Length: Soooo long. 1000 pages? 33 hours on audio.
Bleak House is a satirical look at the Byzantine legal system in London as it consumes the minds and talents of the greedy and nearly destroys the lives of innocents–a contemporary tale indeed. Dickens’s tale takes us from the foggy dank streets of London and the maze of the Inns of Court to the peaceful countryside of England. Likewise, the characters run from murderous villains to virtuous girls, from a devoted lover to a “fallen woman,” all of whom are affected by a legal suit in which there will, of course, be no winner.
Here’s what I thought:
My first thought is that I’m really glad I read this as part of the Bleak House Read-a-Long. This was a serious chunkster and I needed every bit of encouragement I got from my fellow readers to make it to the finish line. I’m also glad that we had a two-month window in which to read, as that ended up being almost the perfect length of time I needed to finish the book.
In typical Dickens fashion, Bleak House is a mix of social commentary, comedy, melodrama, and characters connected to one another in unexpected and often unbelievable ways. It’s also highly entertaining, although at times Dickens seems to be writing scenes merely for his own amusement rather than because they contribute to the plot in any significant way. There are a LOT of minor characters, which was often confusing as I had a hard time keeping up with who was who.
I think the overall message of the book is that the justice system during Victorian times was a corrupt and inefficient waste of time, that it ruined lives and did little or no good. Anyone who is connected to it comes to a bad end, and it’s only those characters whose high morals keep them disinterested that have a happy ending.
And speaking of high morals, there are some seriously saintly characters in Bleak House. The main character, Esther, is a paragon of selflessness and virtue. It was hard to like her, she was so very good, and I can’t help but wonder if Dickens really bought into the Victorian ideal of woman as the “angel of the house” or if he was merely trying to appease his audience. While he spoke out against what he saw as the evils of the day, he definitely wasn’t pushing any envelopes when it comes to his characters–male and female fit into their respective roles perfectly, and the good are rewarded while the bad (or lacking in virtue, I’m looking at you, Lady Deadlock) are appropriately punished.
All in all, a very enjoyable reading experience, though one you have to be in for the long haul. Thanks so much to Jenny for hosting and to my fellow read-a-long participants–you guys made it all worthwhile.
P.S. There are so many different editions of this book that I found it hard to pick one image to use. I love the cover on the one below, too!
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