Bleak House Paperback – 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
'Bleak House' has a huge cast of characters and its plot is as extensive and complex as the London Underground system. It also employs a double narrative - one of the characters, Esther, acts as narrator and comments on the personal and emotional world of its characters, while an unnamed, third person narrator comments on the social and economic ills of the era. We get, therefore, a paralleling of the individual and the social. The Court of Chancery and the aristocracy are presented as a social fog - deadening, confusing, misleading, a blight on the world. Dynamism comes from the individual's emotions, hopes and fears.
While the impersonal narrator writes in the present tense and comments ironically on corruption, greed, abuses of power, and the plethora of social ills Dickens exposes and satirises in this work, Esther's account is written in the past tense, a diary reflecting on her life with optimism and hope. Dickens thus gives his reader a sense of the triumph of the individual - a comparatively lowly young woman - over the dead hand of an archaic, oppressive social system.Read more ›
Bleak House is a giant book by any measure, physical or literary, triumphantly covering so much ground that it successfully paints a multi-faceted, multi-layered portrait of the whole culture and society of the Victorian Age in Britain. Bleak House is a savage satire upon the class system, the law, politics, and public morality. At the same time it is a wonderful crime novel of murder and detection, a love story, a comedy, and a piece of high Victorian melodrama. Yes, Bleak House is all these things and more.
In addition, the novel also displays Dickens' artistry as a writer of prose to the full. The famous first chapter alone - which consists almost entirely of a magnificent description of a foggy day in November - is a masterpiece of English prose. From there onwards the standard of writing never slips.
Dickens' is justly famous for the wonderful casts of characters he assembled for his novels and here again, Bleak House doesn't disappoint. It boasts a vast and interesting array of characters, especially Mr Jarndyce, Esther Summerson (the partial narrator and heroine of the book), Jo the crossing sweeper whose story will break your heart, the villainous Mr Tulkington, and the detective Inspector Bucket, one of the first detectives to appear in fiction.
I rate Bleak House as Dickens' most mature, supreme achievement as a writer. The satire is biting. The moral indignation at the injustices of the world is brave and honest. As a whole experience, no reader can afford not to read classics like Bleak House at least once. If you do miss out, you're only letting the finest things in life (reading life anyway) pass you by.
Dickens, it seems to me, was a genuine humanitarian and a rebel at heart. His contmept for the ruling classes, and his anger at the suffering of the poor would on their own make this a worthwhile read. But add to that his mastery of the language, and his comic genius, and you have here one of the most compelling stories ever written.
Occasionally his heroine, and some other characters, are so saintly you could scream. Similarly, his villains are so grotesquely despicable, you might think that the man had no grasp of human subtleties. But this is his style - he paints in broad brushstrokes. Reading Dickens is like listening to a tall tale spun by a master storyteller who can't help but exaggerate, so anxious is he that you can see what he sees.
With so many of the so-called "greats" of English literature, you need a classical education to understand the work. With Dickens, all one needs is a love of stories, of laughter and of language. And if you have a healthy contempt of the rich and powerful, then all the better.
Since we are still ruled over by pompous lawyers, I recommend this as a novel which maintains its relevance and its wit.
Firstly there are several social evils of Dickens' time, evils which he either helped to expose or whose exposure by others he thought it prudent to incorporate. The aim of lawyers to make business for themselves he dramatized in the case Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The misguided missionary zeal of self-appointed philanthropists who set their vision on far away places, peoples, and cultures while ignoring the needs of the family and the situation at home is personified especially in Mrs Jellyby and Mr Chadband.
Secondly, there is the narrative format: the narrative is shared between one of the principal characters, Esther Summerson, writing in the past tense, and an anonymous narrator who writes in the present tense. The latter narrative contains some of the best imagery and most powerful prose to be found in Dickens' works. The novel's famous opening, depicting a London fog, is an example of this.
Thirdly, there is the presence of a detective, Mr Detective Bucket. Detective fiction, so large a section in book shops nowadays, was unknown in Dickens' time. He foreshadowed most of its elements in "Bleak House", although his incurable reliance on coincidence and rudimentary grasp of psychology militates against the creation of genuine suspense.
Finally, I identify the novel's structure as one of its special features. "It is the best constructed of all his books," wrote G K Chesterton.
On every page there is the stamp of genius, I believe, but I also believe that the novel has many flaws.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you read just one Dickens book let it be this one. It has it all, humour,tragedy, happiness,despair and drama plus some of the best characters from the vast pool Dickens can... Read morePublished 2 days ago by Amazon Customer
a little harder to read than other dickens, found myself disliking many of the characters. but worth readingPublished 18 days ago by john mc
Briliant novel and completely readable byn21st century. readers. It concerns a great many characters whose connections a gradually revealed during the very long plot. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Algorta
Dickens does waffle on in some chapters, but the underlying story does get there eventually.Published 2 months ago by Christine Catlin