19th century,  General Fiction

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


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