Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bleak House Readalong: Chapters 1-7.

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the 200ish titles left on my list and realized that if I want to keep my sanity when I get near the end, I needed to read another Charles Dickens novel. I ended up writing a post (Help Me Torture Myself) to get some advice about what horrible Dickens novel to read next.

The comments were amusing, and as it turned out, Amanda over at The Zen Leaf had already decided to host a readalong over Bleak House lasting into October. It was like the heavens open and a light shining down. Dickens would be much better to handle in a group (I think).

So, I signed up and procrastinated a bit before starting the book. The thing is, I am convinced that my hatred of Dickens is somewhat ill-founded. Truth be told, I thought the only Dickens I have read from cover to cover is Great Expectations and that was twice-once in high school and once last fall. And I truly hated it both times.

I also was "Assigned" to read Hard Times in college and it is the only assigned reading I never finished. I think i let my earlier prejudice get in the way.

But now that I think about it, I have read A Christmas Carol, and liked, perhaps I will like more Dickens. I decided that going into Bleak House, I would simply pretend his name was not on the cover.

Alas...I think that my overwhelming prejudice is going to torment me some more. I finished the first 85 pages (7 chapters), which was my assigned reading for the week. And while it wasn't the total hell I equated with Great Expectations I still wanted to yank Dickens from his grave and yell, "GET TO THE POINT!!!!"

The fact is, he rambles. About nothing. He uses far too many adjectives and it bothers me. I get that he is trying to weave and intricate tale, but he does not need 85 pages to say what was said in the first 7 chapters. Here is my condensed version.

Esther is a poor girl who grows up unloved. When she is orphaned, a rich, unnamed benefactor sends her to a school so she can learn to be a governess. There, she befriends all of the girls and is much loved by everyone. Finally, she receives a letter from her benefactor saying that her skills are needed.

She leaves for London and meets Ada and Richard. It will be her task to be Ada's companion. They go and spend the night at a crazy lady's house who cares little for her children. While there, Esther takes care of all of the children and they all love her to pieces. Also, Ada, Esther and Richard for a walk in London. They meet a crazy lady who insists on taking them back to her place. They go and learn about the courts and something about "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" and that it may have an effect on them.

While with crazy old lady, they meet a crazy man and his cat. It is awkward and uncomfortable.

When they leave London, they go to the house of their benefactor, and everyone is much pleased with one another. Esther is loved to pieces because she is so nice and caring.

There is also some rambling that has nothing to do with the narrative and which makes no sense.

The end.

Okay, I know I am probably not being fair, but does he have to go on and on all the time? Perhaps it is too early to fit the random pieces in with the narrative, but I am finding that there are too many threads to hold in my head at once. I want more explained to simple English. I think I may need to go back and skim to see if I can fit it together...or just read the next few chapters and let it sink in.

The fact is, I am frustrated because I think I am hindering myself from enjoying the novel. I have this prejudice and it is hard to fight.

Anyway, I think I best leave my tirade against Dickens here for this week. I WILL be back next week and hopefully I will have pleasant things to say, and that some pieces of the puzzle will be placed together.


  1. Funny thing is - I actually liked Great Expectations, but loathed A Christmas Carol because of all the ridiculous amounts of description. I chose Bleak House because I told it was far more like GE, but now reading it, it feels so much more like CC. Sad.

    Those chapters that seemed to make no sense and have nothing to do with the plotline? They only made sense to me after I read the Spark Notes descriptions. Sad, I know, but after reading 13 chapters of this book and feeling completely overwhelmed, that's the only way I could figure out how to make sense of this book!

  2. I know what you mean about the rambling-I complained about that in my post. I've read GE and Tale of Two Cities and found them okay but this is not working for me. Plus I really hate Esther so I couldn't wait for the narrator to take over for her. Hopefully the next section will begin to tie things together although I expect it may take longer.

  3. I am laughing so hard at your post right now. I have never read ANY Dickens so I am living vicariously through you. :) Literary prejudices are stronger than iron and really hard to break, this I know. I always feel like I'm missing out on something by not reading him because so many people love love love his stuff. But then I see posts like yours where he is a special torment. I hope the rest of Bleak House goes okay for you. :)

  4. I watched the very good miniseries with Gillian Anderson before reading Bleak House and it's the only reason I finished it too. Makes it more exciting to see it interpreted in a more modern way that brings it alive, since we can't experience it fresh off the 19th century press! I recently showed it to my in-laws and they were glued to it. Maybe you could read a section, watch a section? (And I happen to like Esther! Obviously she's Dicken's idealization of the perfectly behaved little 'angel in the house' Victorian lady, but still. She's had the old hard knock life and she's still a good person.)

  5. Allie, why do you do this to yourself?! I'm afraid you'll end up going off classic for good after this year :)

    Drop Dickens, grab some Austen or Gaskell or Colette. Life's too short and they are still classics.

  6. I'm in the Dickens-loving minority! I love his ramblings because they are so sarcastic and often funny. I hear a voice like Jon Stewart's in my head when I'm reading his stuff. Maybe try that? Bleak House is not one of my favorites though. I thought the movie series was better than the book. (I liked the portrayal of Esther better in the movie). Anyway, good luck!

  7. I'm totally with you, Allie! What is he going ON about? Is that horrible boring first chapter what the critics mean when they talk about Dicken's social conscience? Ewww. I hope the second section gets better.

  8. I wonder if I love it so much because I saw the miniseries first -- I was rivet and could NOT WAIT to get the next disc in the mail from Netflix. My kids even liked it. It would probably have been tougher if I didn't realize that all the pieces were eventually going to fall together. I did get impatient with some of the other Dickens works I've read, but I've learned to just hang in there. I agree with some of the other comments, it might really help if you watch the miniseries. And I think Esther is pretty cloying in the book. His heroines usually annoy me.

  9. Dickens is certainly wordy, no doubt about that, lol! I actually liked Great Expectations, but struggled with A Tale of Two Cities. We'll see where Bleak House leaves us.