I think it’s a testament to how good Bleak House is that I managed to read it in under a month with the added stress of studying and work – and that I was prepared to lug all 880 pages (hardback) up and down the country with me (the majority of my reading time has been on trains). In fact it has (almost) restored my faith in Dickens’ reputation as an author (despite the rather strange introduction to the book written by someone whose opening lines I managed to catch – that Dickens may not have been the nicest of people… – didn’t read any further). I’ll be honest though I’m not sure how many more Bleak Houses and Oliver Twists it’ll take to erase the memory of a Tale of Two cities, but I can but try (and evidentially have to for at least fives tomes more).
I’ve been watching the BBC’s Dickensian series (which started just as I’d finished Oliver Twist) and started off trying to guess all the characters – which I think is partially the reason I decided to tackle Bleak House now – because when I googled some of the characters they featured in it (I didn’t google far enough to spoil the plot) – although happily the two stories didn’t overlap until after I’d finished. Bleak House is split between the narrative of Esther Summerson and the occupants of Chesney Wold (which I now realised I read as “Chesney World” for the entirety of the novel), Sir Leicester Deadlock and Lady Deadlock, as Esther’s position moves happily from unloved orphan to happy governess to an occupant of the (inaptly named) Bleak House. Legal cases hang heavily over the story: primarily the farcical Jarndyce and Jardnyce, which is treated as a running joke as a case whose settlement has long been swallowed up in its own legal fees. I’d already heard that Bleak House was Dickens’ criticism of the British legal system and this doesn’t spoil the story in any way (although I would advise skimming over the first chapter which is a longwinded introduction to the case – and return to it at the end if you have the urge – it’s only a few pages but a bit dry).
The selling point for me was Esther’s narrative – which is undoubtedly more human than the legal commentaries and the goings on at Chesney Wold (no longer Lady Dedlock finds herself so frequently bored). Esther is a character worthy of the admiration and affection showered on her by the other characters (if she wasn’t so well written it would be sickly) – it reminded me of Jane Eyre although it’s a long time since I read it – but without Jane being as well written as she was the book wouldn’t have been half as good (in my opinion). Despite my previous snide comment about Chesney Wold being dull those chapters aren’t really – the whole book was captivating (much more than expected) and really good.