19th century,  General Fiction

Bleak House – Part I

I picked up Bleak House as my second project for my 19th century course. I am not a big fan of Dickens, although I did enjoy the story behind Great Expectations (what did not catch me was the style) so this is a personal challenge for me.

I bought the Penguin Clothbound edition, which includes the division of chapters in 20 parts and original illustrations from the original edition. I had planned on reviewing the book as a whole, but seeing that Ashley was parting her reading in parts, I feel like doing the same.

Part I contains the following chapters:

  1. In Chancery
  2. In Fashion
  3. A Progress
  4. Telescopic Philanthropy

I must admit when I first started reading I thought “What a bore!” I really did, I admit it and I’m not ashamed. It reminded me of Great Expectations and I thought of backing up. But I’m not prone to giving up on reading and decided to finish, at least, part I. I’m so happy I did!

The first chapter, In Chancery was really boring, containing too many legal terms and explaining the legal system of 19th century England. It was not what I expected at all. I had picked up the book because it was the story of a young girl discovering herself.

Things got better with In Fashion. What really intrigued me was that I had no idea what the old couple were talking about, even more, I had no idea who they were! It was definitely more interesting than the first chapter and I kept on reading.

A Progress was what definitely made me love the book. Esther is such a charming, young girl. Also, she is surrounded by all those mysteries that, more or less, torment her. It was for her that I chose this book and I’m incredibly thankful for finding such a great female character.

Telescopic Philanthropy, the last chapter of this first part was by far the most surprising one. Esther, Ada and Richard are staying at Mrs. Jellyby’s, a young mother and wife, friends with Mr. Jarndyce. She is working on a charity project to help the African people from Borrioboola-Gha and, as a consequence, neglecting her house and her children who Esther and Ada nurse and take care of while their visiting. Although at the beginning she does appear to be a neglecting mother too focused on charity, she eventually confesses to Esther:

“I wish Africa was dead!” she said on a sudden.

I was going to remonstrate.

“I do!” she said “Don’t talk to me, Miss Summerson. I hate it and detest it. It’s a beast!”

Original illustration: Mrs. Jellyby confessing her real feelings on Africa to Esther, while Ada peacefully sleeps in bed. Chapter 3: Telescopic Philanthropy.

I’m now in the middle of Part II and I’m in awe with Esther and her optimistic view on things which has been showing up since Part I. Despite her godmother’s harsh words, she manages to look on the bright side of everything and tells herself to be grateful for everything she has, even though it may be little.  I was shocked and surprised at those harsh words:

“Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace, and you were hers. The time will come—and soon enough—when you will understand this better and will feel it too, as no one save a woman can. I have forgiven her”—but her face did not relent—”the wrong she did to me, and I say no more of it, though it was greater than you will ever know—than any one will ever know but I, the sufferer. For yourself, unfortunate girl, orphaned and degraded from the first of these evil anniversaries, pray daily that the sins of others be not visited upon your head, according to what is written. Forget your mother and leave all other people to forget her who will do her unhappy child that greatest kindness. Now, go!”

I don’t know what happened to Esther’s mother, but a lot of children, even nowadays century underwent this kind of psychological abuse. I was glad when Esther got out of the house after her godmother’s death and was offered, what I think and still have to discover, a chance to improve her life and be happy.

For now, what I love the most about the work is that information is like little drops, that make the narration a process of discovery for the reader, making us work a little, putting all the pieces together. I’m a big fan of mysteries, so this kind of approach is just perfect for me. I feel challenged to keep reading and to re-read previous chapters (for Part I, I think I should revisit In Chancery).

This is all for now! I hope to have a new post on Bleak House soon and keep a good rhythm. My Spring Break has just begun and I’m planning on doing as many things as I can, being reading, one of the most important ones. Having the time to read the whole morning, afternoon or evening makes me feel happy and fulfilled.

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



  • amanda

    Another on my list for this summer! I’ve seen the BBC adaptation, so I have a fairly good idea of what happens, but I’ve heard that the book can take a little while to get into. I’m glad you’ve started to enjoy it!

    • Elena

      I have no idea of what happens and that’s one of the things that I like the most about reading Bleak House. All I know is it is one of Dickens’ best novels, written during his mature years and that it deals with a girl discovery her past. That’s all and I’m super-intrigued. Thanks for all your wonderful four comments. I really appreciate that you share so much over here 🙂

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