Back to the Classics Challenge: Bleak House

A Dickens novel! And not just a Dickens novel, a Dickens novel I really liked. A lot. Whoa, that's big - for me at least.

I felt like this read was going very slowly for a while. I was enjoying it but just felt like I wasn't making any progress. Then I completely stopped reading it during "the plague" of last month. It's good but its not the type of light reading the flu brain needs. But now that I'm feeling better, I picked it back up and was riveted by the second half. Now I'm sad it's over and upset I have to pick another book that will take me a while to get drawn into. That is my reading circle of life.

Dicken's starts out Bleak House by introducing us to a whole host of characters using two narrators. I enjoyed the parts narrated by Esther right from the beginning. (Although I did make the mistake of looking up cliffs notes once to clarify a character and read someone else's thoughts on her and was throw because it was completely the opposite of how I saw her and thought for a second I was reading it all wrong. I wasn't. That person was crazy.) The omniscient narrator parts were a little harder for me to follow but I trusted it. Not because I'm a huge fan of Dickens, ahem, but if I read a book, I try to trust the author. And because of the recommendations of several others who said it was great. I persevered. I'm so glad I did.

I felt like Dickens starts the story by drawing a bunch of dots all around a circle. You can't see how they connect at all and it's quite a mental challenge to keep track of where each is and who/what occurred there. As the story goes, he starts pulling a string in the center and then all start to converge. (I'm not sure exactly how these drawn circles move in this analogy, just work with me :-) and by the end, you're left with a big dot of a plot. Everything fits together and works so well. It's a masterpiece. But just because it fits well at the end doesn't mean you see it all in advance. Oh no, there was more than one surprise in the plot, for me least, and I do so enjoy surprises.

And completely opposite to how I felt about A Tale of Two Cities, I really related to the characters and felt they were just alive. Esther was probably my favorite but not the only one I adored. And of course, there were several I didn't like at all but still found fascinating. I was also able to finally see what Dickens in know for - that ability to tell a great story and bring up the problems he saw in his times (and human nature being what it is, our times too) without being preachy. Lots of ideas to ponder in this story. A highly recommend it.  Also, for those out there who are like me and don't really like unhappy endings, for a book called Bleak House, it wasn't horrible tragic. I mean, it's not a rainbow of sunshine all through either, but I was happy at the end.

I mentioned the BBC series when I included this book in my original classics list in January and Craig and I did start it. I stopped after two episodes because I felt like what they were including and emphasizing was getting too close to spoiling things for me but I look forward to picking it back up now that it isn't an issue.

Spoilery talk for those that have read it:

The one character/relationship I felt confused about was Skimpole. Particularly his relationship with the guardian Jarndyce. Why, when overall Jarndyce was wise and kind, would he let Skimpole into his life and be around other that he cared about. We see in the beginning with the money issue that he didn't want Richard and Esther to suffer because of Skimpole but in the end, his prescence does harm them all a great deal. Could Jarndyce not see his "childishness" for what is really was? That seems hard to believe. But what's the alternative. Or are we to see that as one of his few faults because we see the contrasts in how Woodcourt sees right through him? I understand his role in the story, both plot wise and as an instrument to represent apathy and selfishness but I felt like that might the one place where Dickens was veering awfully close to crossing the line from character to caricature. But perhaps I'm biased because I just disliked him sooo much from the very beginning that anytime he appeared I wished him gone. A similar case for character/caricature could probably be made for Mrs. Jellyby but I myself have sadly seen too many real life Mrs. Jellby's to doubt her realness.  

Bleak House was my Back to the Classics Challenge - Classic with a Title in the Name Selection. Head over to Books and Chocolate for more Back to the Classics Challenge and reading fun!


  1. I LOVE Bleak House! So exciting to find someone else who enjoyed it also. I actually watched the TV series first, but I love the book too. It is without a doubt my very favorite Dickens novel, and I've read all but one of them (Edwin Drood). It simply has EVERYTHING you could want in a Victorian three-decker novel -- romance, humor, suspense, satire -- it's practically perfect in every way (even though Ada is annoying, but Dickens' ingenues always are.)

    I think BBC series is brilliant, especially the casting -- Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Alun Armstrong as Inspector Bucket.

    Anyway, so happy you liked it and you linked up to the Back to the Classics Challenge!

  2. Though it took me around 200 pages to settle into Dickens’ pace, I became absorbed in this novel The characters of Inspector Bucket and the sly man-child Harold Skimpole are unforgettable. The descriptions show characters, landscapes, slums and rooms (Dickens has a thing about squalor). The chase scene near the end rivets us, we are not reading about Esther and Bucket in the pursuit, we are in the carriage with them as the snow and sleet fall. Incredible. An unforgettable reading experience Dickens' power to enthrall, to enchant still stands.