Bleak House: Chapters 1, 2 and 3

Mike and I have decided to strike out on our own for National Novel Reading Month 2008 – the gang over at defectiveyeti are reading Lolita, but Mike and I (having both read the book) have instead selected Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as the book we’re going to read together.

Mike’s already got his summary of the first 3 chapters up, and he has set a target to post on Tuesdays and Thursdays about his progress in the book.  I am going to try and follow the same procedure.  Staying true to form, I don’t have a detailed first post ready yet, and I’m already behind schedule because I am much less reliable than our friend from the Left Coast.

According to wikipedia, Bleak House is Dickens’ ninth novel, and it was published in twenty monthly installments beginning in March of 1852 (Dickens often serialized his novels;  if he were alive today, he would be writing for LOST, and that show would not suck nearly as much as it now does).  I haven’t read much more of the plot synopsis at wikipedia, because I don’t want to ruin the story for myself, but as i understand it, Dickens was moved to write the book as a result of his experiences working among England’s lawyers.  If I’m not mistaken, it is a commentary on the bureaucratic absurdities and injustices that Dickens observed in the courts.

I have no doubt that the book will strike somewhat of a chord in me for those reasons at this particular point in my professional career.

It’s going to be a bit of a change for me;  on the weekend, I read the two Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams.  Adams is always such an easy read, and his tone is light and airy, almost conversational;  the contrast between Adams’ direct style and Dickens’ Victorian, meandering prose is startling to my eyes at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it shortly.

I won’t cover the same ground that MIke did in his excellent synopsis of the first three chapters.  My own thoughts are that Dickens showed himself most distinctly in Chapter Two, which is the reader’s introduction to Esther Summerson, who (I presume) will be one of the book’s protagonists.  In a very short chapter, Dickens manages to introduce the (apparently) orphaned Esther, depict her guardians as loveless and severe to the point that (in the space of only a few paragraphs) the reader manages to start developing a healthy dislike for them.  It then transpires that Esther must leave, and Dickens takes pains to show that Esther is so genuine and good-hearted that she feels as though it must be her fault that her departure is not evoking much of a reaction at all in others.  She finally departs, leaving behind her only real solace, a doll in which she had hitherto confided her insecurities and private upsets.  Dickens is a master at working the emotional levers, and the connection between reader and Esther is near immediate.

I am hoping that the book will produce one of Dickens’ signature characters, someone like the execrable Uriah Heep, the lowly but noble Barkis, or the hopelessly deluded, optimistic and prolix Micawber (all from David Copperfield ), Sydney Carton from Tale of Two Cities, or (possibly the most enduring character ever) Ebenezer Scrooge himself. I have to confess that I’m always terrible at remembering plot details once I’ve read a book (or seen a movie, for that matter); for me, it is always the characters I remember.   That may be one reason that I’ve reacted so positively to Dickens’ work in the past, as he seems to invariably be able to capture the essence of a type of person that we’ve all met and imbue one of his characters with all of those traits.

As an aside, if memory serves me correctly, Mike and I made each other’s virtual acquaintance at around this time last year, in the midst of our mutual participation in last year’s NaNoReMo at dy;  thus ends the first year of our virtual correspondence.   I have very much enjoyed getting to know each other through teh Intarwebs, learning a little (from a guy who knows a lot) about photography, and following along with Mike’s attempts to retain all of his digits, to refrain from going barking mad at work, and of course with figgy’s growth and development.   Virtual fist bumps to Mike;  I look forward to continuing our correspondence and commisseration.  My best to theVet!

By junior

Guitar owner and silly person.


  1. Me, I was in the middle of some forgettable fantasy series (palate cleanser, perhaps) featuring manly men; broadswords, cleaving, and cleavage; and wicked wizards, deep dwarves, and ephemeral elves. After Tolkien, you get the idea that there’s a certain content level that needs to be fulfilled to qualify as fantasy, and much of it cribbed.

    The more I learn the more I despair of learning enough; work’s starting to follow me home, and figgy’s teeth grow ever more dangerous. It’s been a great year, and I hope to someday write as ably as you.

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