Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bleak House read-a-long - thoughts in the beginning

I've started reading one of Dickens' most famous books, Bleak House, in a read-a-long organised by Wallace. Here are my thoughts after a bit over a month of reading:

This being the 200th anniversary of Dickens, I am reading quite a number of his works - some I like, some not so much. I started reading Bleak House right after having finished another of his books which I did not like much, and what a relief this one is! A writing style that is totally different, a writing that invites me to read on. From the beginning, Dickens uses a parade of words that seem to exaggerate, but actually serve a purpose: to exactly describe the person, the case, the situation… (as in the helpnessness surrounding the Jarndyce case). These words provide such precision to the story itself, I can place the main actors in their respective situations much more effectively than if I had to use my own imagination (which tends to go to overdrive…). I also get to witness an excellent use of language – which does not make for a melodramatic story, just more thorough in my understanding.

The main narrator is Esther, a "lost soul" I would describe her for now, who finds herself from a loveless environment with her aunt, to the company of two heirs, where she is to be the companion of the girl. I found it surprising that Dickens chooses to use a woman to narrate (Iwould have thought that in those days the easy thing would be to have a man do this) - but I quickly understood why: he makes her sound too good - I still wait for a twist somewhere in the book that will show something dark in her character…

In this part, I'm also fascinated by the manner in which Dickens describes "social injustice":  he never ceases to point the finger at the the two sets of standards that exist in his society, even for the ridiculous things: the upper class who have a right to a ghost, the vain who make a great deal of noise about the little things they do, the orphans who are expected to be the little old women (taking care of everyone else). I would say Dickens’ social comments hit a point that is just as relevant today as it was then. 

Much as I was mesmerised by Dickens' writing in the beginning, however, I soon found myself having trouble keeping track of all characters introduced.  In addition to purely descriptive parts (I've since found out that the book was first published in several installments, so naturally, he might have had to find additional content to make this possible), all these new characters puzzled me (I agree that it is intentional, and I can’t wait for the new angles in the story). Fortunately, the unmistakable pen of Dickens is apparent and makes up for this disturbance – whether it describes the cemeteries, where diseases are “communicated” to the living, or the everyday lives of the main characters. The chapter of Lady Dedlock are much more fascinating, as the caustic remarks Dickens makes about her and Sir Leicester and their boredom and their complacency are just too funny to pass by.
The twists in Bleak House are neverending, and so is the connection of the characters: Lady Dedlock is interested in finding out about Nemo, whose doctor is fetched by Miss Flite, who is the new friend of Miss Jellyby, who is a friend of Esther… I only hope this sorts itself in the coming chapters.
Towards the middle of the book,  we get at last a glimpse at what (I hope) the second part of the book has in store – the revelations about both Nemo and Esther have roused my curiosity, and I just have to pause myself from imagining all the possible combinations and explanations and hidden stories around the main characters!

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