By Charles Dickens.
Is it fair to say approaching any Dickens work can feel a little daunting? Even the less lengthy tales can, merely by virtue of their author, be regarded with an air of intimidation. These unholy symptoms can often be exacerbated when one’s ‘spare time’ is gauged in minutes rather than hours so it generally just becomes a “Why even bother?” spiel.
Let me be frank, this book will not undo any of the above. BUT, bare with me my teeny treasures, because those things can be overcome! Depending on the copy you have, you are looking at a good 800 odd page read. There is just no way to make that sound like less than it is but the STORIES packed in these pages are no joke.
Dickens is truly a master of character. As an amateur actor himself with a flair for drama, Dickens is the father of some of the most memorable literary characters in history and there are a good few in Bleak house. Mr Krook, for example, is a genuinely goosebump-inducing ogre. There’s no evidence of him committing any overt crimes as such but his slithering demeanour, his stink emanating from the page and his disastrous cat for me were blood-curdling. The aforementioned has a tenant who is equally poignant who goes by the name Miss Flite. Unlike her landlord, she is not a chilling miscreant. Rather, she is a lady driven to madness by the Jarndyce suit who rather poetically keeps birds. Caged birds. Caged until a legal decision is reached in the unending case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. They are named (Get ready for this…) Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach with another 2 added by the end. alright, so she isn’t quite devoid of creepiness! But that’s the beauty of her character. She really “is a little -M- you know” (Ch. 5 p. 48).
Again, depending on your own reading of the story, it is about a Miss Esther Summerson who finds her fate and fortunes change remarkably from her earliest memories to when she eventually leads us to the stories conclusion. OR, it’s a tale of unfulfilled love and deception. It might be about the inherent greed and corruption of the legal system that drove the people in enveloped to utter madness and ruin. Well, it’s ultimately about all of the above, but for some, one of these aspects will take centre stage.
Is it a mountain? Yes, indeed it is. But it’s a mountain worth the climb. You will be immersed in a world that only Dickens can deliver. There is a reason the term Dickensian is the only way to describe the worlds he creates. The drama is woven into the intricate and at times sensorial details of these characters, the scenes, the atmosphere, the commentary. And who say’s you have to rush? Take it a chapter at a time. Try the numerous audio versions available for when the mundane chores of life are pilling up and need your attention (added a link here for a good one on YouTube). I ended up doing this one because it was suggested on Twitter by Fledgling Press and another person decided to go ahead and start it along with me. Perhaps it’s something you could try with a friend?
In any case, all the reasons not to try Bleak House or indeed any of the other Dickens mammoths are the very same reasons to grab your ice axe and have at it.
Oh, and not for nothing, Harold Skimpole is an utter D**K…