Bleak House – Part V

I found Part V weaker than the previous one, yet, it added to the mystery perfectly.

Part V

14. Deportment

15. Bell Yard

16. Tom-all-Alone’s

Chapter 14 was really boring for me. It recalled a play called The Man of Mode, of an English beau who makes himself acquitained with a French, affeminated wanna-be French. And I hated it, I really did. Ada and Esther are visited by Miss Jellyby who confesses to be tortured under her mother’s African project and has seeked out support outside her family. Basically, and to put it plainly, she is engaged to a young man who is a slave to his own father, a lazy man practicising “deportment” which means that he does not work and leads the life of an aristocrat, more or less. Esther goes to visit Caddy’s fiancé and finds him agreeable, hard-working and devoted. There was nothing really remarkable in this chapter.

Chapter 15 means the return of Mr. Skimpole with his particular ethics and his childish ways. But, he leads us to another subplot: Coavinses has died and left three children. So, the whole group goes to visit them and find Charley, an over-worked 13 year old in charge of her little sibblings, Tom and baby Emma. This story broke my heart. Charley was working so hard to make a living and Tom, not over 10, was dutifully taking care of Emma while they were locked in their only room because Charley was afraid someone would enter. But, things are not as sad as they seem: the lodger does not ask them for a rent and one of the neighbours takes care of Tom and Emma while Charley goes to work. And… that neighbour is also engaged in Chancery! He tells his history to Mr. Jarndyce, which I am sure will later on be revisited. I missed an illustration of the children in this chapter, but maybe their situation was too tough to be depicted. Also, Mr. Jarndyce and the group go to visit them but do not help them… How can it be? But, for what I have seen, they visit a lot of people in-need and cannot help them all. I think Dickens wanted to portray a social reality only visible for those who were surviving it.

Finally, it was Chapter 16 what added to the mystery. Jo, a witness dismissed in the accidental death of our unkown men, becomes the focus of the chapter as he leads a woman who says is a servant (but seems to be a lady and I guess it’s Lady Dedlock) to revisit the whole accidental death: from his house to where his body was laid. What really intrigued me is who was this lady and why she was so interested in the death man. I really can’t tell where the plot is going to lead me, I find myself surprise at every chapter.

Jo showing the servant where the body of the dead man was laid.

Jo showing the servant where the body of the dead man was laid.

As I said before, this was a weak part, with no remarkable quotes. The story of Mr. Coavinses’ children is really good from a social perspective because it redifines childhood for the modern reader. Nowadays no one can imagine a thirteen year-old working to support her younger sibblings who do not attend school and who are kept locked in a room.

You can also read Bleak House for free thanks to Project Gutenberg – Bleak House HTML

Bleak House – Part IV

Part IV has some juicy news for the characters in Bleak House. I found myself, first challenged with so many names and places but really happy with how things everything is doing.

Part IV

11. Our Dear Brother

12. On the Watch

13. Esther’s Narrative

Chapter 11 brought me to a scene in a Victorian novel whose title I can’t remember, but I do recall that the whole scene was disgusting. It took place on an inhabitated house, where people gathered to smoke opium and its sweetness seemed to came out of the pages and flood my bedroom. This was the same: filthy, dark and sweet. Mr. Tulkinghorn finds the corpse and all the characters living at Inn’s Court call the surgeon and gossip around. But, the following quote surprise me:

“Hadn’t you better see,” says Mr. Tulkinghorn to Krook, “whether he had any papers that may enlighten you? There will be an inquest, and you will be asked the question. You can read?”

“No, I can’t,” returns the old man with a sudden grin.

“Snagsby,” says Mr. Tulkinghorn, “look over the room for him. He will get into some trouble or difficulty otherwise. Being here, I’ll wait if you make haste, and then I can testify on his behalf, if it should ever be necessary, that all was fair and right. If you will hold the candle for Mr. Snagsby, my friend, he’ll soon see whether there is anything to help you.”

“In the first place, here’s an old portmanteau, sir,” says Snagsby.

Ah, to be sure, so there is! Mr. Tulkinghorn does not appear to have seen it before, though he is standing so close to it, and though there is very little else, heaven knows.

It captures the feeling I get everytime something interesting happens in Bleak House: there is something I, as a reader, do not know and Dickens is making the characters keep it all away from me. Also, I did not really pay attention to the secondary characters that appear in the trial, deciding whether the death of “a certain man” was suicidal or an accidental death. They decide on accidental death and they dismiss a boy, named Jo, who now that I’m reading part VII gains some special importance:

Name, Jo. Nothing else that he knows on. Don’t know that everybody has two names. Never heerd of sich a think. Don’t know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for HIM. HE don’t find no fault with it. Spell it? No. HE can’t spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school. What’s home? Knows a broom’s a broom, and knows it’s wicked to tell a lie. Don’t recollect who told him about the broom or about the lie, but knows both. Can’t exactly say what’ll be done to him arter he’s dead if he tells a lie to the gentlemen here, but believes it’ll be something wery bad to punish him, and serve him right—and so he’ll tell the truth.

Chapter 12 goes back to Chesney Wold and we learn that Mr. Tulkinghorn is related to Lord Leicester and Lady Dedlock , and he wants to talk to the lady. They are also in a fight with Mr. Boythorn. We also learn why Mr. Tulkinghorn visited the man at Inn’s Court:

“Oh, yes!” returns my Lady carelessly. “I think I must have had some. And did you really take the trouble to find out the writer of that actual thing—what is it!—affidavit?”

But, another mystery comes out at the end:

They appear to take as little note of one another as any two people enclosed within the same walls could. But whether each evermore watches and suspects the other, evermore mistrustful of some great reservation; whether each is evermore prepared at all points for the other, and never to be taken unawares; what each would give to know how much the other knows—all this is hidden, for the time, in their own hearts.

Could things get any better?

Finally, Chapter 13 returns to our beloved Esther, Richard’s trouble finding a suitable job for his protastinating character and Mr. Boythorn amusing the scenes. Mr. Kenge comes and they all decide that Richard will be a surgeon and will get trainned with Mr. Kenge’s cousin, Mr. Badger. So, they all visit London to meet him and enjoy some city-life when Esther gets (what we would call nowadays) “harrassed” by Mr. Guppy, whose marriage proporal she turned down in a previous chapter. Finally, they get to know Mr. Badger and her wife, who had two previous husbands whose presecne is, for my taste, too strong in the house, but everything is OK with good Mr. Badger who even admires his wife’s past.  And, the best part: Ada confesses her feelings for Richard to Esther and Richard confesses them too. How cute! They call themselves a couple when Esther is told to tell Mr. Jarndyce and he approves, in fact, he was wishing for it since they met! Also, Mr. Jarnydce cares for Esther and she lets the reader know she, again, has been keeping things away: she met someone.

“I believe so, too,” said he. “But some one may find out what Esther never will—that the little woman is to be held in remembrance above all other people!”

I have omitted to mention in its place that there was some one else at the family dinner party. It was not a lady. It was a gentleman. It was a gentleman of a dark complexion—a young surgeon. He was rather reserved, but I thought him very sensible and agreeable. At least, Ada asked me if I did not, and I said yes.

The family portraits of Mrs. Bayham Badger's past husbands.

The family portraits of Mrs. Bayham Badger's past husbands.

Now, things are getting really interesting and, contrary to what I thought, I am not getting impacient with all the information that is apparently being kept away. It just makes the reading more interesting! I am really glad I chose to read Bleak House because it is proving itself to be universal in the themes it deals with and a challening reading: the reader is expected to retain names, places and actions even of characters mentioned once in the narrative. In fact, it is those apparently secondary chaacters that Dickens will make more relevant in future chapters. A very modern and interesting technique!

Bleak House – Part III

I continue reviewing Bleak House and I even thought of reviewing it by parts, but revisiting the characters, names, places and putting my thoughts all together here, I find it easier to keep reading and to remember everything. As you may have noticed, my Bleak House posts are less academic and more like notes that I’d put down on a notebook. These posts are aimed as a review of the book, but also a personal exploration of the book and something to revisit when the plot gets too tricky (which, for what I see, will get in no time!).

Part III

8. Covering a Multitude of Sins

9. Signs and Tokens

10. The Law-Writer

Chapter 8 was very intense. At first I did not really care for it, since I thought it would focus on Esther choosing Richard’s job. But then, the subplot with Mrs. Pardiggle made me change my mind. First of all, she reminded me so much of modern ladies! Apparently, spoilt children are not a product of the 21st century. When I read about Mrs. Pardiggle children I really wanted to slap them and punish them to sit down and keep quiet for at least 3 hours. Esther was so kind to them and yet they only wanted to make her uncomfortable. But, what really moved me was the scene of the dying baby at the brickmaker’s house. I must admit it brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose a baby because you cannot afford a doctor or proper food. And again, it happens nowadays: the drunk father, the mother trying to cope with everything and the children suffering the consequences. The last paragraph, which I found remarkably moving is the following (Ada and Esther visit the brickmaker’s family at night, after the baby has died):

How little I thought, when I raised my handkerchief to look upon the tiny sleeper underneath and seemed to see a halo shine around the child through Ada’s drooping hair as her pity bent her head—how little I thought in whose unquiet bosom that handkerchief would come to lie after covering the motionless and peaceful breast! I only thought that perhaps the Angel of the child might not be all unconscious of the woman who replaced it with so compassionate a hand; not all unconscious of her presently, when we had taken leave, and left her at the door, by turns looking, and listening in terror for herself, and saying in her old soothing manner, “Jenny, Jenny!”

The visit at the brickmaker's, depicted here, not tenth as horrible as the narrative suggests.

I found Chapter 9 to be key. I know all the characters in the book are linked in one way or another but, one of the mysteries that keeps me on reading is to know how, why and what will come out of such relationships. Here, we have Mr. Lawrence Boythorn (a character I imagined as Stephen Fry!) who is funny and always plays with language and makes the reader laugh with his “unimaginable energy· But then came Mr. Guppy and his stupid, out-of-nowhere proposal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Esther worry about herself and her life a bit more, but where did this proposal come from? As modern readers, we may find difficult to understand 19th century “love” stories since the level of intimacy with your beloved one did not go beyond a gaze, but I did not see why Esther would accept Mr. Guppy (now I am thinking she will later do and I’ll be pretty happy about it, I know something like this will happen).

This is, by far, my favourite quote by Esther until now:

But, when I went upstairs to my own room, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh about it and then surprised myself still more by beginning to cry about it. In short, I was in a flutter for a little while and felt as if an old chord had been more coarsely touched than it ever had been since the days of the dear old doll, long buried in the garden.

I think the doll is a key element in her developing and growing up. The fact that she left it behind suggests me that she left her childhood and her previous self behind to become something different. But, at the bottom of her heart, she cannot get rid of the doll or her memories.

Finally, I had to re-read Chapter 10 to review it. I get lost in the bits and pieces Dickens offers of characters that I am sure, will be extremely important in future chapters. I think I may jot down all the names to keep track of their relationships and their being in general, because I tend to forget them. However, I was warned about it when I researched Bleak House, being described as Dickens’ “most complex novel”. I have to agree. apparently, a Mr. Tulkinghorn leads us to a family known under the name of Snagsby to ask the husband (a cuckolded husband in a very Chaucerian way) about a copy of legal document he wanted and taht Snagsby gave to a man known as “Nemo” which stands for “no name” in Latin. When Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to visit him, he finds him dead. I have no idea why Mr. Tulkinghorn is looking for him, the only thing I know is that Mr. Snagsby refers to the legal paper he was asked to copy as “Jarndyce” connecting this subplot directly with Esther’s.

I am really happy with the book until now and I plan on reading as much as I can. I think that there are two main reasons that keep me on reading: Esther and the relationship that can be established between all the characters in the novel, so different yet (I think) so connected.

You can also read Bleak House for free thanks to Project Gutenberg – Bleak House HTML

Bleak House – Part II

I keep on reading and enjoying Bleak House! So here goes the review of Part II, containing the following chapters:

5. A Morning Adventure
6. Quite at Home
7. The Ghost’s Walk

I read these chapters a few days ago, so revisiting them with the knowledge of what will be happening a hundred pages after them (I’m already starting Part V tonight) helps giving some clues on what is really going on. This is a feeling I get in every chapter of the book: there is something going on and Dickens does not want the reader to fully know. We are asked to make a close reading, to guess and to stay alert on names and relationships. Obviously, this was not what I excepted at all and I’m in awe at being challenged to keep pace with two different stories apparently intervowed, and so many complex characters.

5. A Morning Adventure.

Miss Jellyby, Esther, Ada and Richard go for a walk and encounter the Little Woman (or, as I like to call her, “crazy old lady”) who lives in a building with an even more disturbed landlord named Krook and his cat, Lady Jane (for the cat is grey and I love the reference). There, they visit the lady’s lodgings where she keeps many birds and they talk about the other lodger in the building who makes a living out of copying legal documents.

At first I found this chapter a little bit boring and wanted the three main youths to move away from Miss Jellyby’s and go to Bleak House. But, as it usually happens in literature, I found myself astonished at the turn of events. The building was a creepy place, and a feeling of disgust grew inside me as I was reading. But when Ada, Esther and Richard reached the lady’s apartment, I felt sorry. Sorry for her poverty and for the birds she keeps until her cause is resolved. Sorry for her blind optimism and her lost battle. By now, I started paying attention to the birds (as the cover of my edition is full of bird cages) and how symbolic they are throughout the novel.

The Little Old Lady to Ada, Richard and Esther: “I am sorry I cannot offer chocolate. I expect a judgment shortly and shall then place my establishment on a superior footing. At present, I don’t mind confessing to the wards in Jarndyce (in strict confidence) that I sometimes find it difficult to keep up a genteel appearance. I have felt the cold here. I have felt something sharper than cold. It matters very little. Pray excuse the introduction of such mean topics.”

The Little Old Lady on the birds: “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?”

6. Quiet at Home

Ada, Esther and Richard arrive to Bleak House and finally meet John Jarndyce who welcomes them as if they were his own children. They get in contact with their new home and meet Mr. Skimpole.

I was so anxious to get to this part. I thought that arriving to Bleak House would be a key moment in terms of mystery and drama, but it was not. Bleak House is a good house and Mr. Jarndyce was no mystery either. He is a friendly, a little bit affected but perfectly correct old man. Also, (silly me!) by this chapter I realized Esther was to be the housekeeper and not another protegé as Ada and Richard. But, what I loved the most is the cover criticism of the stereotypical Romantic artist thanks to the figure of Mr. Skimpole. I think Dickens did this on purpose, taking into account the recent wave of Romantic poets leading an idle, but apparently substantial life, in Europe. Mr. Skimple is a parody of that Romantic artist, calling himself a child at heart who cannot commit to any job and who refuses to take any responsibilities on anything he does, abusing his friends’ kindness and getting away with everything.

Esther on Bleak House: It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and where there is a bountiful provision of little halls and passages, and where you find still older cottage-rooms in unexpected places with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them.

On Mr. Skimpole: His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He was a mere child in the world, but he didn’t cry for the moon. He said to the world, “Go your several ways in peace! Wear red coats, blue coats, lawn sleeves; put pens behind your ears, wear aprons; go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer; only—let Harold Skimpole live!”

Mr. Skimpole asks Richard and Esther to pay off his debt (twenty-four pound, sixteen, and sevenpence half a penny) just hours after they meet.

7. The Ghost’s Walk

The narrative, which has been focusing on Bleak House through the eyes of Esther, shifts, literally from her to Chesney Wold, already mentioned in Chapter 2: in Fashion. The “old couple” that I mentioned in my previous post, are the Leicesters who, at present, are away, visiting Paris. But the narrative remains in Chesney Wold, where their housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell and her grandson, who is visiting her and pays a special attention to Rosa, a local maid Mrs. Rouncewell is training. They receive Mr. Gruppy’s visit who asks about the pictures in the house and gets a ghost story. (To read only the ghost story, click here).

I am growing accustomed to the narrative moving away from Esther, but I cannot say that I like it. It is for her character that I wanted to read Bleak House and, although I am a hundred percent sure that all these “side” narratives will collide in Esther’s, it is a little bit boring to get through them at times. However, I did enjoy the ghost story and, being reading this chapter at night, I discovered myself shivering! But, it was definitely my lest favourite chapter on this Part II.

A description of Chesney Wold by a mastiff: So the mastiff, dozing in his kennel in the court-yard with his large head on his paws, may think of the hot sunshine when the shadows of the stable-buildings tire his patience out by changing and leave him at one time of the day no broader refuge than the shadow of his own house, where he sits on end, panting and growling short, and very much wanting something to worry besides himself and his chain. So now, half-waking and all-winking, he may recall the house full of company, the coach-houses full of vehicles, the stables full of horses, and the out-buildings full of attendants upon horses, until he is undecided about the present and comes forth to see how it is. Then, with that impatient shake of himself, he may growl in the spirit, “Rain, rain, rain! Nothing but rain—and no family here!” as he goes in again and lies down with a gloomy yawn.

My thoughts:

Part II is not that entertaining as Part I but there is a lot of useful information that will later on pop-up on the narrative and will force the reader to revisit this part. I loved that they all got to Bleak House and loved it. Inside me, there was this feeling that the house would resemble Miss Havisham’s and so would Mr. Jandyce. But, luckily for them, it seems a peaceful and homely place. I felt a little bit disappointed with myself when I found Esther was only the housekeeper and not a protegé like Ada. I know that Esther is Dickens’ Fanny Price (at least for what I have read until now) but I expect her to gain her own identity as the book progresses. In Part I, Chapter 2: A Progress, I did not pay attention to Esther burying her beloved doll in the garden of her house before leaving. Now, I see it as her first loss of identity, for she truly adored her doll. Such a loss is perpetuated when she arrives to Bleak House, she is giving the keys to all the rooms in the house and she feels that is not something that belongs to her… yet.

So, this is all for now! As I’m starting Part V tonight and I must admit I’m really addicted to this book. I have lots of free time, which really helps, but I am also caught up in the story and want to know more about Esther and whether she manages to find her own identity.

You can also read Bleak House for free thanks to Project Gutenberg – Bleak House HTML

Reading Progress

Although on the sidebar you can see I’m reading three books, I am actually super-focused on two of them: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson and Bleak House by Charles Dickens. They are both part of my last semester as a literature student (panic!) and I’m trying to make the most, more than I usually do, of the lessons and the professors.

One Good Turn is part of my British Contemporary course. The professor, an adorable woman who is always happy and always encouraging us to read, write or do anything we want, expects us to apply postmodernist theory to the book we are reading. For me, that means two things: deconstructing the discourse, which I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, yet; and intertexuality. Kate Atkinson’s novels are full of reference to other detective novels, but also to classic 19th century writers. Just a couple of days ago, I found this quote which I think captures the essence of Atkinson. Beware, it contains spoilers from Rebecca (by Daphne du Maurier):

Women aren’t noted for drowning. She supposed Jackson Brodie was right. Louise made a mental list of women who had drowned – Maggie Tulliver, Virginia Woolf, Natalie Wood, Rebecca de Winter. True, they weren’t all real and, technically speaking, Rebecca didn’t drown, did she? She was murdered, and she had cancer. The Rasputin of romantic literature – bad women need killing several times over apparently. You could keep a good woman down but not a bad one.

Isn’t Atkinson genius? There is so much critique done there, an exploration of 20th century women who have influenced her enough as to remember them and put them down in her novel. I encourage all detective fiction readers out there to give Kate Atkinson a try. Her novels are a huge pleasure to read.

Bleak House is no news for many of you (I’ve seen Ashley is also reading it, among others). Mine is the Penguin Clothbound edition that has little parts made up of a few chapters. I am done with part one which I plan on reviewing as soon as I re-read the first chapters. I think there is more there than what I saw with my first reading. That being said, I am not a Dickens fan, but right now I’m utterly enjoying Bleak House. I don’t know if this love will last throughout the 942 pages left, but, for the moment, I’m happy and so addicted to the book that I carry it to college every day despite its weight (I’m sure it’s at least two pounds). I also appreciate that Penguin included some of the original drawings from the facsimile edition. They really help to mentally portray some of the situations.

What are you reading? Any other Bleak House readers visiting this blog? :)

Happy Birthday Mr. Dickens!

2012 is Charles Dickens’ year but today it’s been 200 years since one of the most famous English writers was born. He changed the concept of literature by entertaning the general public and creating some of the most iconic characters in Europe. His works, that got him out of his very humble origins, have influenced later literary authors, but also present day movies and even movie characters.

To celebrate 2012 and to give Mr. Dickens another opportunity (Great Expectations was not one of my favourite readings regarding style back in 2010) I bought Bleak House, one of his most complex and longer novels. As usual, I chose the Penguin Clothbound Edition and can’t wait to read it.

Last, but not least, I’d like to highlight how I admire Charles Dickens as a person: deeply affected by his humble origins, he took his writing and selling to previously unknown levels in the market and we have all inhereted that. Books are something we buy, we borrow, something we have a huge access to, but they are also a source of entertainmente. Furthermore, we are fans of certain authors and create countdowns to their next published novel, we are all, Charles Dicken’s children.