Bleak house

by Charles Dickens

Paper Book, 1966

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London ; New York : Oxford University Press, [1966]

Description

Bleak House follows the fortunes and relationships of three characters whose fates are tied to the obscure inheritance case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which is tied up in endless litigation. While many deserving and undeserving claim the inheritance, it is ironically being devoured in legal costs.

Media reviews

Bleak House represents the author at a perfectly poised late-middle moment in his extraordinary art.
1 more
You have to embrace Bleak House for what it is – a rambling, confusing, verbose, over-populated, vastly improbable story which substitutes caricatures for people and is full of puns. In other words, an 800-page Dickens novel.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tomcatMurr
February 7th 2012

Dear Mr Dickens,
Thank you for the submission of your manuscript 'Bleak House' to Simian and Shyster, America's Biggest and Best Books™. We are interested in your book, but feel that substantial changes will need to be made to make it fit our house style and to make it marketable. I list these changes below.

1. The title. This is puzzling. I don't think readers will see the relevance of the title to the rest of the text. Also, it is not grammatically correct, as it should be 'The Bleak House'. Popular titles for novels at the moment are rather longer and say a little bit more about the book. Suggestions based on titles which have proved popular recently might include 'Very Dirty and Terribly Important', or 'The Girl who Wondered Who She Was'. Please think about it.

2. The double narrative. I strongly recommend that you split these into two separate books. It should be quite easy to separate the two narratives, one of our interns could do it. Perhaps the Esther narrative could be published first, and then the other narrative later, as a second book? This would allow us to maximize our investment.

3. The prose style is far too overwrought and will not be popular with readers. To help you understand what I mean, I have notated the opening paragraph with suggestions for changes.

LONDON.

We've got a problem right here, as many of our readers will simply not know who or what or where London is. We suggest changing this to 'Milwaukee', as market research shows that this city is representative of our target audience.

Michaelmas Term lately over

Similarly, our readers will be asking, 'what is Michaelmas?' And 'term' is far too British. We suggest changing this to 'fall semester'.

and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

Again, simply too British. We suggest changing this to an American position of equivalence. Perhaps 'City Council Member'. Also, many readers will take exception to the association of Lincoln with an inn. Perhaps change this to the name of a President who is a bit more innocuous and likely to have been forgotten by most readers: Carter, perhaps?

Implacable November weather.

Can you change 'implacable'? I'm not sure our readers will know this word. Two syllable words maximum are best, as has been shown by market research many times. (If you hit F6 on your keyboard, you get a really useful thesaurus you can use to choose words more likely to be familiar to readers)

As much mud in the streets as if the waters had

Here at Simian and Shyster we pride ourselves on keeping metaphors out of our writers' work. Now, as this whole passage is one extended metaphor, getting rid of it will mean extensive rewriting. Mmm. In fact, come to think of it, the whole book is an extended metaphor isn't it? I'll check with our marketing department about how to proceed on this, and get back to you.

but newly retired from the face of the earth,

'but newly retired' is not being accepted by my grammar checker, it suggests 'only recently retired'. Are you ok with that?

and it would not be wonderful

Readers will not understand this. Avoid this kind of implied negatives. Suggest: 'and it would be cool'

to meet a Megalosaurus,

'Megalosaurus' is simply far too long. Market research shows that the most popular pet in the Milwaukee area is a dog, and this also ties in with our Frequent Word Recognition Program ™, which has been very helpful in keeping more than 50% of our books in the NYT Bestseller list for longer than one week, and which also suggests 'dog' here.

forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard

Oh dear, this is getting into a mixed metaphor isn't it. I suggest scrapping this altogether. Do try to keep your sentences as short as possible. Readers like to read short things.

up Holborn Hill.

'up' is far too strenuous. Market research shows that depictions of exertion or exercise fare badly with the Midwestern market. Readers there apparently feel guilty about their lifestyles if they read about exertion. I suggest 'down' the hill. Easier. Also, please use Google Earth to check if their really is such a street name in Milwaukee.

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

This is showing as an 'incomplete fragment' on my grammar checker, so you will need to look at the grammar of this sentence. In fact, most of the manuscript shows up in red on my grammar checker, so you will really need to change your style. Avoid long sentences, and avoid complex sentences, compound ones are better. Here is an example of what I mean:

Smoke was lowering down from chimney-pots. It was making a soft black drizzle, and it had flakes of soot in it. These were as big as full-grown snow-flakes. A person watching (avoid 'one', it's so pretentious) might imagine that it had gone into mourning for the death of the sun.

The rest of the paragraph can simply be cut. You are merely adding more detail to reinforce your point, but actually you are not saying anything new. Readers will not understand it, and they will get tired of all the detail. The story does not move forward. Pace, pace, pace, keep it moving forward all the time, and keep your sentences as short as possible. Market research shows this is best.

I think we have a possible winner on our hands, but as I said above, the novel needs a lot of work before it is ready for publication. If you can agree to our suggested changes, I'll put together a team of staff writers and editors to work on it with you.

Thanks once again for submitting your manuscript, and I look forward to writing your book for you.

Eddie Torr
New Project Manager
Simian and Shyster
America's Biggest and Best Books™
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LibraryThing member brenzi
2012 being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, last December I decided to make reading Dickens, in its many forms, my 2012 reading goal. I started my journey with his mammoth Bleak House based on the recommendation of my LT friend (and Dickens lover) LizzieD. The only other Dickens I read was in high school when I was assigned Great Expectations and that was eons ago. Although the first bit of the book was slow going as the author set up the story, it takes off after that and I could hardly put it down until some 900 pages later, when I finished the final chapter. It was quite a ride.

With a cast of thousands, this book is a celebration of Dickens immense characterization skills. Just the coining of the names is a feat to behold: Harold Skimpole, Grandfather Smallweed, Mr. Vholes, Mr. Turveydrop and Mrs. Pardiggle to name a few. Immediately you begin to imagine a picture in your mind that Dickens then quickly fleshes out.. The names are just the jumping off point for the characterizations themselves. Harold Skimpole, for instance, cons others into settling his debts and, basically, supporting him in one way or another:

”For he must confess to two of the oldest infirmities in the world: one was that he had no idea of time, the other that he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the value of anything.”

He frequently had to remind others that he was merely “a child,” and therefore couldn’t be expected to work or make money in any way. His freeloading somehow never resonates with his friends, who are continually taken advantage of. At the end of the story he finally gets his comeuppance to the cheers of every reader, I’m sure.

And that’s just the portrayal of one character in a book that is loaded with complex, interesting, and not always likable, characters and one of the things I liked best about the novel.

The main theme of the book is the law, in the form of the British Court of Chancery, the slow moving behemoth that ties up people’s lives and fortunes and Dickens skewers the Court from every angle. The case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce impacts and has far-reaching effects on almost all of the main characters and has languished for years, chewing up currency at a wild rate. The plight of the poor is illustrated and the failure of the English society to intervene, which is pretty standard Dickens narrative, is depicted painstakingly:

”Jo lives---that is to say, Jo has not yet died---in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name Tom-all-Alone’s. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far adevanced by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint.”

Plot? You mean plots, don’t you? Plots, sub-plots galore, all told through the most engaging dialogue and an interesting narrative fashion. The story is told partly through a first person narrator, Esther Summerson, the book’s heroine looking back at her life and partly through a third person omniscient narrator.

Don’t wait as long as I did to read Dickens. And Bleak House is a great place to start.
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LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
Another missed classic on my reading journey thus far, another genuinely delightful discovery… Dickens’ particular talent was for imbuing everything with character - fog, mud, London, the law - and then surprising the reader by having more still left over for a marvellous array of actual characters. Bleak House is, for that reason, a companion of a book.

The case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, a longstanding preoccupation of the gentleman of the Court of Chancery, is a character of its own right; sprawling, beleaguering and affecting lives that Dickens lifts out of the ‘London Particulars’ and follows in absorbing, engaging detail. The lawyers, particularly the watchful and endangered Tulkinghorn, the gentle Esther Summerson who becomes companion to the ‘wards of Jarndyce’, the interrogative, amiable and brilliant Inspector Bucket… some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met lie within these pages.

The writing is humorous – either blatantly so, or wry; often shamelessly sentimental (I was chuckling on page five and bawling on page nineteen), often enraging – Dickens’ disgust at the deprivations visited upon the impoverished lower classes of the time is legendary, and Bleak House contains a smorgasbord of exemplars – the story follows those involved in the case, innocently or not, as they navigate murder, romance, mysterious personal circumstance, charity (in all its manifestations), devotion or self-interest – I cannot think of an aspect of humanity that isn’t examined within the scope of this fabulous story.

I finally understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Dickens. This is what all the fuss is about.… (more)
LibraryThing member dmsteyn
The review will follow, but first, an illuminating interlude:

All:
God save your majesty!

Cade:
I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat
and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick:
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cade:
Nay, that I mean to do.

Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2

Shakespeare was, of course, not really against all lawyers per se. Nor, despite appearances to the contrary, was Dickens. Bleak House, based on Dickens's experience as a law clerk and on litigation concerning the copyright of his early books, is often considered his greatest novel. Much of the plot of the book is concerned with the Chancery case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and how it impacts all the characters involved in the book. I enjoyed the book immensely, but not without a few caveats, which I will get to.

Recently, I read in a (South African) newspaper that one of our local literary doyennes said on a panel that 'children need to stop reading Charles Dickens'. My first thought was, well, that must be out of context. Yes, there are problems with Dickens, especially socio-political ones, but one cannot deny that, at his best, he was a great writer. I for one read him as a child and, though I only understood him as a child, I still loved his ability to weave a story. Now, although I have put away some childish things, I still admit to a deep, abiding passion for Dickens, who is more than merely a great plotter. Bleak House has again proved to me that beyond a doubt.

I will not get into the story much - it is much too labyrinthine to summarise adequately, and as it is also a bit of a mystery, I would not want to give away some of the plot. Rather, I will mention a few of the characters that I found particularly interesting, and some incidents which elucidate Dickens's methods. Dickens writes the story in alternating chapters of anonymous third person narration and first person narration. The third person narration is more terse and to the point, but it also has lively imagery and telling moments of detail. Here, for instance, is the famous opening of the book:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

The terseness beautifully captures both the hidebound, rule-governed atmosphere of the Chancery court, and the dismal quality of the weather. The Megalosaurus - a humorous touch! - also indicates the 'dinosaurs' one finds in the courts.

The first person narration is from the point of view of one Esther Summerson. Dickens is often accused of being unable to write realistic female characters: they are either angels or devils. Esther is certainly on the side of the angels, but she is more complicated than that. Her narration is usually straightforward and candid, but at times she can even be a bit unreliable. Here is the opening of her first paragraph:

I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages, for I know I am not clever. I always knew that. I can remember, when I was a very little girl indeed, I used to say to my doll, when we were alone together, 'Now Dolly, I am not clever, you know very well, and you must be patient with me, like a dear!'

Esther protests too much, methinks. Through the course of the story, we will see that she is quite shrewd.

Dickens beautifully ties together these two narratives, introducing such memorable characters as Richard Carstone and Ada, the 'wards in Jarndyce', mad Miss Flite, who haunts the Chancery courts, and Harold Skimpole. Ah, Harold Skimpole! What a character! Supposedly based on Leigh Hunt, Harold is 'a child' in the matters of money, human relationships and society - or so he claims. He is quite charming, in his way, but he mercilessly sponges off all the characters who are of a noble persuasion. And then there is John Jarndyce, whom Nabokov called 'the best and kindest man ever to appear in a novel'. He is such an endearing, humane character, that he puts the lie to suggestions that Dickens can only write grotesque caricatures.

I do not usually show much emotion when reading books - I tend to think that tears can be evidence of cheap emotional exploitation - but this book really touched a deep chord in my heart, and I admit to sometimes wiping away an errant drop of salty moisture. Dickens is not saying that the law is inherently bad - on the contrary, he has some very humane legal characters in his fiction. Rather, he shows how the impersonal, mechanical application of the law, without consideration of human frailty, can lead to a grinding down of people and their hopes.

I will miss the friends with whom Mr Dickens has acquainted me. Lovely is the thought that, in the days to come, in the years that wait, I will be able to revisit this brave company of souls.

Oh, and I didn't even mention the Spontaneous Human Combustion!
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LibraryThing member PensiveCat
Long but fun, and not as bleak as expected. There's as usual a massive cast, but there's all intertwined eventually, so it's worthwhile to pay attention to them. The story is more intriguing as I work in the legal field, so I was able to make comparisons, but you don't need legal expertise to get the story. I could read Smallweed's insulting tirades to his "brimstone chatterer" of a wife over and over again! Some issues resolved themselves in predictably unrealistic ways, and there were a good deal of mysterious deaths (spontaneous combustion being the most fascinating and crazy). I didn't know Dickens was a pioneer in detective fiction until I saw his handling of Inspector Bucket. I would say this is an essential Dickens, if you are willing to invest the time.… (more)
LibraryThing member carolcarter
I am not well read in Dickens but Bleak House will remain for me his best book ever. It was a perfect book to read over the holidays and I wish I had. Almost as long as War and Peace, thankfully it does not have as many characters and they are easier to follow. That said, after my month-long hiatus, I did have some work to remember certain people.

The book has two main plots, one being the interminable legal wrangling over a very old will. I do not begin to understand chancery and don't want to be enlightened. Bleak House makes lawyers look worse than ever. The chancery negotiations involve everyone in the book, however lightly. There is a second, subplot, which also involves pretty much everyone in the book. This second plot is typically Dickensian, involving a long lost parent and/or child. He seems to like that storyline.

The inhabitants of Bleak House (which is anything but bleak) are the people both plots revolve around. The narrative moves back and forth between Esther Summerson and the author. This gives two perspectives on some of the events. We follow Esther from birth to marriage and motherhood. Along the way she brings order out of the chaos of many people's lives with the help of her guardian. Another main character is Lady Dedlock, also peripherally affected by the chancery dispute. There are many deaths, murders and even a case of 'spontaneous combustion'. There is an end, finally, to the chancery suit and I will not spoil that for you. It is one of the funniest things I have read in Dickens. Dickens does a fine job of pointing out the ridiculousness of the legal system in Britain at that period, not to mention all the carnage it caused.

At any rate, I cannot rate Bleak House too highly. It was impossible to put down, except for the flu. It makes me want to break out some more Dickens very soon
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
This is a massive novel in every sense. In the Penguin Classics edition it weighs in at 980 pages of small print, and that excludes the extensive notes, preface and introduction. Carrying that around in my greatcoat pocket I have found myself tending to walk in circles. It is, however, surprisingly readable, and contains many themes that seem entirely contemporary to us.

The themes, layering and interlacing of plots and the cast of characters are also offered on a grand scale, and the overall impact in mesmerising, yet surprisingly readable and engaging. It is difficult in a short review even to attempt to summarise the plots. Suffice it to say that they are all expertly managed and resolved.

Looming over the whole novel is the long-running civil law case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which has been progressing at glacial pace through Chancery. ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ has now become a byword for legal obfuscation (or ‘wiglomeration’ to use Dickens’s own term). Even in the novel itself, the case, originating decades earlier from disputes over the distribution of a complex estate under instructions contained in conflicting wills, the case had already become infamous, and those connected with it were imbued with a certain dusty glamour.

There are some marvellous set pieces that show Dickens at his characteristic best. The opening paragraphs contain with a glorious description of an impenetrable fog surrounding (and emanating from) the Inns of Court that presages the confusion and opacity that the claimants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and indeed any other cases that come before Chancery, will encounter.

It is, however, not just a splenetic satire on the iniquities and perfidies of the legal system. Social injustice is held to account throughout the novel, with some heart-rending scenes depicting the life of some of London’s poorest inhabitants, many of whom live in stark juxtaposition with some of the wealthiest members of society. There is plenty of humour too, with Dickens’s portrayal of Mrs Jellyby, an undoubtedly well-meaning woman whose obsession with bringing relief to the poorer tribes of Africa leaves her utterly blinded to the neglect faced by her own children, and the desperately ambitious Mr Guppy for whom what he lacks in self-awareness is more than compensated by good, old fashioned solipsistic vanity. There is also a murder mystery following the death by shooting of Mr Tulkinghorn, a sinister senior lawyer who has fingers in a multitude of pies, and whose passing is mourned by few beyond Sir Leicester Dedlock, one of his wealthiest clients.

The main story is, however, concerned with the progress through life of Esther Summerson, who narrates much of the book. Esther is, as Jane Austen might have said, ‘the natural daughter of somebody’, and finds herself taken under the aegis of John Jarndyce to act as companion for his cousin, Ada Clare. Ada, along with her cousin Richard Carstone, is one of the wards of court around whom the interests in Jarndyce and Jarndyce circle. Unacquainted before the novel opens, they are both assigned by the court to the protection of John Jarndyce, who lives in Bleak House, and, almost predictably, fall in love with each other. John Jarndyce, who will emerge as possibly the most benevolent and generous character in English literature, counsels them to try and embrace life without considering what might eventually come their way as their respective legacy from the ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ case. Ada is happy to follow that advice though Richard, like a prospector who has fleetingly spied a sparkle in his pan, cannot escape from dreaming of how he might enjoy his legacy, and allows his mind to be twisted by greed and hope. Esther, meanwhile, has her own story, that is no less beguiling and engrossing for the reader.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
This is a more serious work than what came before from Dickens, still speckled with his humour but layered with more pointed social commentary. The sentimentality is not excessive and his wonderful characterizations are as strong as ever. Mr. Tulkinghorn is wonderfully mysterious and imposing. Mrs. Bagnet may very well be the best of all possible women, but don't tell her so because discipline must be maintained. I didn't like Skimpole from his first scene and found him annoying throughout, but I believe I was intended to. This novel features probably the most complicated relationships I've encountered in Dickens yet. Some lead around in circles, where characters on opposite sides have no (immediate) knowledge of each other but are connected in more than one way. There's a May-December romance that felt troubling, but it is employed very lightly.

The London depicted this time is less romantic, darker and dirtier, its streets filled with what is generously called mud, and an emphasis on the 'London particular': a dense fog that is actually the product of London's thick coal-burning miasma. Dickens has it gather thickest at the Chancery, the centre of all legal goings-on and a focus for the main theme. The plot for once is fully under his control, even as he tasks himself with alternating between first and third person. A parentage mystery is set up set up early and evolves gradually, and there's a murder mystery towards the end. Right in the middle we are treated to the famous spontaneous combustion incident. I might have wished for a stronger merge between the Dedlocks' story and the Jarndyce legal insanity. Esther is the lynchpin but she is not a unifier, and these two threads are not truly sewn together.

Bleak House sounds like a gloomy place but in fact it's an attractive setting, a mansion so full of marvellous rooms and hallways joining in puzzling ways that I wish I might explore it. This practically applies to the novel itself: an off-putting title and page count at first blush, but worth delving into. Dickens is at full power here and it is one of his best.
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LibraryThing member xuesheng
This is a complex story about characters caught in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a chancery case regarding a will of someone who died long ago. Some of his characters include Esther whose past is a shadow and who is a gentle and loving woman; John Jarndyce is a benefactor of many who is also a gentle and caring soul; Lady Dedlock is trying to hide an old secret; and Richard Carstone becomes obsessed with the Jarndyce case. I’ve only listed a smattering of the characters included in this book. In fact, I recommend that anyone reading it, keep a list of both characters and locations in order to keep all of them straight.

The book starts slowly as Dickens introduces us to the Chancery Court and then the Dedlock’s, but within a few chapters I found that it picked up speed as I got to know the characters better. Dickens is a marvelous author and I marvel at his way of weaving together disparate characters that, at first look, seem to have no relationship to one another, but who often have long, unknown, to them, histories that are intertwined. I am also fond of his use of characters to comment on the social mores of his time. However, I really struggled with some passages and during these would tell myself to “just keep reading” until I was through them. I noticed that these sections often described a place, individual or thing and seemed to just go on too long for my attention. Nevertheless, I am a Dickens fan and recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member Mia.Darien
I would love to write a review about this book, but after traipsing and trundling and tumbling through a book so complex and so wonderful and so crazy-making as this, I don't think I am up to the task! I will then just say, as I said of "Persuasion," that classics are classics for a reason. And so it is with this.
LibraryThing member hailelib
I had intended to read this as part of the group read and did start it then but I kept putting it down to read other books that caught my eye. Finally I decided that I should finish it and give it back to the library.

To my surprise the last quarter of the book turned out to be a fast read. Here Dickens begins to weave all the threads that he has started together and bring all the stories to an end, some happy and others not at all happy, with very few loose ends.

While there are signs of Mr. Dickens being paid by the installment in his lengthy descriptions, these long passages were often interesting and were fairly typical of the expected prose of his period. The abridged version I read decades ago certainly moved faster but this complete one was ultimately quite satisfactory if one has the patience to keep on reading.
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LibraryThing member apartmentcarpet
How can you not love Dickens? There is nothing better than curling up on a cold, rainy day with a cup of tea and a dark, exquisitely detailed Dickens novel. The plot(s) of Bleak House revolves around a never-ending court case. All the appropriate things are there - the pictures of a dark, oppressive, and grimy London, the absurd and inventive characters, and a meticulously detailed plot.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Having just begun a rereading of Bleak House I find myself comparing it to David Copperfield, which I recently reread. I note immediately the difference in narrative style as it opens with a third person narrator; however it soon, in the third chapter, introduces a first person narrator, Miss Esther Summerson, who is almost as charming as David himself. The opening sets the stage wonderfully with contrast of the London Fog and the Chancery of the first chapter with the world of Fashion in the second. Throughout the opening chapters Dickens continues to introduce new characters to populate this increasingly complex novel. With the discovery of a dead body (a law-writer) by Mr. Tulkinghorn we have a mystery to add to the growing suspense. Dickens introduces character after character until the story absolutely teems with a multitude of humanity. In spite of this both plot lines and themes begin emerging from the mist of the fog that is introduced on the first page. The suspense builds for Esther as we wonder, perhaps more than she seems to, about her parentage. This plot line blends into a general theme of children and parents as it appears that in many cases (eg. Jellyby and Pardiddle) having parents is not the best thing for children, at least parents like these. The complexity of the story, told alternately by the third person narrator and Esther herself, is amazing considering it was originally published in monthly installments. It makes the achievement all the greater. This reader is grateful, not only for the achievement, but for his ability to read and enjoy it. Unlike poor Jo! The novel concludes with a wonderful and exciting immersion into the world of Detective Bucket. He brilliantly solves the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn (with the assistance of his wife) and goes on an unfortunately unsuccessful search for Lady Dedlock. In the process of bringing together the main elements of the narrative Dickens manages to portray some of his best characters as Sir Leicester Dedlock and John Jarndyce demonstrate their benevolence and exceedingly good natures. Esther and Allen Woodcourt manage to surmount their communication difficulties with delightful result. The novel, in all it complications and seeming "modernity" closes as leaving the reader smiling.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChristopherSwann
This is my sixth outing with Dickens, after "Oliver Twist," "A Christmas Carol," "Hard Times," "Great Expectations" and "Our Mutual Friend" (which almost shouldn't count because I rushed through it for a grad school class and consequently remember very little about it). When I was in high school, I had to read "Great Expectations" and, aside from the creepy opening with Magwich, I don't really remember liking much else about it. Dickens was too long, too verbose, and wrote about people and places in ways I found unfamiliar and disconcerting.

Which, of course, is what I like about Dickens now.

"Bleak House" is an excellent novel, and a good example of Henry James' description of the novel as a loose, baggy monster. The descriptions alone border at times on the surreal as Dickens animates the landscape: portraits, buildings, papers, even woods assume a kind of intelligence, sometimes watchful, sometimes warm and compassionate, sometimes cold and even malignant.

Dickens' real achievement, I think, is in his characters. And he has a boatload of them in here. The names--Esther Summerson, Caddy Jellyby, Prince Turveydrop, Lady Dedlock, Krook, Snagsby, Richard Carstone, John Jarndyce, the lawyers Vholes and Kenge, Harold Skimpole, Detective Bucket, just to name a few--range from the mundane to the suggestive to the outright amusing. But Dickens' genius is in the individual speech patterns and gestures he assigns to each character. These, more than the names, differentiate the characters from one another in the reader's mind and reveals as much about individual characters than even their actions. Snagsby's assortment of coughs, Bucket's wagging finger, Lady Dedlock's reserve and boredom, Esther's constant assertion of her humility (which at times gets too much but is consistent and therefore seems honest), Jarndyce's nervous assertions of the wind growing easterly--these all serve to embed the characters in our minds, transporting them off the page and into our collective unconscious. We know people like this. Read a single paragraph about Mrs. Jellyby, Caddy's mother, and her infatuation with helping the impoversished citizens of the (fictitious) African nation of Borrioboola-Gha while allowing her own children to live in squalor, and you'll recognize her instantly.

While this is a great novel, it has its flaws. Some plot points are too conveniently tied up offstage and later related by a character (Bucket does this at least once or twice too much). And some readers grow annoyed with Esther Summerson's narration (see above). But these are relatively minor quibbles. If you want to lose yourself in a fully-imagined world peopled with characters only slightly more exaggerated than those you find in real life, this is the Dickens for you.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Bleak House is a shrouded complex massive thing. A vast dimly-lit warren of streets into which one becomes easily lost. Like the Chancery Courts with mysterious procedures and lack of clarity, Dickens uses many techniques to symbolically create an atmosphere of fog. Three plot-lines are happening at once intertwined: 1) A legal case regarding the settlement of a will that has dragged on for more years than anyone can remember and shows no sign of being settled. 2) An unfolding mystery and detective story surrounding the aristocratic Lady Dedlock and an anonymous copier of law documents. 3) The story of Esther Summerson, told by Esther in the first person as she lives at Bleak House in the care of her guardian.

These plots contain complex interactions of dozens of characters, whose knowledge of one another is continually changing. To further complicate, there are two narrators: an all encompassing narrator (whose tone changes from satirical to benevolent and otherwise), and the main character "Esther's narrative", but who is often saying one thing about herself but meaning another. The narrators move back and forth between chapters. If that's not enough, Dickens rarely states anything directly so one is inferring and deducing from long passages how the plot has moved forward in a particular scene.

This is a complex novel, yet it seems to come together in the end, it just gets better as it goes. I couldn't absorb too much at once so it took me nearly 30 days to listen to the LibriVox narration by Mil Nicholson, but I admit to falling back on the amazing 8-hour BBC Drama (2005) to fill in some plot elements and characterizations that I didn't fully understand from the book, so it's been a multimedia immersion. The novel contains murders and a detective story (it's been called one of the first novels to feature a detective story), and a story aimed at the interests of young women (marriage and family), but it transcends genre with its social commentaries about lawyers, the changing relationships of rich vs poor, the rise of the middle-class, and the evil of selfishness.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Blimy - that took some reading! It took me a very long time to get into this, but at about 2/3rds distance it suddenly takes flight and the previous 600 odd pages start to come together into something where you start to care what is happening. Not necessarily to the lead characters, Esther is (for me) too docile and dutiful, Ada too indistinct and a makes a cake of herself over Richard, he's a wastrel and doesnt deserve to have Ada or the consideration he gains. No, it;s not the leads that are the characters that capture the attention, it's the supporting cast that are where the interest lies. Guppy with his ill fated proposal, Allan Woodcourt who is hero material - just waiting to find his niche (in stark contrast to Richard). Poor Miss Flite, who is such a warning to those considering embroiling themselves in Chancercy. Trooper George and the Bagnets (who have a home life you have to admire). even the less likable characters, Skimpole, Smallweed, Tulkinghorn, all have something about them that captures the imagination.
I'm not sure that the narrator and Esther's narration really worked. Esther, at times, sounds like she knows more than the could/should at the time mentioned, meaning that she is not clearly differentiated from the narrator's voice. Meaning it has a similar tone throughout.
I'm pleased I've read it, and glad to have got through it, but I'm not sure I can see myself wading through the first 600 pages, even for the fun ride that the last 300 odd produced.
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LibraryThing member goldenphizzwizards
This is one of absolute favorite books of all time, although I oscillate between this and Dombey & Son as to which is the best Dickens novel. Like all of Dickens' novels, there are deep and varied characters as well as a complex plot. As always with Dickens, plot is a device to further reveal the depths of his characters. Some may complain about the length of this book, but it would have been possible to accompany the many characters on their journeys in fewer pages. I'm by no means an expert on narrative devices or literary theory, but I appreciate the balance provided by Esther's sweet yet wise voice in contrast with the third person narrative that employs satirical humor to deeply probe the true nature of his characters. Esther shows the reader the best side of humanity, while the third person narrative voice displays the vices, follies, and sins of humanity with a bitter humor.… (more)
LibraryThing member muir
Mrs Jellaby remarks is a warning to us all.
LibraryThing member JBD1
A good winter read, but I feel like it must have worked better as originally published in monthly installments. As a novel, it feels bloated and overstuffed, with far too many characters and subplots gumming up the works. The satire on the legal machinations is excellent, however.
LibraryThing member bookworm12
If Dickens was on facebook, my relationship with him would be “It’s Complicated.” After a decade of reading his books I feel like I’ve developed an appreciation and love for his work. I read and enjoyed Christmas Carol and Tale of Two Cities, but I really didn't like Oliver Twist. Great Expectations and David Copperfield were the turning point for me. I adored both of those books and I think because of that, my hopes for Bleak House were incredibly high.

I was extremely excited about Bleak House, it’s often called Dicken’s masterpiece. Even the name is gothic and mysterious and it has Dicken’s only female narrator. But I should have remembered that Dicken’s work was originally printed in monthly installments in the paper and he was paid by the word. This beast clocks in at more than 1,000 pages.

I made a major mistake when I read Bleak House. I was reading Moby Dick and Cloud Atlas at the same time. Both of those books are a lot to process on their own without adding in the wordy Mr. Dickens and his 702 characters and their crazy names! If I’d focused only on Bleak House and I think I would have enjoyed it more. The plot is so convoluted and I felt like I was trying to keep everyone straight for the whole first half of the book. The plot grew on me once I had a chance to get to know a few of the characters.

Like all good Dickens novels there is a huge cast with intertwining story lines. There are orphans and rich people, lawyers and lords. It’s hard to jump right into these books because you really have to get to know everyone first. It takes such a long time to figure out who everyone is and really get into the story.

The whole book revolves around a complicated court case called Jarndyce v Jarndyce that has stretched on for decades. There has been no resolution; people have gone broke and committed suicide over the case after hanging their hopes on its outcome and hoping they would inherit the massive fortune.

Half of the book focuses on the wealthy Lady Deadlock and her elderly husband. She lives an unhappy life, filled with secrets, in the old mansion called Chesney Wold. We bounce back and forth between an omniscient narrator who tells her story and the character of Esther, who narrates in the first person.

The book’s second plot line involves Ada and Richard, cousins who are both wards of the case. Their fates and fortunes are unknown until the case is resolved. Esther is a young woman who has been raised by her aunt. A man named John Jarndyce decides to take Ada and Richard into his home and he hires Esther as a companion for Ada.

All of that and I haven’t even touched on half the characters! There’s the mysterious Nemo, manipulative Tulkinghorn, the Jellyby family with their distracted mother and sweet daughter Caddy, Lady Deadlock’s crazy maid Hortense, Mr. Snagsby, combustible Krook, loyal George, wonderful Allan Woodcourt, Esther’s maid Charley, Inspector Bucket and more! Obviously I wasn't kidding when I said this novel had an overload of characters and subplots.

SPOILERS

At first I had some serious issues with the main characters. Esther was just a bit too nice and accommodating. She sounds a bit like Jane Eyre whenever we read chapters that she’s narrating, but she doesn’t have the same spunk or view of self-worth. I wanted her to stand up for herself or decide to pursue something that she loved. The moments I liked her best were the ones where she held someone else (like Mr. Skimpole) accountable for their actions.

Richard was just hopeless, why wouldn’t he give up the case! It was so distressing to watch him waste away as he threw his money towards the case. I wanted so badly for him to understand that his life was with Ada and she was worth so much more than the case.

Mr. Skimpole was captain creepy pants with his “I’m just a child” nonsense and I wanted to smack him in the face. People like that are just the worst. I love how Dickens can create such wonderful villains, sometimes they are evil because they are weak and devious, instead of being outright bad people. Mr. Guppy was another odd one. He believed he fell in love at first sight, but it was really just a shallow infatuation that brought out his stalker qualities.

The entire Jarndyce v Jarndyce fortune was eaten up by court costs just as they finally figured out who the money was going to go to. I couldn’t believe it when that happened! I was shocked when Esther got smallpox too. There were all these major plot points that caught me off guard and I really liked that.

I thought Esther was going to end up with her guardian until the very last moment and I was pissed! I am so glad it didn’t turn out that way or I might have hated it.

Oh yeah, someone dies of spontaneous combustion… seriously. I was a bit surprised by that.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE: I think this is one that will undoubtedly benefit on a reread. After I got through the first third I really enjoyed it, but it was much tougher than most of the Dicken’s I’ve read up to this point. If you’re thinking about dipping into his work, don’t start here. I would recommend reading Great Expectations or David Copperfield and seeing if they work for you.

Dickens builds wonderful stories and gives readers some of the best characters (both good and bad) that they’ll ever encounter. I know that I’ll continue to work through his catalogue and I’ll reread this one in a few years.

SIDE NOTE: I would highly recommend the 2005 BBC miniseries of Bleak House. I watched it after finishing the novel and it was excellent.
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LibraryThing member ztutz
My favorite Dickens.

It was given to me as a gift when I was involved in an epic and long-lived legal battle, which undoubtedly biased my opinion. Nonetheless, it is a very entertaining read.
LibraryThing member smallself
This is the serious side to Dickens; “David Copperfield” is like: “Sometimes I’m in pain and I have no money, but la-di-da I’m in love.” Plus the Tolstoy or Stephen King level of length and detail-writing. For “Bleak House” you have to throw your head back and ask the sky, “O England, where is thy justice?” Plus the technical words and word jokes, which is again not something that Doady Copperfield really got into.

I don’t really know if one is better than the other.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
At All Ears, we often recommend that children both read along with a book as they listen to the audio version - it helps them comprehend and retain more from the book. Recently, some of our adult customers mentioned that they also do this. I decided to give this a try with Bleak House by Charles Dickens. One reason I chose this book is that I love reading Dickens - his books are funny and such wonderful social commentary. And they are incredibly long - I've heard that he was paid by the word (he must have been very wealthy). I had an audio version of Bleak House narrated by Robert Whitfield (aka Simon Vance), one of my favorite narrators. Since it was a dilemma which I would enjoy more, listening or reading this book and I wanted to finish it quickly (relatively), I decided to do both. What a great experience! Vance's wide variety of accents and voices made the characters come alive. And taking time to read chapters allowed me to better understand all of the intricate plot twists and numberous characters in this long (33 hours/889 pages) book. This is my favorite Dickens book (so far). It had just the right combination of satire, mystery, and epic novel. And hats off to Simon Vance - phenomenal narration!… (more)
LibraryThing member emperatrix
After a couple of failed attempts to get into Dickens, I finally found myself enjoying his writing. Bleak House was a surprise and I'm so glad I gave it a try. I found that it reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, two of my favorites. I couldn't put it down!
LibraryThing member andreablythe
This was a loooooong book, especially since the first third was a real struggle to get through. However, as the plot continued to thicken and then thicken some more, as new interesting characters continued to join the scene, and as I grew more used to the writing style this became more enjoyable.

Though overly verbose, Dickens does a wonderful job creating a litany of quirky characters, some of whom are quite funny, some quite useless (Skimpole, Turveydrop), some cruel, and some so overly kind you get a toothache from reading them. I think Joe and Caddy are my favorites. Joe is just so much himself, a little orphan just trying to make his way, getting caught up in things so much bigger than him. Caddy has a wonderful transformation, all through her own efforts in a desperate attempt to live her life well.

Jarndyce, Esther, Richard, and Ada are my least favorites, partly because they are the least interesting. Both Jarndyce and Esther are so kind and good as to have no flaws (meh). Richard is completely illogical about money and law that he's hard to respect. Ada has almost no personality beyond loving Richard and it's hard to get a sense of her at all.

Overall reading Bleak House was a good experience. Not my favorite reading experience and I'm not jumping to read it again, but there were aspects I enjoy and Dickens surprised several times over toward the end (both in plot and characters being more complex than I thought). It's just so wordy!
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