Oh my – Dickens at his best is so good and between this and A Tale of Two Cities he’s at his best. I read this maybe 15 years ago and knew then I’d have to read it again because there is so much in it. Before my first reading I’d only read something in high school (Great Expectations? A Tale of Two Cities?) which I didn’t care for and Dombey & Son for a class on the history of 19th century England and I enjoyed that pretty well. At the age of 50 or so, Bleak House blew me away.
by Charles Dickens
1853 / 583 pages
(Penguin Classics ebook)
read by Sean Barrett, Teresa Gallagher 35h 15m
rating: 10 / classic English lit (19th century)
(both read and listened)
Over the years I went on to re-read Great Expectations (and enjoy it well enough), Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Hard Times – I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities about 3 or 4 times all told. Love it. (Links to my reviews.)
So to delve back into Bleak House was a kick. I found I didn’t remember much at all except the court case in general, some of the ending a bit of the setting and a few of the characters. The length – 35 hours of listening – took me 4 days but I finished – whew! (But I was reading the ebook in bed and that goes much faster.)
I made NOTES up to a point – getting the characters straight in my head because there are so many of them. At one point the novel turns into a police procedural and a bit of a thriller while at other points it’s a romance and finally it’s a social commentary.
Esther Sommerson is an orphan who finds herself at the home of John Jarndyce, a participant in the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce which has been before Chancery Court for ages. Also there are Jarndyce’s cousins, Richard and Ada, who each have a stake in the case. Over the course of the novel the three children grow up with Ada and Richard falling in love, Richard getting involved in several things, finally the court case, and Esther just loving everyone and trying to be helpful. Ada and Esther are typical of Dickens’ “good” women, they’re “Angels of the House” types. also see my NOTES:
Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock rules her husband and society, Mrs Jellyby tries to reform Africa. These are NOT examples of a good “little woman” as Jarndyce comes to call Esther.
Bleak House is finally social commentary – Dickens was really trying to raise awarness and articulate the corruption of the Chancery Court. He was also pointing out the foulness of the London environment.
I think the book gives history buffs a really good peek at what life was like in those times –