Group Read: Bleak House by Charles Dickens
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February will be a group read of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. The Great Expectations group read was so successful that I am emboldened to embark on another!
My copy of Bleak House is 829 pages, 67 chapters long. I will try to divide it up to 1 or two chapters a day since I found that to be such an effective tool for GE.
I was given a set of Dickens by my dear friend Louise since her children didn't want them (!), and here is the rather boring cover of my copy:
Here are a few more covers:
Here's Wikipedia's introductory information on Bleak House:
Bleak House is one of Charles Dickens's major novels, first published as a serial between March 1852 and September 1853. The novel has many characters and several sub-plots, and the story is told partly by the novel's heroine, Esther Summerson, and partly by an omniscient narrator. At the centre of Bleak House is the long-running legal case, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which came about because someone wrote several conflicting wills. This legal case is used by Dickens to satirize the English judicial system, and he makes use of his earlier experiences as a law clerk, and as a litigant seeking to enforce copyright on his earlier books.
Though the legal profession criticized Dickens's satire as exaggerated, this novel helped support a judicial reform movement, which culminated in the enactment of legal reform in the 1870s.
There is some debate among scholars as to when Bleak House is set. The English legal historian Sir William Holdsworth sets the action in 1827; however, reference to preparation for the building of a railway in Chapter LV suggests the 1830s.
Here we go!
>7 drneutron: Thanks, Jim!
>8 ursula: If it goes anything like the September group read of Great Expectations, there will be several who will finish after February ends. We'll enjoy hearing your thoughts whenever you want to post, Ursula!
>11 mthespinner: Hi mthespinner. Wow! You've been a member of LT since August of 2006, congratulations! I'm not a knitter or spinner, but I am into cats and books, so 2 of 4! Welcome.
>14 PawsforThought: I saw that BBC adaptation from 2005 and really liked it. The only character I specifically remember is Burn Gorman as Guppy, although at this point I don’t even really remember who Guppy was in the book!
>15 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul! Ha. Chuckles. Glad you’re in.
>16 Berly: Hi Berly!
>17 pgmcc: Excellent news, Peter! I have a slight knowledge, but only from the BBC series, so am something of a clean slate.
>18 kac522: Hi Kathy. Feel free to join in with comments.
>19 jnwelch: Hey Joe. Ditto with the comments.
Another fan here, excellent casting. (And much more realistic in its lighting and design, IMO.)
>33 LizzieD: Hi Peggy! You probably have it memorized. *smile* I'll have to check out the 1985 BBC production. I love Diana Rigg.
>34 lyzard: Hi Liz!
So I really need to sign out of LT for now and actually start the reading I've scheduled for today! Starting with catching up on the Group Read of the Bible as Literature (gotta finish Exodus), and then, calmly, happily, with a fresh cup of coffee, chapter 1 of Bleak House.
One thing I must say about Mr. Dickens is that he is descriptive almost, but not quite, to the point of boredom. Fog, mud, rain, water, Chancery Court. My Lady Dedlock and Sir Leicester Dedlock, and the mysteriously unremitting black of Mr. Tulkinghorn's clothing.
My copy is a paperback of 936 pages. It's a Finnish translation from 2006 (my copy is from 2008) and the translation is by Kersti Juva. She is one of our best, if not THE best, EN>FI translators. I expect it will be more readable than the much older translation of A Tale of Two Cities I started and abandoned years ago.
I purchased my copy after seeing the BBC miniseries and having fallen in love with Gillian Anderson's Lady Dedlock. But then I never got around reading it... so here I am! And here's my brick of a book:
>41 gennyt: "megalosauros walking the streets of London - apparently one of the earliest appearances of a dinosaur in literature"
- striking image and thanks for the info; I had wondered about that.
>42 kac522: Hmmm. Intriguing. I'm not quite that far along yet, but I'll look for it.
>43 nerwende: Thanks for mentioning the BBC series. After I've finished the book, I'll watch it!
Since the library copy I'm reading doesn't have any notes, I've decided to skim the notes on Shmoop. This is a summary page but it's the best I can find that lists the individual chapter notes. (They didn't mention the megalosauros - their bad!)
There are so many characters, as usual with Dickens. The plot is really getting interesting.
>46 luvamystery65: I'm using the same audio download, together with a paperback edition of the book. I think it's very well narrated by both parties. Some of the characters almost come to life and the long descriptive passages are quite enjoyable. It's really helped me get into and enjoy the story. I can read more quickly than the audiobook though, so revert to the paperback when I'm relaxing. All in all a good way to get through a chunkster painlessly.
I've been finding that if I can read for an interrupted stretch I can really get involved with the various plots and subtleties.
>38 LizzieD: Yes, Peggy, there is some absolutely stunning writing there. Some amazing images, perceptions, and descriptions of voices and sounds.
>39 streamsong: Hi Janet! Yay. Yes, fog. I’m finding that I like the descriptions and lists of types of things too.
>40 pgmcc: *smile*
>41 gennyt: Hi Genny. Fantastic that that foggy opening has stayed with you. And interesting, too, about the dinosaur.
>42 kac522: 34 CDs! That’s how many were in Shantaram that I listened to several years ago. A major commitment of time, for sure!!
>43 nerwende: I’m so glad you’ve taken us up on this group read, nerwende! 936 pages is a huge commitment. Perhaps we can help you to avoid abandoning it by our shared perseverance and enjoyment? Kolea Talo. Cool.
>44 streamsong: I haven’t heard of Shmoop, but did find this link for those who want additional notes/summaries: Bleak House
>45 pgmcc: You’re welcome, Peter.
>46 luvamystery65: Roberta, excellent progress! Congratulations. I’m so glad you are loving it.
>47 nerwende: Good progress, nerwende! I don’t remember hardly anything from the BBC series, but am keeping up with all the characters so far.
>48 floremolla: So glad you’re making such headway floremolla and using audio and paperback to get you through the sheer length of it.
>49 justmum: Hi! Thank you. It seems that so far everybody’s having a very positive experience with it.
I personally have finished through chapter 11 and am happy to be reading it. There are so many subplots going that don’t necessarily relate to one another yet, but I know they’ll all come together eventually.
Here’s one little zinger of Dickens’ that I really liked regarding Mr. Skimpole:
“He’s always in the same scrape. He was born in the same scrape. I verily believe that the announcement in the newspapers when his mother was confined was ‘On Tuesday last, at her residence in Botheration Buildings, Mrs. Skimpole of a son in difficulties.’”
I'm personally committed to reading it all the way through and in February if at all possible, and am enjoying it enough and really appreciating Dickiens' deft hand at describing people through physical appearance and their roles. I particularly like the little girl Charley right now - works to take care of her orphan siblings without giving it a second thought.
I'm vaguely remembering more from the 2005 series, too, but not enough to spoil my reading.
>57 avanders: Hi Aletheia! A book's physical appearance can be motivating, can't it?
Loved Chapter One which is vintage Dickens the repetitive use of mud and fog and grime being a real treat. Coasted through the short chapter two introducing the Dedlocks and their wily lawyer and enjoyed chapter three with the wards and their companion Esther Summerson.
I reckon I am going to love this one, one of the few Dickens on my "still to do" list.
I am reading Chapter XVIII Lady Dedlock and can't resist sharing the following:
The lattice-windows were all thrown open, and we sat just within the doorway watching the storm. It was grand to see how the wind awoke, and bent the trees, and drove the rain before it like a cloud of smoke; and to hear the solemn thunder and to see the lightning; and while thinking with awe of the tremendous powers by which our little lives are encompassed, to consider how beneficent they are and how upon the smallest flower and leaf there was already a freshness poured from all this seeming rage which seemed to make creation new again.
We live in the country and love storms - not hurricanes and not tornados of course - just regular thunderstorms usually coming from the west. We sit on the front porch watching them come in, enjoying, just like Esther Summerson, the wind, rain, lightning, and thunder.
>65 eclecticdodo: Hi Jo! Libraries and Growleries. We all need both.
I liked this description in chapter XXI, The Smallweed Family:
Everything that Mr. Smallweed's grandfather ever put away in his in his mind was a grub at first, and is a grub at last. In all his life he has never bred a single butterfly.
Wish I had bookmarked some of my favourite passages like >66 karenmarie: but it's not so convenient when you're mixing audio and paperback. One thing I will say though, is that as it neared its conclusion it fairly rattled along and there was one revelation that made me gasp aloud with indignance!
I very rarely make permanent notes about things I like in books, and I am definitely not an underliner. So this will be the only place the passages that stand out to me will reside. After just a few chapters I got the free Amazon download so have been reading it on my Kindle - every time I finish a chapter I change the bookmark in the physical book!
>71 LizzieD: Hi Peggy! Yes, there is BH love and we'll be happy to see you!
So here's another quote, from chapter XXI, The Smallweed Family:
"Don't you read or get read to?"
The old man shakes his head with sharp sly triumph. "No, no. We have never been readers in our family. It don't pay. Stuff. Idleness. Folly. No, No.
Chapter XXV, Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All
"... and would rather run away from him for an hour than hear him talk for five minutes."
(describing Sir Leicester Dedlock) "... and in a state of sublime satisfaction, he moves among the company, a magnificent refrigerator
Chapter XL, National and Domestic
Here it's used just to mean something that throws a chill over things.
In other words, Sir Leicester is a blast at parties. :)
I have finished LIV chapters of LXVII. 130 pages to go. It's getting rather exciting, and quite a few loose threads are coming together.
How's everybody else coming along?
This book is very enjoyable.
karenmarie's review of Bleak House
>91 CDVicarage: After a while it 'kicked in' for me and I didn't exactly whizz through to the end but finished it a day earlier than planned. Hi Kerry! Kevin the cat? He looks like a cuddly boy. I've got two of my own kitties, one of whom is standing right here next to the keyboard wanting attention. :)
I am finding it entertaining. I note the comments above about the plot not dragging people on but I am finding the characters are fulfilling that function for me. I am also delighted that for once I got something right in my speculation about where the plot was going.
>94 pgmcc: Good for you, Peter! Like I've said here and elsewhere, it really came together about 300 or so pages before the end for me.
I've started re-watching the 2005 BBC miniseries. I watched episode one last night, and now that I know who and what I'm looking at, I am greatly appreciative.
It's a skill of Dickens' however that you can still enjoy the story even if you don't have the full picture - one of my favourite scenes from the book, which portrays a peculiar set-up, is the description of the little apprentice dancers at Mr Turveydrop's dance school - it made me laugh aloud and sent me looking online for what kind of dancing they might have been doing in those days :)
I found when listening to Bleak House as an audiobook it was difficult to keep track of which characters had which characteristics - I had to read the book to get a clear sense of them. I don't know if it's a common thing that reading is the best method of absorbing information or if I'm just a poor listener. Probably the latter as I think listening is a skill we lose somewhat after our educational years.
I hope you are all enjoying Bleak House.
After finishing it, I decided I wanted to re-watch the 2005 BBC miniseries. The only thing I had really remembered from it was Mr. Guppy and "Shake me up, Judy!" It was well worth the effort, as it made sense the second time having read the book. Good cast, good acting, most of the story, and mostly true to the book.
I dislike Skimpole too. As you say, a great criminal mind or a totally selfish freeloader.
I also think Ada is a bit of a snivelling whimp who is over protected by those around her. Richard is just a waster.
I agree about Ada and Richard, both could have benefitted from a much firmer hand from their benefactor.
At this stage of the story many of the unfortunate circumstances are being resolved and potential misery is being turned to joy (Rosa & Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson are now free to be together; George is freed from suspicion of murder and is reunited with his mother, and freed from, one presumes, financial ruin; Miss Summerson is to become the mistress of Bleak House (although I suspect this will not be to the liking of Mr. Woodcourt, and perhaps we will hear more of that before the final page); Sir Leicester Dedlock is showing himself to be true to his heart and a man of compassion when put to the test) and there could be an air of there being a happy ending. However, Dickens is dragging out the search and preparing the reader for the worst. Did Dickens consider it too twee to have everyone (except the bad guys -The French Maid; Mr. Tulkinghhorn, and some poor characters - Jo and the brick-makers' wives) have a happy ending? I do not know if we will have a fully happy ending with Lady Dedlock found and restored to her husband's loving care and able to enjoy the presence of her daughter in her life, or if we are to witness a sad ending in the snow with Lady Dedlock dying in the arms of her long lost daughter.
I am really loving reading this Dickens novel for the first time. I can see how many of you love re-reading Dickens, but I am enjoying not knowing where the plot leads. That is a pleasure I can only have once and I am relishing it.
karenmarie, thank you for prompting my reading of this novel.
>112 karenmarie: I managed to find the Group read thread for Great Expectations and enjoyed your review - I gather you weren't a huge fan so good on you for persevering with another Dickens chunkster this year!
As we all know, Mr. Woodcourt has expressed his feelings for Miss Summerson and she has told him there is no hope for his love. Of course, Mr. Dickens has indicated to us in many ways that Miss Summerson has unacknowledged feelings for Mr. Woodcourt. While she is betrothed to her guardian, I suspect that Mr. Jarndyce has recognised the more suitable match between Miss Summerson and Mr. Woodcourt when compared to the somewhat creepy engagement between himself and his ward, and that he may be about to sacrifice his own feelings for the wellbeing of Esther. There is also a suspicion that Mr. Jarndyce has found Mr. Woodcourt's mother a better match for himself.
This is just a fancy, but I am nearing the point where all will be revealed.
Perhaps Esther and Mr. Jarndyce are "too good" or "too perfect" for some; they almost seem unreal. But I think right now at this time in my life and in this time of political turmoil, I welcomed the portrayal of truly unselfish, caring characters who always did their best for others.
Today I found at a library sale The Oxford Reader's Companion to Charles Dickens in which the editor makes the point that much of the twists and turns of the plot pivot on lowly Jo, the street sweeper. Also this editor notes that Mr. Skimpole was based on the author Leigh Hunt, a contemporary of Dickens. In fact, the portrayal was so recognizable that Dickens had to pen a "Remonstrance" to Hunt's son, after Hunt died.
If you ever have the inclination to listen to Bleak House on audio, I can highly recommend the unabridged reading by Simon Vance. Every character had a unique manner and accent; I particularly enjoyed his voices of Mr. George, Mr. Bagnet ("tell him my opinion, old girl") and Mr. Smallweed.
If I had a consistently long commute I would consider listening to it; however with only 50-100 miles driven per week it would take me years! I'll have to be happy having read it and re-watched the BBC series.
>126 PawsforThought: So far I haven't any desire to read more Dickens this year, but two have been mentioned recently - A Tale of Two Cities and now Nicholas Nickelby.
(filing away for future reference!)