Friday, March 2, 2012

Bleak House Readalong - Week One

I swear I did read the rules for this readalong and at some point it must have occurred to me that, at the rate we were reading, this thing was going to drag on for a long time. Still I was surprised last night when I went back to the original post to make sure I had read enough for this week's discussion. We will be discussing this Bleak House until the end of May. May. Which means that there is a very good chance that a) in all of those weeks, I'm likely to miss a couple of discussions and be kicked off the island, and/or b) I will flat run out of time to read or discuss the book in May with a graduation to plan and prepare for. But I'm hell bent to actually finish reading Bleak House this time so I'm going to stick it out.

Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell were said to be fans of Charles Dickens because of his comedy, realism and social commentary. Henry Miller and Virginia Woolf, on the other, not such big fans. They thought his work was sentimental and implausible. For my money, Dickens' work is actually all of those things and the blending of them may just explain why his work has stood the test of time. I think English teachers have loved them for years as well because they make a great torture device for students - Dickens never met a word he didn't like and the more, the better.
"Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs, fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog dropping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck."
And there you have the very reason why my copy of Bleak House is 770 pages long. Is it necessary to use that many words to tell the reader that " it was really foggy all around?" Probably not. But this time, knowing I only had to read 75 pages, I really read every one of those words and I swear by the time I got through that paragraph, I half expected to see fog rising up from under my bed. For a book that is centered around a court case that has dragged on and on for years, it even makes perfectly good sense that descriptions of the case, the court and the plaintiffs would stretch out endlessly as well.

Things I liked in Week One:

1. Words - Dickens gives me words I don't usually get a chance to read, such as "amanuensis" which is a person performing a task by hand, either manual labor or transcribing someones words. I can't pronounce it but I love to read it!

2. Character Names - Mr. Tangle, for one of the participants in the case; Mr. Krook (well, you can just imagine what we'll learn about him down the road); Mr. Skimpole, a character who is forever needing money from his friends and Esther, our  leading lady. Now Esther may sound a little dull given the other names in the book but consider the Book of Esther from the Bible. Our Esther, like the Bible Esther, is an orphan, raised by a family member (although our Esther is not aware of that fact initially). Makes me wonder what other parallels the Esthers might have.

3. Social criticisms - we're only 75 pages in and already Dickens has made his position clear on the British court system and well-meaning people who neglect their own families as they try to save the world. He's also taken jabs at the wealthy and the judgmental.

Things I didn't like in Week One:

1. Words - Yes there are too many of them. I don't care how good the writing is or how wonderful a picture it paints, sometimes my eyes just start to glaze over.

It's not too late to join the readalong! If you'd like to join us, or are just interested in learning what comes up in our discussions about Bleak House, jump on over to Wallace's Unputdownables.


  1. I also really love the names that Dickens chooses for his characters, and need to get to reading this one as soon as I can. His verbose way doesn't really bother me because I know that inside all those words I am going to find some incredible nuggets of comedy and tragedy. I hope that you love this one, and will be eagerly following your readalong!

  2. We should all be thanking Ernest Hemingway for cutting out all the unnecessary words and just getting to the heart of it.

  3. Good on you. I should do this...but I couldn't even get through the BBC version of Bleak House, so I don't know if I could do the actual book. I just have an aversion to Dickens except for Christmas Carol, but that's really short! I look forward to your updates!

  4. Lisa, I loved what you had to say about this first week; it made me chuck as I read ....all that fog in way too many words.

    I signed up for this, but I wasn't in a Bleak House frame of mind (sick all week) so I needed a lighter read. Hope to catch up though:) Nice job.

  5. Ha! I felt the same many words, until I met Esther and that is when I started to like the story ....

  6. I did a read along for this a year (or two?) ago and it was great fun. Some parts were hard though, so hang in there! I will enjoy remembering it through your updates!

  7. Oh, those words. They are wonderful, but there are just SO MANY! I do love that fog description though, and Dickens' character names are the best. Bleak House really is a great story.

  8. LOVE the names Dickens uses. My favorite is from Our Mutual Friend--the villan is Bradley Headstone. Ha! Also Miss Havisham is another good one.

    I agree about the words!

  9. I'm almost certain that Charles Dickens was paid by the word. He published his books as serials in magazines and he would draw the stories out for as long as possible to maintain his paychecks. I'm hot and cold on Dickens but I've never read Bleak House. Good luck!

  10. This has been sitting on my shelf for a long time now, and I've been meaning to read it. While I might not be planning to join in the readathon, just watching other people plow through it is inspiration for me to read it!

  11. I read Great Expectations in highschool and did not enjoy it. I think I would appreciate him now as an adult reader. I sold a stack of Dickens at the independent bookstore I work at just yesterday along with the new biography which looks really interesting.

    Bleak House was made into a recent miniseries with Gillian Anderson right?

    1. Michelle,

      Yes, there was a mini-series and it was awesome. Anderson was really good in it.

  12. I may already be kicked off. I'm finishing up the reading now and won't post until today. Ah, well...I had a feeling this might happen.

    Great thoughts, by the way. I only hope I can be as insightful.