Tag Archives: Bleak House

Bleak House – Non-Spoilery Review, Not Final Bleakalong Post

If a book is any good you can’t stretch the last 100 pages to last a week, and Bleak House certainly is.   It is, of course, by Charles Dickens and is nearly 800 pages of wonderful Dickensian language which stops some people on page 2.   (It did me, years ago, but now I’m made of sterner stuff.  Or just like having people to readalong with.)   Bleak House is about the never-ending chancery suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which has been going along for God knows how long and the various people it has destroyed along the way, turning their wits by holding out hope like a multi-generational will o’ the wisp.   Two young people Ada and Richard are wards of the case.   Fortunately for them, they are given a home by the generous John Jarndyce who also looks after the young Esther Summerson, who is also orphaned and only knows at first that it was better she had never been born.  The other focal point is Lady Dedlock, whose beauty is matched only by her boredom, almost nothing interests her, though she is rich and could have or do anything she wanted, until she sees a scrap of mysterious handwriting.

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Little Esther escapes the stern, but unloving care of the woman who turns out to be her aunt, when she is seven and sent to school by Mr. Jarndyce.  Later she meets the cousins, Ada and Richard and all three have a lovely life at the now inappropriately named Bleak House for a brief while.  But these things never last.   There is a cast of dozens of Dickensian characters, charming, hilarious, dopey, greedy, actually, you could probably find all seven dwarves and then some.  Dickens was a master of character and there are even plot twists I didn’t see coming for 100 pages.   It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, makes the reader laugh and cry and groan at the injustices of Victorian society, many of which are still with us, though not to the same degree.  There is also mystery, beginning with Esther’s parentage and the death by opium of a mysterious man known only as Nemo and spontaneous combustion — this book has it all.  I don’t know if it’s Dickens’ best, but it’s certainly one of his best and I enjoyed most of it quite a lot.   There are some dull passages, but for the most part, the pace is excellent, the characters unforgettable and the story is a corker.  If you have any tolerance for nineteenth century lit, Bleak House should be on your list.

Definitely going to watch at least one of the mini-series:  Gillian Anderson or Diana Rigg?   I may not be able to choose.   I might have to watch both.  Almost forgot, this counts as a 19th century classic and a chunkster for two different challenges.

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Bleak House Part the 4th C. 33-39

It’s not technically Tuesday yet, but it is in England so, I’m saying that counts.    These were serviceable chapters.   Not terribly exciting, but kept the story moving along.  Lacking the excitement of going blind or going up in smoke.  Just as Guppy is going to lay his hand on the letters with Weevle’s help in swoop the Smallwoods with the Tulkinghorn minion to back them up.   I was disappointed, but then as things develop, they don’t matter so much.  Lady D has heard enough to know her daughter lived and strangely this does not fill her with inertia.   She seems… dare we say it?  maternal, even.    I wrote down what happened, briefly because it was all sort of forgettable.   Esther survives, which is good, cuz she’s the narrator.   She still won’t let Ada look at her nor will she even look at Ada, but eventually they’re rolling around on the floor embracing like the finest lesbian couple in literature.   And with each of them having a male love that cannot actually be their boyfriend for different reasons, they’re set for a life time of sharing a cottage and domestic bliss.   

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Guppy turns out to be a gormless poltroon.   Esther should have tormented him a bit before swearing on a stack of Bibles he didn’t have to marry her.   Still, without the Gupster she would not have received her one and only maternal hug ever.   Poor George is forced to give up his sample of the Captain’s handwriting and this is why, boys and girls, you should never get into debt with small, weedy loan sharks.  Oh, and Rick.   What a tool.   Bringing Skimpole along.   Aren’t you in enough debt all on your own, young Rick?  And then Esther has a brief episode of idiocy and attempts to talk to Skimpole about Rick.   Really, Esther?    How could you not know how that was going to go?   

The parade of new characters has slowed to a crawl, but we still have got Vholes.  Rick you are such a prat.  Fire your lawyer, go back to camp and don’t spend any money for a few years.

Bleak House Readalong Part the Second

I managed to keep up with the reading of Chapters 12 – 21 this week, but Sochi’s really been eating into my reading time.  I’m not much of a sports fan generally, but I do watch the Olympics and am astonished by what those people can do.   Just looking at that ski run is terrifying to me.   But that’s not what you’re here to read about.

Bleak House continues introducing a cast of thousands and now indicating a preposterous number of ties between them, but he gets away with it because… Dickens.    Little Charlie is keeping house for Smallweed’s miserly family.   Anyone feel a robbery coming on?   And Mrs Chadband, wife of the oily preacher who has enchanted Mrs. Snagsby, was the evil housekeeper Esther thought would like her if only she were a better person.   I think we’ve also been given GIANT FLASHING clues as to Miss Summerson’s parentage.   How long before dear Rick takes to drink?   Jarndyce and Jarndyce has him in its grip and it never lets go.   The creepy French maid whose up to no good.   And is Tulkinghorn a good witch or a bad witch?  Whose side is he on?  Dickens has outdone himself with the parade of eccentric characters.

I hope I can keep up with the reading as it is definitely more fun to be reading along with other people, especially as lively and funny a group as this.   With a snow day and a holiday, this week should be doable, but I really am godawful slow with Dickens.   Almost as slow as Ulysses.

Additional:

I seem to be the only one who feels sorry for Guppy.   It’s true he shouldn’t go all stalkery, but his name is Guppy.  By definition harmless.

I also don’t think the League of Unsavory Gentlemen is up to no good.    Though Smallweed’s family gave me qualms.   Smallweed himself seems not up to much and Jobling/Weevle seemed all right too.  Maybe I’m wrong, but Dickens tends to telegraph everything.

Bout of Books Wrap-Up & Eugene Onegin Books 1 & 2

Sunday was not a real strong finish reading-wise.   I did finish two books during the Bout and that’s what I had hoped to do, though I hope this doesn’t indicate a year of copping out of longer, harder books and reading quick reads just to meet the goals.   That would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

This was also supposed to be the day I finished Ulysses!  Ha!  I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I had hoped to get further.   It all started so well, but really I’m rather bored by this Cyclops section.  They’re in a pub nattering and there are bits of mild amusement in the sections that are written like old Irish epic parodies, but not as much as I think Joyce thought there was.   At least not to me.    The whole thing seems to have stagnated.    

I actually started Bleak House on the 12th and unlike the first time (I must really not have been in the mood) got a good few chapters in and was entertained by Lady Dedlock, Esther and the Jellybys and even the Court of Chancery.  Also greatly relieved to find my copy is 788 pages and not as one in Amazon was listed 990!   I realize the books are the same length really, all the words the same and the one probably has larger type and smaller pages and maybe forewords and afterwords, but still that’s 200 pages.   Which just shows what a silly unit of measure a page really is.   But I’m liking it and hope to continue liking it.

 

Eugene Onegin is also going along tickety-boo.   It’s the rhythm combined with the lightness and humor of Pushkin’s writing which I really had not expected.   I’ve read some Russian lit and it’s great, but it’s not light and amusing.   At least, not the ones I’ve read.   Onegin is already world weary by the end of book one.   Books bore him, women bore him, everything is weary, stale flat and unprofitable.   In book two, we meet Lensky who:

At first their differences of heart

Made meetings dull at one another’s

But then their friendship grew, and soon

They’d meet on horse each afternoon,

And in the end were close as brothers.

Thus people — so it seems to me —

Become good friends from sheer ennui.

I have the Falen translation and, as you can see, he kept the unusual rhyme scheme which I believe I read somewhere Nabokov said couldn’t be done!   Thank goodness he was wrong about that, because I think rhyming gives a whole different feeling than non-rhyming although perhaps as long as you keep the humor it doesn’t matter that much.  I suppose to be sure I would need to read a non-rhyming translation, but let me get through the whole book first.   I have too recently started off well in a book only to bog down in the middle, so I hope it keeps up like this.

Bout of Books 9.0 Saturday Report

Having decided not to worry about Everybody Was So Young and finish up Utz, was a freeing move.   Bout of Books – if you’re not going to make your goals, just change ’em.    Read 96 pages of Utz and finished it.   This counts for the Czech Republic for European Reading 2013 and my 3rd book of the year.

Utz, by Bruce Chatwin, is an odd little book.   He’s the last of a well-to-do, but not terribly distinguished Saxon family who at an early age falls in love with Meissen porcelain and becomes a collector.   As he lives through World War II and the Soviet occupation, the whole center of his life becomes this collection.   It opens with his funeral, which is pretty amusing, and then goes back to the beginning and takes you through his life.  I enjoyed it, but I imagine some people would feel it was pointless.   The characters are good and I think it does give some idea of what it would have been like to live during that time in Prague.   The endless annoyances of petty bureaucrats and secret police would be incredibly wearying.

 

I then made the mistake of watching Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs.   The whole Marple series is incredibly uneven.   On the one hand, some of them stay fairly close to the books and the stream of actors I haven’t seen for years is great.   I almost didn’t recognize Tom Baker in Towards Zero.  If you’re a Christie fan, you may have noticed neither of these is a Miss Marple novel.   They’ve taken most of the non-Poirot, not Tommy & Tuppence novels and turned them into Marples by shoehorning her into the plot.  In Towards Zero it works fairly well, they just switch her out for another character in the book, but By the Pricking of My Thumbs is a Tuppence novel and while it’s not a very good one, it seems unnatural for it to be Tuppence and Jane (Tommy isn’t much in the book or the show.)   One problem with it is that Christie just wasn’t that good at suspense.   (Much, much better at your country house mystery.   She could stand those on their ear and make them sing.  How’s that for awkward phrase?)  However, Tommy and Tuppence were lovable from the get-go and one didn’t see enough of them.   This plot needed some help as it didn’t exactly cry out to be made into a film, much packing and unpacking and driving around in country lanes and Tuppence really was plot-simple to an annoying degree, but it didn’t need the sort of help they gave it:  Tuppence is a lush who can’t drive and has lost all her confidence.   This is all wrong.   No one should be recognizing Tuppence as a ‘fellow soak’ who then regains her lost confidence in a Hallmarky solving of a child’s murder.   A histrionic group confession.   A woman who walks around in her witch costume, but is never seen in the show again.   The whole witch idea.    The American troops stationed there.   The pregnant girl who won’t marry the American G.I. she really loves because he won’t tell her what he was doing Saturday night.  The premiere of Jane Eyre starring a local brat.  All of it quite painfully stupid.    There is actually a good idea in the book and they kept that at least, but the apparatus they built around it was dafter and more unnecessary than the original daft and unnecessary apparatus Christie built around it.

It does seem I’m infinitely more capable of rabbiting on about shows I don’t like than books I do.   Maybe this should be called Good Books and Bad Movies.  Oh and then I decided to start Bleak House another book I attempted years ago and didn’t get past the first couple pages, like the Moonstone.   Let’s hope I enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the Moonstone this time.