Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Bleakalong – The End (sniff!)

Definitely mixed feelings coming to the end of this Bleak House readalong.    I want to thank Alice at Reading Rambo very much for hosting.   It was a great readalong – both my fellow readers and the reading were top-notch.   Amusing posts all over the place and I’ll be very much surprised if one of these women doesn’t write The True Story of Esther and Ada before long.   To the book!   Spoilers as usual in a readalong post, but even worse, ending spoilers.   Don’t read unless you know the book or don’t care.

Back to chapter 56.   Lady Dedlock has fled on foot with no money in the cold winter.  We have no idea whether she’s going some place or just throwing herself in the river.    Sir Leicester has had a stroke and no one finds him for ages.   Fortunately, he’s able to communicate enough to hire Bucket to pursue Lady D.   Bucket picks up Esther with the sound notion that Lady D might respond to her as she would not to him.   Though why she’s allowed in that society to ride all over town by herself with him, I’m not sure.   The chase is an agony of suspense — they keep getting closer, closer, then they lose her, then they’re finally back on her trail – though it’s a little murky to me how the hell he knew to get the letter from Guster — and it’s all for naught.   Dickens you bastard.   But no, really, it’s Victorian Society you Bastard.   Because they wouldn’t allow any woman to get away with letting her virtue fail for even a minute.   I strongly suspect the whole reason he wrote this was to show Victorian Society that it’s not just the Fallen Woman who pays, it’s her children and anyone who loves her.   We have to learn to forgive people’s mistakes.   I like to think this book helped end that attitude at least somewhat.   The ending of chapter 59 is just devastating.

Esther is haunting Ada’s new place and so is Mr. Skimpole.  Richard is continuing to make a total charlie foxtrot of his life and Ada’s.  Esther decides to Have a Talk with Skimpole.   Esther, do you never learn? I ask.  But I was wrong.   This time she hit on the one thing guaranteed to get rid of Skimpole.  Telling him they’ve been squeezed bone dry.   And we never saw him again.   Hurrah!   741 pages late, but better late than never.   Then Esther has a little stroll with Woodcourt who by Victorian standards is the slowest proposer ever.   He finally tells her he loves her, but she tells him she cannot be his and they part all noble-like vowing to live unhappily ever after for some stupid Victorian reason.   Esther goes to bed in despair.   Wakes up and urges Jarndyce to set the date so she can well and truly set her misery in stone.   She still calls him ‘dear guardian.’    Has anyone ever been as clueless about so much as Esther?

Mr. Bucket arrives with Smallweed who has found a will.   A will with regard to Jarndyce and Jarndyce of a later date than all the previous wills.   Huzzah!   For some reason Smallweed didn’t just toss this on the fire.   Mr. Bucket promises him he will be rewarded.

“Not according to your merits, you know,” said Mr. Bucket in friendly explanation to Mr. Smallweed.  “Don’t you be afraid of that.  According to its value.”

Heh.   Bucket has some very good lines.   They submit the new will to the wheels of justice.

This is all about tying up loose ends.   George goes to see his brother who is very happy to see him.   George cannot fathom this, but is likewise happy to see his brother.   He also has a new job essentially as Master of Horse for Sir Leicester.

Jarndyce goes off on a journey and writes Esther to come join him, which she does.   Thank goodness he has a clue about people.   I was so relieved when I realized he was gallantly stepping aside.   Hallelujah.   Not that it would be such a terrible match.  He’s a good guy.  But she loves another and it would probably gnaw away at her though she would refuse to ever acknowledge it.

And Guppy.   Poor Guppy.   What a tool.   Who brings his mother and friend along to propose?   But his mother’s reaction was pretty funny.   I hope he finds some worthwhile angel who will know what’s best for him.

And finally the most fitting end of Jarndyce and Jarndyce and Richard.   Because really, he was useless.   If Ada didn’t have cousin John to fall back on she would have been totally hosed.   Totally.   A young widow without a farthing and a kid to bring up?  That isn’t easy now nevermind in 1853.   If Rick had recovered he probably would’ve entered upon a series of get rich quick schemes and spent the rest of his days in debtors prison.

So they all live happily ever after.   The few who are left.  Except Sir Leicester who will always be sad.    Quite a body count.  It is a great novel.  All the feels.  All of ’em.  The only thing missing is Skimpole being broken in a thousand pieces by some large piece of machinery.

I started watching the series right after and glad I waited because it seems to me they reveal some things much earlier in the story.  Naturally they had to cut about 1000 characters because even 8 hours isn’t enough to do this whole story.   And most of what gets cut is the humor.   The Bagnets are gone.  Weevil/Jobling is gone.   Mrs. Smallweed and young Smallweed likewise.   Smallweed is great.  Tulkinghorn is great.  Guppy seems to have a much larger part, probably because he has to be Jobling and Smallweed as well as himself.   He’s very good.   I didn’t care for him in Torchwood, but as Guppy he’s just right.  Richard Griffiths has a priceless couple scenes as Badger.   Turveydrop Sr. only has two lines I think, but he makes the most of them.  Gillian Anderson is very good as Lady D.   I don’t like Sir Leicester at all.   Ada and Richard both fine, but they apparently decided that having a pretty Esther was no good.   Or maybe they think she’s pretty.   I don’t know.  I realize I’m a harsh realm here, but she looks better after the small pox.

Skimpole.  Can’t decide.   He seems to be somehow different from the book in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.   Still claims to be quite a child, but seems to be just saying it.   He seems far more conniving in an intentional way than I took Skimpole to be in the book even though Skimpole did all the same things in the book.   He just seemed perfectly selfish and totally unconcerned about what effect his actions had on other people, whereas in the show he seems to have a good deal more understanding.   But that might be the fault of the actor, who played Inspector Lynley and can’t help seeming intelligent, perhaps.   Miss Flite is Pauline Collins and I’ve always loved her.  George is fine, but I pictured him brunet and for some reason, that’s really bothering me.

John Jarndyce is spot on, but Esther isn’t quite.   Somehow the warmth that’s supposed to flow out from her just doesn’t.   She’s nice.   She’s modest.  She’s actually kinder to Guppy than book Esther, but an overflowing font of loving do-goodness she just isn’t.  And maybe that’s because they didn’t want her to seem too old fashioned or something, but I think so much depends on Esther’s warmth that it’s a real loss that it’s not there.

Lady Jane is perfect.  Can’t find a pic with Krook who’s also pretty great except he can sort of read, which I’m not sure why they did that, but she looks something like this:

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Not sure why there are no stills of her.   She’s obviously the star.

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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.

Time and place cannot bind Mr. Bucket. Like man in the abstract, he is here today, gone tomorrow — but, very unlike man indeed, he is here again the next day. [Bleakalong Numero 6]

Kind of an odd section.   All over the lot.   The Old Girl’s birthday as celebrated by her dear Lignum — she must be very glad it only comes once a year.   And the icing on the cake, old George is arrested for murder by disingenuous Bucket.   Credit to him though, he waited until they’d left the party.   That was tactful.   Caddy is ill.   Esther notices something bothering Ada, but instead of just asking her, assumes she knows the problem is all about her and she must be relentlessly cheerful to fix things.   Argh.   Painful.   And unusually egomaniacal of Esther who is more apt to think the rest of the time that things have nothing to do with her.

An entertaining interview between Mr. Woodcourt and Mr. Vholes.

“You seem to forget,” Woodcourt informs Vholes, “that I ask you to say nothing and have no interest in anything you say.”

Slam!  Gloves are off.  But Vholes doesn’t seem unduly upset.   No pistols at dawn.   Eventually he tells Woodcourt that Richard lives next door.   Oh, Richard.   You just get dumber and dumber and I didn’t think it was possible.   At least, put a few blocks of fresh air between yourself and Vholes, but no.

Shortly after this Esther and Ada visit Richard where the truth is revealed — Ada has up and married the dimwit.  Bye, Ada.   Better get a job because you’re going to have to earn all the money in that family.  Poor ol’ Esther still visits and steals kisses even though she now lives across town.    Hold out, Esther!   If Ada is strong enough she might outlive Richard and come back to you!   Esther who still calls her now fiancé guardian is obviously not into him.

Mr. George receives visitors and refuses lawyers.   The Old Girl will just see about that and off she goes with her umbrella.

Then we have the big reveal.   Bucket knows all and what’s more, he tells all.   Kudos to Mr. Bucket on his investigative prowess and to Mrs. Bucket for her able assistance.    No kudos on the character of the French maid who after a very unusual beginning has devolved into a spitting cobra.  I wasn’t at all sure Sir Leicester wasn’t going to have a stroke.   The visits of the Chadbands and Smallweed ably handled by Bucket – more kudos.   But shouldn’t all this happen in a giant climactic scene in about 80 pages?

And then George meets his old mother whom he hasn’t seen since he was 17.   And it’s Mrs. Rouncewell!  As Raych at Books I Done Read said a couple weeks back “Errrrrrbody is related.”  George listens to reason for once.

We have everybody in this section almost.  The Return of Guppy.

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  Guppy feels impelled to warn Lady D of impending disaster:  the letters exist, all and sundry know all and that includes Sir Leicester.   Then this line cracked me up:

Mr. Guppy considers this a favourable moment for sticking up his hair with both hands.

And why not?  There’s not much else he can do.   Poor Guppy.  A decent chap after all.

And so Lady D runs away!

We’re in the home stretch.  I doubt I will spend a week reading the last part.  Will Sir Leicester forgive all?  Will Lady D see Esther or fling herself in the Thames?   Will Guppy find love?  Will Woodcourt just propose already?  Will Richard recover his sanity?  [No.]  Will Miss Flite?  [Probably not.]   Will Ada raise eight children who all attend chancery court instead of school?  Everyone needs a good talking to by the Old Girl.

It’s Chuesday – Time to Bleakalong

Well, it’s still Tuesday west of here.   I almost forgot my book report is due.   

So Esther finally shot Tulkinghorn – you go, girl!   Save the world a lot of trouble.   Oh, okay, it probably wasn’t Esther.   I’m doing this report backwards.    This came at the end of our reading.   A little unorthodox to do away with the villain when there’s still 200 pages to go.   Can’t say I’ll miss him, but who will put all our heroes in peril now?

Chapters 40 – 48:   Tulkinghorn, if there was any previous doubt, reveals himself as a scurvy knave and tells milady’s story to all and sundry thinly disguised.    They have a brief, but tense confab about what Tulkinhorn means to do later and he says nothing for the moment, carry on as you were.    Don’t leave.   Don’t change.   Which is rather a lot to ask.    

Snagsby complains to Tulkinghorn that the freaky French maid is stalking him and Tulkinghorn agrees to take care of this.    Tulkinghorn after exchanging mutual threats with the maid appears to win and she goes off swearing revenge.  (If she shot him, no one will care, but she’d be most grieved to know she’s done her Ladyship a big fat favor.) 

Esther and John Jarndyce go visit the Skimpoles at their home.  Apparently suffering from the delusion they can somehow influence Skimpole to behave the way they’d prefer, in this case, getting Rick to be a little less obsessed with the Chancery suit.   Ha, they’re well-matched, aren’t they?   Poor deluded souls.   Skimpole takes advantage of this to live off them for a week or two, but first a merry story of how they destroyed their neighbor’s armchairs.

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Sir Leicester Dedlock pays an awkward visit.   Ada tries writing another letter to Richard.   Jarndyce writes a letter to Esther.   Esther accepts.  She then goes to see Richard who’s well on the way to selling his commission and devoting himself to the suit full time.   What he’ll live on, who knows?   At least, he’s not far gone enough to take Ada’s money.    Yet.

Then she runs into Woodcourt who is, I think, not much better than ol’ whathisname was when seeing the disaster that is now Esther’s face.   He’s very sad, and she takes this as somehow speaking well for him, but Esther, remember how Ada kissed you and rolled around on the floor with you as though nothing had changed.   Really, she’s the woman for you.   Woodcourt agrees to befriend Richard.   Good luck with that, Woodcourt.

And at last, we find out what happened to Jo, who survived his smallpox and somehow made it back to London more dead than alive having been kidnapped by Bucket on behalf of Tulkinghorn, because they aren’t so bad as to actually directly kill a child, but they’d rather not have any witnesses.   Fortunately, Jo manages to tell several people before he finally gets to leave his vile life behind.   Just as it was looking up, too.

Lady Dedlock, in order to preserve Rosa’s reputation, sends her packing.   Tulkinghorn views this as a betrayal of their agreement and is going to tell Sir Leicester, at some point.    But before he can do this, he is blown away without even having time to drink his wine.   It doesn’t seem likely he’d have let the maid in to shoot him.    Not sure who he would have let in.   

I do like Mr. George.  “I can assure you that I would willingly be knocked on the head at any time if it would be at all agreeable to Miss Summerson”

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.

Tragically we Bleakalong Chapters 22-32

This is written  a day early, but I got to chapter 32 and if you’ve done the same, understand why I can’t stop THERE!   The ending of chapter 31 was bad enough.  Really, Jo, you had to walk how many miles just to give our heroes the plague?!  [About 21 miles from Lincoln’s Inn to Folly Ln, St. Alban’s]  And where the heck did he go?  Has he been kidnapped by La Dedlock?   Or perhaps the mysterious fruitcakey French maid?   Though she was in town last we saw.   Perhaps Mrs. Snagsby…  but no.   We know she’s following her husband around like a stalker and apparently very good at it.

We now know why the Opium Eater had no personal effects.   Never trust a landlord named Krook.   A pity he hadn’t hidden them in some secret hidey-hole in the room for Jobling to stumble upon.   It seems fairly likely the letters went up in smoke with the landlord.   And what will happen to Miss Flite now?   Why didn’t the whole place go up in flames chock full as it is with papers and hair and such?    But he wrote it so well.   The soot…  the smell… the… ick.

And poor Esther.   Thank goodness she has a rich guardian.   Boy, Ada’s just a whole lotta nothin’, ain’t she?   If you’ve got nothing but looks, being a character in a novel doesn’t do much good.   And dammit.  I thought we’d got rid of Skimpole.   Surely by the end even Jarndyce will kick him to the curb.  Hopefully, Richard will learn a thing or two before we see him again.   Nothing too drastic.  Just cut the Skimpole out of his character.

So, Mama Dedlock and Captain Hawdon had a little Esther without getting properly hitched.  Hawdon seems to have had pretty serious problems dating way back, but I’m sure we’ll find out how it’s not his fault.   Poor dedicated Guppy, what will he say to lady D?   And I had been rooting for Woodstock to come back and make a match of it, but I can’t stand to give satisfaction to his awful mother who thinks Esther isn’t good enough, but will if she learns she’s Lady Dedlock’s daughter, I presume.    I shouldn’t blame Woodstock for his awful mother, but he did suggest she contact them and he must have known what she’s like.

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.