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Bleak House (Bantam Classics)

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Charles Dickens

Bleak Houseis a satirical look at the Byzantine legal system in London as it consumes the minds and talents of the greedy and nearly destroys the lives of innocents--a contemporary tale indeed. Dickens's tale takes us from the foggy dank streets of London … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Bantam Classics
1 review about Bleak House (Bantam Classics)

"She's a Bleak House", or "the British Seinfeld"

  • Jul 26, 2009
Rating:
+3
"She's a Bleak House" (to the tune of the R & B hit "Brick House") popped into my head as I was reading this book. I was also reminded of "Seinfeld" when I read, on p. 217 of this edition: Dickens description of the legal case at the core of "Bleak House as "such a disturbance about nothing particular", which describes the action in this book much like a British version of the show famously about nothing. While as overbuilt as the "Brick House" of the song, Bleak House is also often enough about nothing to knock it down to four stars.

This one of Dickens "classics" doesn't quite rate so in my estimation due to the multiplicity of characters and the multiplication of words. Frankly, here at the peak of his fame and writing career Dickens needed an editor, but no one could stand in editorship over the Inimitable.

So he wrote on and on, 818 pages in the paperback "Bantam Classic" edition I read. Characters are introduced and detailed, then dropped for hundreds of pages; would the luster of the novel have been materially diminished had the weight been materially reduced by excising the story line of Caddy Jellyby and the Turveydrops? Caddy Jelleyby exists primarily to allow Dickens to lampoon her mother's over-earnest championing of foreign missionary efforts at the expense of ignoring her domestic duties. I get it, and contemporary readers got it and talked much about at the time it was serially published but it adds nothing but weight to the novel today.

Dickens' other primary target in the book, of course, is the labyrinthine legal system in the England of his day. The plot loosely follows the progress of Jarndyce and Jarndyce through the courts and the impact the starts and delays and fitful progress of the case upon its participants, observers, and lawyers. Dickens uses this backdrop for several comic and tragic set pieces.

Among the main characters are some of the most endearing Dickens' creations: practically perfect Esther Summerson, her heroic Guardian (one of the Jarndyces in the suit who has washed his hands of the mess), Jo the homeless boy who is tragically and comically entangled in the web of conflict between the sinking upper class and striving middle class which Dickens' adroitly depicts, and Mr. Bucket "of the Detective", whom Dickens uses to draw together and resolve the threads of the plot, and who points the way to countless other literary detectives to come (screenwriters for the old "Columbo" TV series obviously studied at the school of Bucket).

The effect is an overstuffed couch of a book--comfortable but lumpy. Judicious editing could have made it a classic--smoother on the back and easier on the eyes.

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