Bleak House is a novel by Charles Dickens, published in 20 monthly instalments between March 1852 and September 1853. The title, ‘Bleak House’ isn’t exactly an invitation for a reader to pick it up, and not a famous one either in terms of other Charles Dickens novels, especially A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. Even though it is not as famous as Dickens other novels yet it is one of the vast book and includes engaging variety of minor characters and sub-plots.
The novel starts by a description of a murky November day in London. Thought out the novel Dickens’ descriptions of fog over the London in various words and styles is extraordinary. This novel share the brilliance of Dickens’ manner of writing, wit, plots and sub plots and yet it is different from his all other novels. The first base of Bleak House being different is that it is not Dickens’ regular morality tale. Bleak House has been called the first detective novel in English, and there is a mystery to be solved, avaricious lawyers, a blackmail attempt, a thoroughly nasty old man who spontaneously combust whether because of his drinking or his wickedness is never entirely clear.
The book is driven forward by two figures alternatively, one an unknown, unnamed narrator and Esther Summerson who is one of the major characters of the book. Capable and affectionate Esther Summerson knows nothing of her lineage since having been brought up by her godmother. Her life is one of misery and solitude until she is placed under the care of her guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, an eccentric, warm-hearted bachelor. Mr. Jarndyce’s two other wards, cousins Richard and Ada, adore Esther as well, and she finds herself completely happy and loved for the first time in her life.
But the Jarndyce family has a curse hanging over them in the form of a court case, the famous Jarndyce and Jarndyce which has been dragging out for years. Fortunes have been spent, men have taken their own lives, and it has become the laughingstock of the courts. No one remembers what it is about, and Mr. Jarndyce would prefer to forget the whole thing. Then slowly, darkness enters Esther’s own life in many forms. She learns of her shameful heritage and her tortured mother. Illness robs her of her beauty, and she is brought face-to-face with the poverty and tragedy of the poorer classes. Through it all, her bright, kind personality shines, as she casts sunshine on those around her, always thinking of others before herself. And she finds that even in the darkness, hope can prevail.
The character of Esther Summerson which I think is the only relative sophisticated Dickens type of character in the whole book. Thought after reading it, I found Esther more of a Jane Austen type of character. She is portrayed in that way. The reader on reading the book will eventually realise that the rest of the characters are very uncommon species of Dickens’ work if compared to his other books.
Especially the character of Lady Dedlock. Lady Dedlock is married to Sir Leicester Dedlock. She is a confused, tortured woman, one who is hard to love but very easy to pity. The self-centered actions of her youth bring trouble on everyone around her, cause her constant fear, and threaten to destroy her marriage. Even when her softer side is manifest, the way it is shown is selfish and thoughtless.
With constant engagement of cameo characters or minor characters and sub-plots Charles Dickens try to keep things interesting for the reader but the book does become a plain story somewhere in between. The last three hundred pages are so interesting that I never wanted to take my eyes off the text. I also find the character of Mr. Skimpole worthless and I personally think there is no need of him because of his childish manner and then there arises a question about his integrity. His friendship with Mr. Jarndyce is complicated from Mr. Jarndyce side. How can a man with understanding and a consciousness of his own can have any relations like the one Mr. Skimpole.
I think it’s Dickens’s best book in terms of complexity and the writing effort including the number of characters and sub plots. It is a contemporary novel. It might appear to be a novel about the law but it is really about the sadness and the souls of two women, one who has sold her happiness for the sake of security, and one riven by the insecurity of not knowing who she is.
4 out of 5. If you want to read any Charles Dickens novel, you should read this one.