the opposite.

Individuals are distorted through its workings. In one dramatic moment John Jarndyce warns Richard not to trust his future to the Court. The latter ignores him and his affection for Jarndyce is distorted and he marries Ada for money--poisoning the genuine love that existed between them.

The question arises as to why Richard is such a wastrel. The reason lies in the fact that he is a ward of the court and has been conditioned to wait until his future is settled and he receives his money. Thus, he never seriously makes plans to find a vocation which will give meaning to his life. Therefor his entire personality is distorted leaving him no ambition and an ethical philosophy that lacks significant values,

Mr Gridley is another victim of the court. In the end his attempt to make it act with justice costs him his life.

Jarndyce realises how horrible the system is and he regards it as a curse. His advice to Richard and his opposition to their engagement is an attempt to salvage something for them in human terms. He believes that Carstone will have to prove himself in the crucible of the real world before he can marry Ada.

fantasyfan
07-24-2011, 03:51 PM
Dickens' characters are vehicles for his social commentary, they are characterizations!


Thanks for sharing that insight. It helps to clarify Dickens' themes.

IMO, two characters that fit CharlieBird's analysis would be Jo and Mr Tulkinghorn, They caracterize two very different ends of the social and ethical spectrums. One is poor, good, and vulnerable; the other is rich, evil, and a power manipulator.

I'm sure there are plenty of other examples.

astrangerhere
07-25-2011, 01:01 PM
I adored the satircal farce that was Mrs. Jellyby! Dickens had sort of a sledgehammer wit when it comes to his social commentary, but Jellyby was truly a gem. Children who live in squallor, lacking education and culture that were sacrificed on the clear whim of their "charitible" mother.

fantasyfan
07-26-2011, 06:30 PM
The Spontaneous combustion chapter caused quite a stir and Dickens really gets across the horror of it. At the time he was criticised by some who didn't believe it was possible and that Dickens had made up the whole idea himself! He defended himself by citing specific cases.

paola
07-28-2011, 03:31 PM
I finally managed to finish it! One of the reason it took me very long is because after the first half I started finding it really tedious - true as it is that

Dickens' characters are vehicles for his social commentary, they are characterizations!

after all of them have been introduced, indulging on them felt very repetitive, and eventually wearisome. As for those few characters whose personality changes as the novel develops, it felt to me more of a mask falling off and revealing a different persona rather than the character being developed - most notably in the case of Lady Deadlock.

As for the women, I agree completely with what has been said already, they are indeed rather flat, and already midway through I could not stand Esther's properness and compassion, which to me were sickeningly sweet - she is probably the character that stirred the most violent reactions in me, though for the wrong reasons - and the passiveness with which she is so easily transferred from John Jarndice to Allan Woodcourt is one more aspect of the taking what ever bone was thrown her direction and not being confrontational in the face of the wrongs she encountered all around her
Hamlet referred to.

In terms of the narrative tension, I wonder whether it suffered from serialization - if the various groups of chapters were released in monthly installments, I presume Dickens somehow had to "remind" the readers of the plot, so that many "surprises" had been announced quite a bit earlier (e.g. the first eyeing between Esther and Lady Deadlock has more than a hint to the relationship between the two).

Now the positives - I quite enjoyed the descriptions of London, and indeed I found a cinematic aspect to some of them. For instance, I can imagine a camera zooming away from Mr. Snagsby to fly with the crow into Mr. Tokinghorn's chambers in this description:

The day is closing in and the gas is lighted, but is not yet fully effective, for it is not quite dark. Mr. Snagsby standing at his shop-door looking up at the clouds, sees a crow, who is out late, skim westward over the slice of sky belonging to Cook's Court. The crow flies straight across Chancery Lane and Lincoln's Inn Garden, into Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Here, in a large house, formerly a house of state, lives Mr. Tulkinghorn.

I also liked the vividness with wich lowlifers were described - in this respect I particularly liked Jo and Phil, who does not speak much and yet is very well characterised. And Mr. Tulkinghorn is also an interesting character to me - appearing out of nowhere, evil but in a principled way, with his little indulgences and shortcomings, like his overconfidence in his knowledge of human nature, that eventually leads him to a fatal misjudging of Hortense's reactions.

What I really found touching is the deep, passionate, desperate love of Sir Leicester, this most upright of man who is ready to forget all he stands for his fallen woman, and the description of the vigil was probably the most moving part of the novel for me.

fantasyfan
07-28-2011, 06:11 PM
I also liked the vividness with wich lowlifers were described - in this respect I particularly liked Jo and Phil, who does not speak much and yet is very well characterised. And Mr. Tulkinghorn is also an interesting character to me - appearing out of nowhere, evil but in a principled way, with his little indulgences and shortcomings, like his overconfidence in his knowledge of human nature, that eventually leads him to a fatal misjudging of Hortense's reactions.

What I really found touching is the deep, passionate, desperate love of Sir Leicester, this most upright of man who is ready to forget all he stands for his fallen woman, and the description of the vigil was probably the most moving part of the novel for me.

Jo was one of my favourite characters. He is a good example of the deep human sympathy Dickens could create and the death of Jo is very moving.

I agree that Sir Leicester develops powerfully as a character and Lady Dedlock shows a remarkable suppressed passion--much more so than is the case with Esther (Chapter 35 excepted}. Her switch from John to Allan is just not convincing and IMO one of the weakest sections of an otherwise fine novel.

John F
08-02-2011, 09:21 AM
I just finished, and didn't like it as much as I was hoping. The last time I read Dickens was in high school, and I really enjoyed his work (Great Expectations in particular).

I found myself trudging through parts of it. The whole Chancery sub-plot I found uninteresting and initially confusing.

Her switch from John to Allan is just not convincing and IMO one of the weakest sections of an otherwise fine novel.
That part confused me. She is completly enamoured with John (and had reconciled Allan as a thing of the past), and the next minute John tells her to be with Allan, and she agrees. :chinscratch:

Not to mention the age difference between John and Esther, and her being her "Guardian"; That creeped me out a little.

astrangerhere
08-03-2011, 02:22 PM
I started watching the BBC miniseries as soon as I finished the book. I feel that alot more things make more sense in the actors delivery than they did in the text for me. I mean, i'm incredibly biased at anything with Gillian Anderson in it, but it really is superb.

fantasyfan
08-03-2011, 03:13 PM
I started watching the BBC miniseries as soon as I finished the book. I feel that alot more things make more sense in the actors delivery than they did in the text for me. I mean, i'm incredibly biased at anything with Gillian Anderson in it, but it really is superb.

Those BBC series are usually top class containing all the important plot elements and a huge amount of the dialogue as well. I haven't seen Bleak House yet. {I'll be on the lookout for a DVD of it}

Just out of curiosity, how does Esther seem as a character in the series? Do you find her more believable than in the book. As I said earlier, I really think she should have married John Jarndyce. Allan seems like a superfluous plot driven character added by Dickens to marry Esther off to someone younger than John.

How are the scenes in the slum sections?

astrangerhere
08-04-2011, 06:11 AM
Just out of curiosity, how does Esther seem as a character in the series? Do you find her more believable than in the book. As I said earlier, I really think she should have married John Jarndyce. Allan seems like a superfluous plot driven character added by Dickens to marry Esther off to someone younger than John.

How are the scenes in the slum sections?

Esther seems more like a young woman swept up in the whirlwind of it all. Her flightiness seems less silly on film, though sometimes still as confusing.

As for the scenes in the slums - they go visiting in the first hour of the series and see the baby die. It was heartwrenching. My partner cried because she didnt know it was coming.

Hamlet53
08-05-2011, 12:48 PM
So this last discussion reminded me of that BBC for television production. I have that on DVD and I watched the first two episodes over the last couple of nights. I had forgotten that the entire section concerning Esther's childhood was not included except for the occasional flashback to her aunt telling her she should never have been born.

Also I know that Gillian Anderson was included as Lady Dedlock for star power, based on her long run in The X-Files that I never saw any of. Anyway in her acting does she always have that one same expression on her face, or is that just something that she affected for this role?

Great dramatization of Bleak House though.

arkietech
08-05-2011, 10:11 PM
Who is Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle?

fantasyfan
08-06-2011, 04:42 AM
Who is Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle?
They are silly sounding names used by Dickens to satirize certain types of vacuous silly aristocrats he feels are stupid. He uses the same techique in Hard Times, though there the names are symbolic of social positions and/or ethical attitudes. e.g. "Bounderby" is a vicious, horrible capitalist who is a "Bounder"--an untrustwothy villain and cheat.

arkietech
08-06-2011, 08:57 AM
They are silly sounding names used by Dickens to satirize certain types of vacuous silly aristocrats he feels are stupid. He uses the same techique in Hard Times, though there the names are symbolic of social positions and/or ethical attitudes. e.g. "Bounderby" is a vicious, horrible capitalist who is a "Bounder"--an untrustwothy villain and cheat.

Most of Dickens' characters fill that description to many character types. In this case the difference is Coodle and Doodle are imaginary to the story. ..thanks fantasyfan.:thanks:

CharlieBird
08-06-2011, 06:52 PM
Paola, thanks for the word 'cinematic' which perfectly describes Dickens' descriptions, those being my what really kept me reading. I became rather fond of Sir Leicester by the end of the book.

Who is Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle?

Thank you for asking this as I also wondered who they were.

And for the explanation, Fantasyfan.
d

fantasyfan
08-07-2011, 02:28 PM
Paola, thanks for the word 'cinematic' which perfectly describes Dickens' descriptions, those being my what really kept me reading. I became rather fond of Sir Leicester by the end of the book.
d

I found myself liking him more too. Paola's comment about the "passion" of Sir Leicester's love is really so significant. It's his capacity to love--something his lawyer doesn't have--that redeems him.

Early on, he's simply a nastily arrogant aristocrat with an inflated idea of the importance of his position and title. By the end, he has realised the worth of his wife as a human being and has thus becomes humansed himself.

paola
08-07-2011, 03:11 PM
on Boodle, Doodle and Coodle :D I've also found this reference in wikipedia (I think one of these guys is described by Dickens as the prime minister):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boodle%27s

Bookworm_Girl
08-07-2011, 09:48 PM
I finally finished this book! The first half really felt interminable to me. In fact, I went and read other books and then came back to it. Too many characters that I couldn't remember them when they were re-introduced. Thankfully, ereaders have a search function! The book really turned around for me once I hit the mid-point at Esther's illness. Then at last there was a murder to investigate. The second half was much more interesting, and I couldn't stop reading until it wrapped up the loose ends and the complexity and connections of all of the characters were revealed. I really did enjoy the cinematic aspect in regards to the descriptions of the places and the weather. You could really picture Victorian / Dickensian London in your mind as you read.

I would have liked the characters to be fewer and more developed. I think that is why people have said they really felt for Sir Leicester by the end. He was one of the few characters that changes throughout the course of the book and therefore doesn't seem so flat.

The relationship between Esther and her "guardian" was creepy since marriage was in contrast to his father figure role. Her love for John was based on her dependence of him for shelter, money, etc and an admiration for his fine character rather than romantic passion. I am glad she ended up with Woodcourt and a healthier love. Was I the only the one who wondered if Mr. Jarndyce and Mrs. Woodcourt would match up? One thing that bothered me is that it is never explained why John is so good and has so much generosity towards and love for Esther and his wards, especially since Richard questions if his motives might be tainted by the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce suit. Why is John so wise to avoid the trap of the Chancery court system?

I also liked the characters of Mr. Snagsby and Caddy Jellyby. Mr. Snagsby is brought into the story by circumstance it seems - even though he just wants to be left alone - and he tries to do right by Jo and Maid Guster. Both Caddy Jellyby and Mrs. Bagnet are strong, likable women and are the dominant spouses in their marriages, yet they are also loved and respected by their spouses. I really detested the character of Mr. Vholes, much more than Tulkinghorn.

I suppose the book ends as it does so that the nobler, purer, less sinful characters have a happy ending rather than a tragic one.

This book has been on my TBR list for a long while, so I am glad I stuck with it. I bought the BBC miniseries several years ago on iTunes and had previously watched the first few hours. That may have affected how I read the book since I had preformed images of some characters in my mind. I plan to go back and watch the entire series now. Here is a link to a recent interview with Gillian Anderson if anyone else is a fan of hers like me. She has some more classic miniseries in the works.
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2011/08/goodbye-scully-hello-ahab-gillian-anderson-talks-about-moby-dick.html

fantasyfan
08-08-2011, 04:44 AM
Nice Review Bookworm_Girl!

On the Esther-John Jarndyce relationship, it's interesting that Esther, before the marriage proposal does see JJ as a father figure and even says that to him. I recall that when she does so, JJ is rather upset about that! {though he hides his disappointment} I think it's clear in hindsight that Dickens had no intention of having their personal relationship develop along romantic lines.

I keep wondering if there is some emotional echo of Dickens' own relationship with his sister-in-law whom he idolised and who was much younger than he. (However, she never got married}

Bookworm_Girl
08-08-2011, 01:10 PM
On the Esther-John Jarndyce relationship, it's interesting that Esther, before the marriage proposal does see JJ as a father figure and even says that to him. I recall that when she does so, JJ is rather upset about that! {though he hides his disappointment} I think it's clear in hindsight that Dickens had no intention of having their personal relationship develop along romantic lines.

I keep wondering if there is some emotional echo of Dickens' own relationship with his sister-in-law whom he idolised and who was much younger than he. (However, she never got married}

Yes, I thought it was clear that by the end Esther would marry Allan. I do agree that Esther's character is modeled after his sister-in-law, Georgina. Esther's devotion / duty to home life is one of her greatest virtues in John's eyes. She is presented with the trust of the basket of household keys nearly immediately after she arrives to his home. Also, instead of being upset that Allan is better suited for her, John promotes their marriage and offers them a lovely home which is modeled with all of Esther's quirks in the way of setting up the gardens and interior. To pay such attention to those details shows how much he values them. All of her pet nicknames emphasize this part of her character too.

I did a little research of Dickens's biography last year when I read the fiction novel Drood by Dan Simmons. Drood is about the last 5 years of Dickens's life after the Staplehurst rail crash and up to his death while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood as told through the eyes of his friend / colleague Wilkie Collins. This book relates how he had a terrible marriage to Caroline and how important his sister-in-law was to the management of his household and the raising of his many children.

fantasyfan
08-08-2011, 03:31 PM
Drood[/I] by Dan Simmons. Drood is about the last 5 years of Dickens's life after the Staplehurst rail crash and up to his death while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood as told through the eyes of his friend / colleague Wilkie Collins. This book relates how he had a terrible marriage to Caroline and how important his sister-in-law was to the management of his household and the raising of his many children.

That's very interesting. Have you by any chance read the biography Charles Dickens by Una Pope-Hennessy? It's not all that recent, being published in 1945 by Chatto & Windus with a paperback edition in 1970 by Penguin. One of the things that really impressed me was Pope-Hennessy's analysis of the unravelling of Dickens' marriage and the part played in it by Georgina.

Bookworm_Girl
08-08-2011, 06:45 PM
I confess my research was mostly via internet sites, and I also downloaded a collection of letters between Dickens and Collins that I think I found on Google Books. I found this website link to be very good for everything Dickens. The Family and Friends page is especially detailed.
http://charlesdickenspage.com/

Hamlet53
08-10-2011, 08:26 PM
Tossing another thought into one aspect of the most current discussion . . .

I had always read that David Copperfield was considered that most autobiographical of Dickens' novels. That and the character of Agnes Wickfield in that novel was modeled on the love of Dickens' life. Consider the ending from David Copperfield:

And now, as I close my task, subduing my desire to linger yet, these faces fade away. But one face, shining on me like a Heavenly light by which I see all other objects, is above them and beyond them all. And that remains.

I turn my head, and see it, in its beautiful serenity, beside me. My lamp burns low, and I have written far into the night; but the dear presence, without which I were nothing, bears me company.

O Agnes, O my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed; so may I, when realities are melting from me, like the shadows which I now dismiss, still find thee near me, pointing upward!

arkietech
08-11-2011, 09:36 AM
:sad3:It is sad to draw to the end of a good read. Soon I will have to leave all my friends at Bleak House and London for the riots, downgrades and defaults of the real world.

astrangerhere
08-12-2011, 07:52 AM
:sad3:It is sad to draw to the end of a good read. Soon I will have to leave all my friends at Bleak House and London for the riots, downgrades and defaults of the real world.

Or you could just go to the library (or right here on MR) and borrow another world for a while.

Hamlet53
08-12-2011, 09:08 AM
:sad3:It is sad to draw to the end of a good read. Soon I will have to leave all my friends at Bleak House and London for the riots, downgrades and defaults of the real world.

Or you could just go to the library (or right here on MR) and borrow another world for a while.

Yes my solution to the current situation is to start on a new book as soon as I finish the last. Though with the performance of the stock market over the last couple of weeks I feel I should perhaps make time to read a non-Fiction book that has been on my TBR list for a long while; The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street by Justin Fox.

fantasyfan
08-12-2011, 07:57 PM
:sad3:It is sad to draw to the end of a good read. Soon I will have to leave all my friends at Bleak House and London for the riots, downgrades and defaults of the real world.

Yes, it certainly was a great read! Dickens will always give value for the time and effort spent on his novels. Whatever its flaws, I really enjoyed Bleak House. A wonderful humanity does come through.

paola
08-13-2011, 04:37 PM
Yes, it certainly was a great read! Dickens will always give value for the time and effort spent on his novels. Whatever its flaws, I really enjoyed Bleak House. A wonderful humanity does come through.

you know what, I did not enjoy it very much while reading it, but I've noticed that it has stayed with me quite a bit - these rather "flat" characters after all put together form quite a picture. And the discussion here has greatly improved my "post-read musings", so a bing thank you to all of you!