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.