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Jen

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Having been encouraged to read this book by the lively discussion about Dickens that have recently taken place on BGO, I feel I should start a new thread. This seems like an onerous responsibility. How to summarise the plot...? Amazon have this neat one-liner:

Dickens' last completed novel traces John Harmon's covert observation of Bella Wilfer, whom he must marry if he is to inherit a fortune.
Anyone who has read this book will realise that this is a succinct but woefully deficient summary of this wonderful, complex novel. I'm (very) slowly getting to know Dickens and his work and I'm hoping that others will enter in to discussion on this book to help me appreciate it more. To me, this seemed like a social commentary, rich with minor characters (caricatures?) allowing Dickens to satirise the extremes of the class system of the time. It explores the effect of money, the lack of it and the desire for it on human nature and human relationships. There are also many examinations of the institution of marriage, both good and bad, and the effects that this has on people. Plenty, in fact to exercise the mind.

 

The book itself is 900+ pages and I did find it hard going at times, especially the third of the four books into which it is subdivided. By the end, I was keen to find out how it all worked out (and was nicely surprised by the ending) but I really sat and forced myself to get it finished. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy it, just that long books do take a toll on me personally. I did like the way that all of the loose ends were tied up so neatly (which I understand was required of Victorian authors) and that the goodies generally did well and the baddies got their comeuppance in a number of appropriate and amusing ways. There was a lot of humour running through the book, but a fair dose of cynicism too, not a bad thing.

 

To summarise, a fantastic read, worth sticking with. I will be attempting more Dickens, but a little light reading will do me fine for now.

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Along with Bleak House and Great Expectations this is a favourite Dickens of mine. I agree, it's marvellous how authors such as Dickens manage to tie up all the loose ends in such long 'part' works..

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Along with Bleak House and Great Expectations this is a favourite Dickens of mine. I agree, it's marvellous how authors such as Dickens manage to tie up all the loose ends in such long 'part' works..

My edition has a copy of Dickens' chapter layout as an appendix. I thought this might come in useful to remind me about events as I read through, but the entries are so sketchy it's unbelievable! To get everything to tie up, I'd have to have a huge wall chart with lots of colour coding and arrows!

 

Bleak House is on my wishlist, but I'm going to tackle David Copperfield first, purely because the BBC adaptation of Bleak House is too fresh in my mind.

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I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jen. It is one of my favourites, although interestingly in a technical sense this is one of Dickens' weakest novels, with a lot of flaws.

 

Henry James lambasted it as 'a loose, baggy monster' (amongst other things), and in fact at the time the taste in fiction was moving closer towards the realism that would be the keynote of the twentieth century, so in a way Dickens had seen his day and James sounded the contemporary death knell. Perhaps it was almost for the best that he did not survive much longer.

 

Perhaps age and illness were having their toll, but he's not at the height of his powers. The plot (to give James some credit) is baggy and without effective focus. Whilst everything does come together fairly satisfactorily at the end (and this is always one of the remarkable feats that makes Dickens so enjoyable for me) the journey there is sometimes a little strained and tortured. There's a greater sense of fragmentation of focus in the multi-dimensional facets of the plot and the biggest weakness of all is the John Harmon storyline.

 

 

the disguise business never really adds up very well and is not integrated successfully with everything else. Noddy Boffin's deception also feels very strained to me - it seems inconceivable that he could maintain his descent into miserly misanthropy given his natural disposition.

 

 

So, it seems odd that it should be a favourite of mine, then!

 

The reason is because in this book I feel more of the raw power of Dickens' dark imagination than in almost any of his other books. There is more sinister grotesquery here than in most of the rest - Silas Wegg, Mr Venus and his remarkable shop, even a good character like Jenny Wren feels well on the margins of normalcy! In particular, though, the portrayal of Bradley Headstone fascinates me on this front, since he is not the openly exposed grotesque, but instead holds extreme inner states that emerge alarmingly. Actually, in spite of the criticisms from the likes of James that Dickens could only write types and teach us nothing about real people, I think Headstone gives the lie to that. He is disturbing precisely because of his connection to respectable reality.

 

I also love the comedy and there's a newer dimension to some of this in the likes of the Veneerings and Podsnaps - his response to the ever-growing moneyed classes. The wonderful, grey Twemlow in the midst of this works very well, though once again it feels slightly out of kilter with the rest of the book.

 

This is a great imaginative romp in the mind and explores the very darkest places as well as the most hilarious. In a way, it is Dickens allowing his creativity to delve more fully into the recesses of his psyche than ever before, but the price is that the more rational part of his mind has less than its usual sure-footed control. It is not great, but it is very enjoyable.

 

I love it and if you even vaguely enjoy Dickens you really shouldn't miss out on this!

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'Baggy' is a good word to describe the lack of pace through the latter parts of the novel. I found I enjoyed the side-alleys more than the main thrust of the novel in many ways. Fledgeby and his money lending establishment was a good one, especially at the end!

 

I hadn't really thought of the contrast between Headstone and the other characters, but he is more believable and well-developed. Many of the others were caricatures, as I said before. I never quite got a grip on Riderhood but I think my attention may have lapsed at a crucial stage.

 

I didn't guess the twist at the end with Boffin's miserly behaviour but it was a bit of a stretch of the imagination to buy in to it. A little 'I woke up and it was just a dream'.

 

I find that this book is very vivid in my memory, which even a week after finishing a novel is not always the case. Maybe this is the test of truly great writing?

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This was my very first Dickens as part of my A-Level English 20 years ago and I remember being blown away by it. Just reading your comments has brought back all my feelings about all the characters. Riderhood, particularly, I remember having nightmares about! I think it was the first book I ever read and appreciated both as a story and as a work of great literature, and led to me doing an English degree. I love his metaphors and use of satire in this novel. I must go back to it and re-read it soon (when I have enough time to fit 900 pages in...)

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