Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bleak House Ch. 1-7

Welcome to part I of the Bleak House Readalong. Check out The Zen Leaf for the others.

Background: Written by Charles Dickens, published 1852-1853
My Edition: From Barnes and Noble, 817 pages

What I Knew: I knew of the miniseries although I haven't seen it.  This book also features spontaneous combustion, something I'm obsessed with after seeing This Is Spinal Tap.

Thoughts: I'm going to divide this in to thoughts about each chapter because they split pretty nicely.

Chapter 1: Long, long passages of description with many notes, some of which I consider unnecessary because they just took me out of the story.  It introduces the case Jarndyce and Jarndyce which has been in Chancery for innumerable years.  I imagine some of my difficulties stem from the differences between American and English courts, some from the different time periods, and some because Dickens was a wordy chap.

Chapter 2: Still connected by the court case, but completely different is the introduction of Lady Dedlock who is somehow associated with it.  Solicitor Mr Tulkinghorn (what a name) and her proud husband Sir Dedlock are also introduced.

Chapter 3: This shifts to being told in first-person from the point of view of Esther Summerson, a bastard (I think) and very humble young girl (it's kind of annoying how she goes on about how everyone else is so great).  According to the notes (Chapter 3 #1 in case you also have a copy from B&N), she is somewhat of a reaction against Jane Eyre, whose rebellious attitudes displeased Dickens.  So he created a put-upon child and made her undemanding of more.  She is also influenced by Jarndyce and Jarndyce as she is to serve as a companion to another young lady who is a ward of the court under the case.  Mr. Kenge is a lawyer and quite a character; in fact exactly the kind of character one would consider uniquely Dickens.

Chapter 4: The young people (Esther, Ada and Richard) arrive at Mrs Jellyby who seems to be a philanthropist and is more consumed with thoughts of Africa than with taking care of her home.  The youngsters have an interesting evening with them.

Chapter 5: Krook's shop (not sure of the best word) is shown in copious detail as the young people visit it before leaving for Bleak House.

Chapter 6: At first I thought this chapter was just going to be the journey to Bleak House but they do reach it and meet Mr Jarndyce and his friend Harold Skimpole who ends up conning Esther and Richard out of a great deal of money for their situation.  This is excused because Skimpole is such a "child."

Chapter 7: This shifts back to the third person narrative with a visit to Chesney Wold, owned by the Dedlocks.  Mr Guppy and a friend tour the house and the housekeeper Mrs Rouncewell ends by telling a story of the ghost who haunts the place still.

I mentioned many of the (seemingly) minor characters because I don't know who will turn out to be major and who will pop up for a classic Dickensian coincidence along the way.

I'm not sure how I feel yet; there are so many characters already and more will sure emerge.  Esther is annoying me with her deprecating assessments of herself and her gushing descriptions of Ada who seems average.  There's just so much to absorb; still can't wait for next week with chapters 8 to 13.


  1. Interesting review! I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen Spinal Tap referenced to when mentioning this book.... ;)~ Looking forward to your next installment.

    And, I've given you an award: here

  2. You are right - the gushing about Ada is well over the top. Do people really call each other dear, love and darling when they've just met?

  3. It's great that you divided your thoughts according to chapters because this novel features so many events and people that it's hard to just generally sum them up. I had no idea Esther was written as a response to Jane Eyre and I'm surprised he didn't like Jane Eyre's character, considering how many characters at odds with society he created. I agree that Esther is a bit annoying because she's just too good. No one can be that good, everyone has a bad day. She's like the female version of Oliver Twist, a Dickensian character I just can't like. However, I think you will grow to see Esther differently over the course of the novel, and things will get very, very interesting.

    Your comment that Dickens was a wordy chap so made my day.;) His lengthy descriptions make me skip his novels most of the time and just watch the wonderful BBC adaptations instead.;) I'm looking forward to reading more of your thoughts about Bleak House. This is a novel by Dickens that actually managed to captivate me.

  4. Interesting! I've watched the mini-series and have been meaning to read the book for awhile. . . but I've got too many on my slate to join in the read-a-along right now:-(

  5. How interesting that your edition mentions the Esther/Jane Eyre comparison. I kept thinking how similar they would be if it weren't for Esther's humility complex. I love her as a character, but I wish she would quit with the self-sacrificing.

  6. How funny! Esther isn't bothering me in the least, and I admit I'm ignoring all footnotes and endnotes in my B&N copy. I didn't realize Esther was a counter for Jane Eyre. Ironically, I mentioned in a comment somewhere today that Mr. Jarndyce feels like a rip-off of Mr. Rochester. That makes me wonder if the two of them are going to end up together...

  7. I'm quite enjoying Esther's narrative...but her gushing over Ada does annoy me a little!


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