The Bleak House Read-A-Long is hosted by Unputdownables.
This post may contain spoilers.
Despite my horrific experience reading The Old Curiosity Shop, I have decided to give Chuck one more chance and read Bleak House. So far I’m happy with this decision, although the first chapter was really hard to get through. Because there are so many nuances to the story, and because we are covering a relatively longer section than we did in previous read-a-longs, I’m going to keep the plot summary to a minimum and jump right into the points that really caught my attention.
First, I had to read the appendix before getting too involved in the story because I was completely unfamiliar with the Court of Chancery. Basically, the Court of Chancery, which is the backdrop for the novel, is an inefficient legal institution that keeps cases going for years on end. This is an arm of the law that deals with “equity,” or anything that doesn’t fall under common law. Each case is handled individually and only through written materials. No juries are present and each case is determined by “conscience.” Oh my. This is dangerous. As we find out, the first Mr. Jarndyce of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the case at hand, killed himself while waiting for a verdict. At this point we know nothing about Jarndyce v. Jarndyce other than the fact that it has been going on for generations. I don’t know if we will ever find out the details, as Chuck seems to be using this as more of a backdrop for the story, not the premise of the story itself.
One scene that did strike me as rather interesting, and ties in with Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, is the scene where Esther, Richard, and Ada visit Miss Flite’s apartment. Miss Flite shows the children (They are in their late teens and early twenties, but they act very childlike. In fact, Esther can be compared to the feminine ideal held in that day in some regards) her birds, about 20 of them, all different kinds. Her speech regarding these birds seems to parallel and, perhaps, foreshadow the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case:
‘I began to keep the little creatures,’ she said, ‘with an object that the wards will readily comprehend.With the intention of restoring them to liberty. When my judgment should be given. Ye-es! They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things, are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings, that, one by one, the whole collection has died over and over again. I doubt, do you know, whether one of these, though they are all young, will live to be free! Ve-ry mortifying, is it not?’ [...] ‘I can’t allow them to sing much,’ said the little old lady, ‘for (you’ll think this curious) I find my mind confused by the idea that they are singing, while I am following the arguments in court [...] I cannot admit the air freely,’ said the little old lady; the room was close, and would have been the better for it; ‘because the cat you saw down-stairs–called Lady Jane–is greedy for their lives. She crouches on the parapet outside for hours and hours. I have discovered,’ whispering mysteriously, ‘that her natural cruelty is sharpened by a jealous fear of their regaining their liberty. In consequence of the judgment I expect being shortly given. She is sly, and full of malice. I half believe, sometimes, that she is no cat, but the wolf of the old saying. It is so very difficult to keep her from the door.’ (pp.68-69)
I’m not sure if this will come to anything, but as a crazy old woman in a Dickens novel she’s bound to have some sort of important contribution. I’m interested to see if this really foreshadows anything or if she’s just a loon.
Although I’m enjoying the book, I’m not too attached to the characters in one way or another. Truthfully, only one character has caused me to feel strongly–and he’s as frustrating as anything. Mr. Skimpole is, so far, an irresponsible, annoying man who doesn’t take care of himself and talks about himself in the third person. This is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. I HATE when people talk about themselves in the third person. So naturally, when Mr. Skimpole did so, it sealed my opinion of him. When he quickly manipulated Esther and Richard–two orphans–into paying a debt for him, I really started to seethe. What an ass.
Despite Mr. Skimpole, I’m rather liking the story. But I think that the end notes and footnotes are as interesting, so far, as the narrative. Here are a few things that have piqued my interest:
- Chuck was a magician.
- Talk about spontaneous combustion. I was fascinated with this idea as a child and quite forgot about it until reading about it in the end notes. Here’s a link that provides some interesting information about the myths and facts surrounding spontaneous combustion: http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/unexplained-phenomena/shc.htm.
- Nosegays were used to cover up any unpleasant odors in court (this had to have gotten bad in the summertime without any air conditioning or deodorant).
One thing I’m enjoying immensely is the imagery. Chuck really has a knack for conjuring an image, and some of them are quite striking. Here are two of my favorites from this reading:
His throat, chin, and eyebrows were so frosted with white hairs, and so gnarled with veins and puckered skin, that he looked from his breast upward, like some old root in a fall of snow. (p. 64)
The room in which they were, communicating with that in which he stood, was only lighted by the fire. Ada sat at the piano; Richard stood beside her, bending down. Upon the wall, their shadows blended together, surrounded by strange forms, not without a ghostly motion caught from the unsteady fire, though reflecting from motionless objects. Ada touched the notes so softly, and sang so low, that the wind, sighing away to the distant hills, was as audible as the music. The mystery of the future, and the little clue afforded to it by the voice present, seemed expressed in the whole picture. (p. 84)
This post is nearly a week late, so look forward to week 2′s post tomorrow or Saturday! Hoping the story continues to be engaging and interesting, as Chuck is winning me over despite The Old Curiosity Shop.