By Charles Dickens
How great is this novel! It took me ages because it is a long one, and because it was my “train read” (read mostly while commuting). Also, I didn’t get much reading time over the Christmas holidays.
Having said that, I thought it was brilliant. I have developed a new appreciation for Dickens, and writers of the mid 19th century. It started a couple of years ago with Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and has continued on. I think I am liking Dickens and Gaskell more than I like Austin now, although they are quite different. All three of these writers know the worlds they write about, and Austin really is pre-industrial revolution.
Back to Bleak House. Everything in this novel is intertwined. There are two central stories, that of Esther Summerson, and that of the infamous case in Chancery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. In fact, the case seems partly to be a tool where we learn more about Esther’s story. Esther is a young woman of “sinful” birth (as her Godmother, later discovered to be her aunt, put it) who does not know who her mother or father were. Raised by her strict Godmother/Aunt, and then at a cheerful school until she brought to live at Mr John Jarndyces house. Mr Jarndyce has become the legal guardian of two orphans, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, the wards in Jarndyce.
Meanwhile in London, a destitute man dies, who may have once been more than he seems. He was a law writer, making money by writing copies of legal documents. One of the copies he made was for the Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a case that had been in the Courts of Chancery for many years. This was a dispute over wills that lasted lifetimes, and caused much grief and heartache for those involved.
Yes, Dickens is very scathing of the Courts of Chancery. There are also not-so-kind portraits of well-to-do people, doing good works abroad, contrasted against poverty and squaller in England.
Anyway, it’s a great novel. A bit of something for everything … suspense, humour, romance, and wonderful wonderful characters.
There is also a fabulous series, starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock – stunning.