Author: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics (2001 edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store
Charles John Huffam Dickens is one of England’s most beloved writers. His novels and Christmas–themed novellas were well–received on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime and have remained popular to the present day. He helped make the novel the dominant form of English literature during the Victorian Period (1837 – 1901), in place of poetry from the preceding Romantic Period. The literary world celebrated the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth on 7 February 2012.
Dickens’ work is greatly informed by the England he lived in. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Wealth and political power were no longer monopolised by the landed aristocracy. A middle class of merchants, industrialists and professionals was emerging. Young men from humble backgrounds (like Dickens himself) began to have great expectations of escaping their old lives and becoming gentlemen. However, for the majority of the population, ie. the working class, everyday life remained extremely harsh. Many flock to cities like London looking for jobs, leading to overcrowding and pushing down wages. Young children often worked to support their families in horrendous and dangerous places like mines and factories and as chimney sweeps. Many young girls became prostitutes. The Victorian Age was, in Dicken’s own words: a shameful testimony to future ages, how civilisation and barbarism walked this boastful island together (p 130).
In 1851, Dickens lost his father and one of his daughters within two weeks. Over the next few years, he wrote a series of novels which have come to be known as his dark novels. The first was Bleak House, Dicken’s ninth novel, which was first published in monthly serials from March 1852 – September 1853, followed by Hard Times (1854) and Little Dorrit (1855 – 1857).
Bleak House was the first novel in which Dickens used the multiple narrators device. The first narrator is Esther Summerson, who wrote her account some 7 years after the conclusion of the story. The other narrator is an unidentified and omniscient third person narrator who speaks in the present tense. There is some connection between the two but it is not made clear what that is exactly.
Bleak House came in at number 79 in a poll conducted by the BBC’s Big Read to find the top 100 best-loved novels (2003)
What is the story about?
The main plot deals with the fictional case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in the Chancery Court and its effect on the lives of Esther Summerson (who grew up believing she was an orphan), Ada Clare and Richard Carstone (distant cousins and wards of the Chancery Court) and John Jarndyce (master of Bleak House).
A parallel plot revolves around the aristocrat Lady Dedlock whose haughty personality masked a secret that that could ruin her marriage and bring disgrace to her husband.
The two story lines intertwined in a hidden relationship between Esther, Lady Dedlock and a dead law writer. A number of colourful characters play major roles in advancing and/or hindering the uncovering of the relationship, including Tulkington (Sir Dedlock’s lawyer), William Guppy (a law clerk), Krook (a shifty landlord), George (an ex–soldier who unknowingly had links to both of Esther’s parents) and last but not least Inspector Bucket (one of the first detectives to play a key role in English literature).
How is the book?
This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. It comes with an introduction and brief but useful notes written by Doreen Roberts from the, University of Kent at Canterbury. There is also a section that described the historical context snd setting of the novel. This book also contains
illustrations by Hablot K. Browne aka Phiz (1815 – 1882) from the original serialisation.
Dickens’ works are available online for free. But this edition, costing only S$3.32 net, bought during a free-delivery promotion, is attractively priced.
The melodrama is punctuated with doses of humour. The novel has its share of characters with wonderful Dickensian names, including Tulkinghorn, William Guppy, Conversation Kenge and Vholes, all employed in the legal profession. Coincidences are employed as plot devices, eg. Lady Dedlock just happened to read an affidavit written by someone from her past.
In his book The Western Canon, the literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that Bleak House was Dickens’ greatest novel. Of all the Dickens I have read, this is my favourite.
Bleak House has been adapted by the BBC three times, the latest one a popular and critically–acclaimed 15–part mini series (2005) starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Carey Mulligan (before her breakout role in An Education) as Ada Clare and Charles Dance as Tulkington.