“Bleak House – Charles Dickens
Audio version performed by Simon Vance
Bleak House is much lauded as Dickens’ most innovative novel. There are at least 57 characters moving about the stage set of the Chancery lawsuit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The elaborate plot design is even more extremely convoluted than in Dickens’ other novels. The story is told partly by an omniscient narrator and partly by Esther Summerson, the novel’s heroine. The novel is an overt attack on the British judiciary system, but has numerous underlying themes. As usual, Dickens lampoons the aristocracy, but he shows surprising empathy for the final tragedy of Sir Leicester Deadlock. Dickens showcases the appalling conditions of the poor and he seems to be making a case for the rising working class. There is an embedded murder mystery that introduces what may be the first fictional detective, Mr. Bucket. One particularly annoying character, Harold Skimpole, is said to be based on Dickens’ friend Leigh Hunt. Another, more or less, evil character dies of spontaneous combustion! The book is dense with subplots and long, long descriptions.
I’m a huge Dickens fan, but even though this was my second time through this novel, it was hard for me to follow. I found it difficult to believe in Esther Summerson. The perfect Victorian female, she’s just too good to be true. I found her saintliness distracting during the parts of the book that were told in her voice. There are any number of humorous characters sprinkled through the complex plot: Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop, (19th century dance instructors), Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle (the competing do-gooders), Miss Flite and Mr. William Guppy ( the crazy spinster and the crazed law clerk). However, in the end, the title states the overall atmosphere of this book. It’s a masterpiece, but it is bleak.