The Daily Dickens

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Bleak House

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Next year is Dickens’s 200th anniversary, a good time to correct some assumptions I had about him. I read Great Expectations a few years ago, and whilst I didn’t loathe it, I didn’t love it either. This might be because I had to study it, but mainly I thought it was bleak, depressing, and I hated all of the characters (with a slight exception towards Miss Havisham). I decided afterwards that all Dickens novels must be like this one and I wouldn’t like those either.

Well, I was WRONG. I picked Bleak House for a few reasons, mostly superficial:

  1. When I read Howards End is On the Landing, Susan Hill says it is her favourite of all of Dickens’s novels. Anything that might be an influence on Susan Hill seems like a good a recommendation as any.
  2. The penguin cover uses detail from Waterloo Lake, Roundhay Park, Leeds by Atkinson Grimshaw (1829) which has a lovely, atmospheric, slightly gothic quality.
  3. I adore the challenge of a long book.

Rather helpfully, Bleak House was split into twenty parts, published in nineteen monthly installments March 1852 to September 1853 and so the Daily Dickens challenge began.

“Bleak House operates outside, as well as within, its mid-Victorian context. Not only do its themes strike us with surprising immediacy: law, social justice and all the dangers of a diseased society, from political complacency to misdirected philanthropy leading to compassion fatigue; child abuse by neglect, exploitation or emotional deprivation; questions of feminism, the problems of working mothers and dependent parents; the psychology of escapism and frustration, depression and despair; even the deadening effects of the class system have survived the nineteenth century.” -Nicola Bradbury
The broad scope of the novel was incredibly appealing; Dickens included a whole range of society from slums to aristocratic drawing rooms. The novel’s central theme of  the Jarndyce and Jarndyce chancery suit creates very middle class main characters Esther, Ada and Richard. I liked Esther’s narrative running throughout the book, but she is definitely not the most interesting character. The court case spreads to include other levels of society (both above and below) which is where the really eccentric characters join the story.
One of my favourite characters was Lady Dedlock. At first her boredom and restlessness seems typical of her status, but as you delve into her life story her cool exterior becomes fascinating. The discussion of women’s choices in marriage and childbirth were given quite a respectable place in Bleak House, although their actual actions were of course governed by the conventions of the time.
Now that I have finished reading Bleak House, I feel as though I have been let into seeing the world as it was.

Penguin are holding a Dickens Readathon; attempting to read all of Dicken’s sixteen novels, one per month, finishing in the anniversary year. Whilst this is too ambitious a task for me with all the other reading I do, I can definitely now count myself a Dickens fan and will enjoy reading more of his novels in the future.