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Bleak House

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This is my favourite of Dickens' novels, it's so complex. It's long but if you're thinking of reading Dickens for the first time I don't think you can really go wrong with this novel. The story is complex and intriguing. It's maybe a bit predictable to the modern reader, but at the time readers would have been on tenterhooks, especially as it was published episodically!

 

I do think the main narrator, Esther is a bit of an old priss, but it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the book. What do other people think? Do you think Esther is a bit two faced or just a wet rag?!

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Its my favorite Dickens novel and the way he uses Jarndyce vs Jarndyce to dissect Victorian society from Poor Tom all the way up to the great Aristocrats is brilliant....but like you I've always found Esther so be a bit wet....and as you say a little too prissy to be likeable.....I have somewhere on VHS the BBC series with Denholm Elliot and Diana Rigg - an adaptation of true genious.....

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I first read this in my teens, and it took me ages. I've read it quite a few times since then and my copy is almost falling to pieces. It's still a slog to get through, compared with some of Dickens' shorter novels, but there's nothing to beat the air of menace and decay that hangs over it.

 

And boy is Esther prissy! Almost as bad as Jane Eyre at times.

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Fanny Price in Mansfield Park is pretty bad too..! However the thing about her is, Jane Austen is AWARE that Fanny's a prissy little madam and she quite likes taking the piss out of her for it! A soppy character saved by the acid tongue of the creator! Maybe Austen was taking the piss out of the soppy woman trend!

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I think possibly the difference between Jane Austen's female characters and the likes of Esther and Jane Eyre is that Austen was writing fifty years earlier, and a lot about society had changed in the intervening period. I've always felt that many of Dicken's female characters are weak, but possibly that's a cultural thing because his writing reflected society.

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This is one of my favourite Dicken's novels too, I love the prose and even though I did get a bit bogged down I enjoyed all of it. I agree with the comments about Esther being a bit prissy and a wet rag.

I shall be interested to see how the BBC handles with regard to the last time. They are currently filming an adaption and they are trying to do in 20 half hour episodes with cliff hanger endings each time. I think they are trying to recreate the episodic nature of the way Victorians first read it in 'Household Words'. Andrew Davies of 'Pride and Prejudice' renoun is adapting it... ever searching for a new way to present the classics... the word soap opera has popped up in the news about it.

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I read Bleak House for A Level - twice. The second time I read it was over the Christmas holidays in my final year, having just split up from my first girlfriend, so my memories are tied in with that.

 

It is a great novel, in most senses of the word. Dickens paints on a huge canvas, and (to continue my awkward metaphor) paints a picture of a time that no historian looking back could capture. It contains some of the most memorable characters and scenes in English literature. However, this is no objective picture from a remote observer, and the novel suffers from crippling sentimentality, and one of the most odious narrators in English literature: Esther Summerson.

 

My 17 year old self didn't know too much about unreliable narrators. Are we supposed to admire Esther? I would have to read it again, but life is surely too short to read Bleak House three times! I'm looking forward to the BBC adaptation in half-hour episodes though. I can imagine what it must have been like for his readers waiting for the next instalment to be published - very much their equivalent of Coronation Street being left on a knife-edge and viewers not being able to wait for the next episode.

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My 17 year old self didn't know too much about unreliable narrators. Are we supposed to admire Esther?

 

I find it really interesting to consider novels in terms of the reliability of the narrator. One essay I did at uni was a discussion of the comment (can't remember who by) 'Don't trust the teller, trust the tale', and I found it really opened my eyes as I had never even thought to consider this question before.

 

I think it is definitely a possibity that Esther is bragging a little bit about how loved she is by absolutely everyone :rolleyes: , however I do believe her version of events to be truthful. (although I sometimes imagine her sitting there with Ada and Richard basking in how loved and appreciated she is, and them just really wishing she'd give them peace for 5 minutes!) I think as a narrator Esther is a bit wearing, she's just too good to be true, and doesn't she just know it! I don't think we're supposed to admire her as such....maybe she has some kind of insecurity complex and doesn't really think she's worthy to keep company at Bleak House and so in order to justify her place as narrator she feels the need to big herself up a bit. Maybe it's a further comment by Dickens on the class system...that even if a person of lower social standing such as Esther is seemingly accepted into higher society, there will still always be some kind of stigma there to make her feel inferior. So maybe it's not her fault she's annoying....?!?!?

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When we read this years ago at Uni, my friend fell head over heels in love with Esther, to the point where he became as boring as her on her virtues. His infatuation lasted a long time, as I remember!

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to have to read this novel in the space of a week, so I can't say I enjoyed it to be honest. Is it just me or is the parent/guardian/husband issue rather creepy and unsatisfactory? I was horrified!!!

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lol how can you not have noticed him being such a creepy slimey character! :confused: I thought it felt a little bit like Dickens thinking, hmmm what can I do to make Esther's story a bit more interesting....I know! let's marry her off to her rich guardian! Great idea! HOwever once the public got hold of this idea and expressed doubt at the plausibility of this match he had to backtrack and make him realise it was unfair to marry Esther....or maybe Dickens just realised how creepy it was himself, I don't know....maybe he was drunk when he wrote it! Or desperately trying to make up something to meet his deadline! thats the way it seems to me, it just seems so ridiculous an idea. It is definitely kind of creepy the way he's obviously lusting after this young girl who is supposed to be almost like a daughter to him. The fact that Esther even contemplates accepting him just proves what a characterless little wimp she is! :eek: even that greasy fop that i can't remember the name of...the one who fancies Esther before her illness.....even HE'S less creepy than whatsisname...Mr Jarndyce? (The guardian anyway, whatever his name is!) And that's saying something!

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Crikey I had forgotten she hadn't actually married him, I guess that's because I read it so fast and could not face it again! Dickens has an odd relationships with other wives too, I think it is in David Copperfield where he marries the wrong girl by mistake then conveniently she dies of nothing in particular so he can marry the one he should have in the first place! Which I think i remember was something like what happened in real life for Dickens?

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Did Dickens's first wife die of nothing in particular then? :D

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Trying to think back 25 years to when I last read Bleak House, I think I hated Esther so much by the end, I didn't notice how creepy Mr Jarndyce was. Didn't she marry some wet doctor bloke in the end, and live a life of complete bliss.

 

I often think about Richard's attitude to money, which I admired greatly. I was going to buy this thing which would have cost me £10, but then I didn't, so that means I have £10 to spend.

 

I like to apply this myself. I think I'll buy a Porsche. This Porsche costs £60,000. The bad news is, someone got ahead of me and bought it first. The good news is, I've now got £60,000 to spend how I like. Hurray!

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You may be right, Seraphina, but you'll have to make sure playwright Simon Gray gets a good slapping too. Spookily, a few minutes ago I read this in an Observer review of his Smoking Diaries:

 

"I was particularly taken by his false economy for saving money... Instead of ordering vintage champagne, you make do with the house stuff, thereby saving yourself 30 quid a bottle. QED: you are 30 quid better off... Like the perpetually broke, he has a Micawber-like faith that something will always turn up."

 

Wrong Dickens reference methinks.

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Did Dickens's first wife die of nothing in particular then? :D

 

I sort of forgot about this thread!

 

Looking into it, i've made two disturbing discoveries

1. I seem to have imagined Dickens' marital complications...

2. I can't find any of my Dickens novels, and I own about 8. Where did they go? How is it possible to loose so many books?

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What an amazing book. It's one of those books that is worth reading good criticism on, because it's possible to look at things that happen in it in so many different ways. John Carey's particularly interesting, as I recall.

 

I want to reread it, but I've got about 15 other Dickens novels to read first.

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Bleak House is to be discussed on Radio4's 'Open Book' next week (Sunday Oct 23rd 4.00pm - 4.30pm; repeated Thursday Oct. 27th at the same time).

 

I gather, having seen a trailer last night, that there is to be a TV version soon.

I am looking forward to seeing this, as my reading commitments, my TBR pile, and The List mean that I am not going to get near it in the written form in any forseeable future!

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This looks to be a stunning adaptation, and rather against the grain of current drama formats, in that it will be shown in twice-weekly half-hour episodes. I think this is just right, recapturing the episodic nature of Dickens' original serialisation.

 

This is one of his two greatest novels (Great Expectations being the other) and is an absolute must-see if you are at all interested in literature.

 

Lady Dedlock, Tulkinghorn, Inspector Bucket (no relation to Hyacinth!), the Smallweeds, Jo the Crossing Sweeper, and Krook - who gives us one of the most extraordinary scenes in all literature - they are wonderful characters. Bleak House is also argued by some to be the first ever detective novel - though others disagree because the murder mystery is only one part of a very complicated plot.

 

It's a remarkable cast (including Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock - that's an intriguing bit of casting!) and adapted by the extremely talented Andrew Davies. You can't miss this!

 

:)

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Well, since Inspector Bucket is a rather lowly policeman (a social differential of which Dickens makes a good deal) I suspect that even if he were related, Hyacinth would have destroyed any documentation that suggested a link. It'll have to stay a mystery locked in the shifting sands of time! ;)

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"Bleak House" was my A-level Dickens novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. He's one of those authors I'm full of good intentions to read more of but somehow it never happens. Looking forward to the TV show.

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