The Bleak House Readalong
It took me almost one and a half months to finally complete my reading of Bleak House. Really, it feels like such an accomplishment!
I would have ended up taking much more time, however thanks to the unexpected long weekend in India, and absolutely vegetating at home for almost 4 days helped me complete almost a quarter of this novel, and make up for my earlier slowness.
Anyway, in this post, I try to combine all the notes I made during my reading into one coherent post…
Unlike some other participants in the readalong, I had never seen any movies, or TV shows based on the book. So, I pretty much entered my reading blind so to speak. And, I think that’s what actually kept me going through these 900 odd pages – the need to know what was going to happen.
As I mentioned earlier, the courts of Chancery and the endless Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case set the scene for all the many characters to play out their lives. The main character (and one of the narrators) is Esther Summerson. Unfortunately, she is also one of the most boring people in the book. Her self-effacing nature and her goodness sometimes made me want to gag. Although she tries to come across as self-effacing, I found her constant rambling about how much people loved her quite nauseating. For all her humility, she does not hesitate to recount the many compliments that are paid to her.
Esther’s background is rather mysterious. By mysterious, it just means that nobody knows who exactly her parents are. In today’s day and age, such a plot device would seem very outdated. And when so much of this chunky book is devoted to this mystery, it did drag the book down a little. However, the other characters and story lines make up for this lack. Dickens has written this book in a typical soap-opera style – dragging things out just a bit longer, and just when you are starting to get restless, things happen! In fact, a lot of things happen in the second part of the book – spontaneous human combustions (something I heard of only after reading this book), murder, secret marriages, melodrama, wild-goose chase, and a final resolution of the wretched court case – it all happens at a breakneck speed (as compared to the snail’s pace of the 1st 300 pages or so). The second part of the book has hardly any superfluous writing…it is just plot, plot, and more plot…and I enjoyed quite a bit of it.
That said, there are some aspects of this book that fell flat for me. I found myself quite uncomfortable with his portrayal of women in the novel. Although, I have no sympathy with his characterization of Mrs.Jellyby (a woman who neglects her family because she is involved in charity work related to Africa), I did wonder if this was his thoughts/opinions on working women in general. His ideal woman seems to be one who is focussed on home and family, self-sacrificing, suffers without complaint the various injustices she has to face (think Ada). While it is nice for a woman to be all these things, I can imagine the toll it might take on her, and it makes me FURIOUS, MAD when men idealize such angelic women without acknowledging how much of herself she might be losing out in the process.
Another aspect I absolutely HATED SPOILER ALERT!!
Once Esther’s mother’s past is exposed, she runs away from home in the middle of winter snowstorm, and walks from London to Lincolnshire!! I am not sure about these distances, but surely that is not walkable – especially considering she is an aristocrat who is only used to pleasure walking. Then, she comes to visit her lover’s grave in London (still walking) – a man whom she had not seen in more than 20 years and then she proceeds to die there. Waves of melodrama leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Especially when her actions turn out to be totally meaningless. Her husband dotes on her, and is only too willing to forgive all her sins and take her back. I find it hard to condone such a cowardly act on her part. Such a foolish thing to run away causing so much harm to herself, her daughter, and the husband who adores her. I really did not have much patience with this part of the story. It’s so predictable, and so boring. Every classic book I read has the fallen woman committing suicide, or dying some miserable death. I hate that UGHH!!!
Other than that, overall I like the book, I like the perspectives that Dickens brings to Victorian England, and how he brings that period so remarkably to life. I also love his humane way of writing about the more unfortunate characters in his book. I plan to go back and refer my notes for my favorite quotes. I may even post them here
Thanks to Amanda of The Zen Leaf for conducting this readalong.