It has been a little while since I’ve read a Charles Dickens novel, but beginning Bleak House (first published 1853) was a delightful reminder of why I enjoy this author so much: he’s so good at writing. The scene as it is established in the early passages of the novel is simply marvelous. I was delighted at how Charles Dickens breaks all the “rules” (I’m thinking Strunk and White here).
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
I love the setting as it is described here. And while Bleak House the residence does not (at least so far) seem to be a bleak place, London’s pervasive fogginess (and by symbolic extension, the never-ending Chancery case at the center of the novel) provides a wonderful contrast that got me excited to be reading the novel from the beginning.
Because I’m only 15% into the book, I have a few problems. First, I don’t know who is who. There are so many new characters – all with fantastic Dickensian names – that I can’t remember who I’ve already met and which character did what. A second and related problem is that I have no idea where the book is going. This is a good thing, right? As I do get in to the book, the suspense of the unknown will grow and it will end up rather satisfying. I’m a read-the-end first kind of reader, though, so not knowing what to expect leaves me feeling lost in an unsatisfying way as I do read. What should I be looking for? Which of the many characters will be most important as the novel progresses?
Finally, I am a bit lost about the Chancery situation. As in, I don’t know why the families are at legal battle with each other. They’ve tried to explain it a few times, but I’m just not getting it. I suspect this is an important aspect of the novel, so I’m hoping I get a better grip on it soon. In fact, before I posted this, I went back and skimmed the Chancery bits in the first 15% of the novel to try and get a better understanding for the rest of the novel.
But, despite my concerns, I am happy to say that I’m very impressed with what I’ve read so far. I look forward to delving in to it a bit more this week.
Have you read Bleak House? Do you have any suggestions for how I should continue reading it (especially concerning keeping the characters straight)?
This is post one of my Charles Dickens Month project!