19th century,  General Fiction

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


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