Here I am, a week later, and I am finally posting about chapters 1-7 of Bleak House*. I hope to post about this week's installment, chapters 8-13, tomorrow or Friday. And then I hope to be caught up and able to post on Wednesdays like I am supposed to!
Willpower has proven itself to be in short supply the last few days due to another job interview, a compulsive need to finish watching Heroes (it is embarassing how little time it has taken me to blaze through the first three seasons), other interesting reads, and the siren call of The Hunger Games. I may have to use my old trick of having someone hide the book so I can get caught up on Bleak House (In college, I routinely asked my roommate to hide any book that was tempting me until a given time so that I could get my work done. Sad but true, my friends!).
One last thing before I actually start talking about Bleak House: I think I am going to try this format for my discussion of the novel; I'm hoping it will keep me more organized. We'll see how long it lasts...
I have started this novel at least two other times but have always put it down when I am between 100 and 200 pages in. Why? Well, I have a confession: I saw the movie before I read the book (gasp, horror, the shock!), and in this case, knowing what happens, especially to one character in particular, makes me really reluctant to read the novel. Perhaps this is some twisted way for me to deny the truth of what happens to this character, but this reluctance translated into some real difficulties for me as I started the book. I had trouble frinding the cadence, was a bit bored by the description of the fog and Chancery (but I liked it before), and had doubts as to whether I would really be able to finish this book after all.
Don't get me wrong; I am a Dickens LOVER. We're talking Team Dickens, my friends; I absolutely adore him and eventually want to read everything he wrote (so, obviously, I would have to read Bleak House eventaully), but I still struggled. It wasn't really until I got to Chapter 4 and the Jellybys that things started to look up for me.
Since this is the beginning of the novel, there are (obviously) lots of important things in these chapters. We're introduced to a whole host of characters, the first being the Chancery Court. I know this isn't techincally a character, but its presence in the novel is inescapable. Chancery is immediately identified as corrupt by the presence of fog, which continues to be a sign of corruption throughout the novel. The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is introduced, and it becomes clear fairly quickly that it will do nobody any good. Dickens explains that it has corrupted everyone who has ever been involved in it (foreshadowing, anyone??!!) and its being in Chancery is described by Tom Jarndyce (of him-who-blew-out-his-brains fame) as "being ground to bits in a slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad by grains" (71). In other words, it's not a fun time.
I really want to focus on Esther, Ada, Richard, Mr. Jarndyce, and Mr. Skimpole. Esther is a true gem; she is humble, hardworking, generous, gracious, and kind, and I can't really blame everyone in the novel for loving her almost instantly. That everyone, of course, doesn't include her guardian/aunt, who has a serious Esther-related chip on her shoulder. I did find it extremely fitting that Esther's aunt is struck with her illness (possibly a stroke?) while Esther is reading the passage from the Gospels when Jesus saves the adultress by telling the murdering crowd that those who are without sin should cast the first stone.
In Ada, Dickens returns to his much-loved image of a woman as angel. She is beautiful, blond, "bright", and "innocent" (44). She very much relies on Esther and Richard and is almost child-like in her understanding of the things going on around her. Of course, it is natural for Mr. Jarndyce and Esther to hope that she falls in love with Richard, "a handsome youth, with an ingenuous face, and a most engaging laugh" (44) who proves to be protective, kind, entertaining, and unsure at various turns in these first chapters.
What I found interesting about Mr. Jarndyce was his blind spots. He is obviously generous: he provides for Esther from a young age, invites Ada and Richard, distant cousins, to live with him, and knows people like Mrs. Jellyby and others who try to do "good." While he can recognize the inconsistencies in Mrs. Jellyby's charitable work (he readily agrees with Esther and Ada that she is wrong in neglecting her family in order to pursue her work for Africa), he does not extend the same clarity of sight and understanding to Mr. Skimpole.
Simply put, Mr. Skimpole is despicable. He is, "in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guilelss inaptitude for all worldly affairs, he is a perfect child" (87), and "he has been unfortunate in his affairs, and unfortunate in his pursuits, and unfortunate in his family; but he don't care - he's a child!" (88). He has essentially abandoned his family, and he takes no responsibility for any of his actions. The interesting thing is how indulgent Mr. Jarndyce is towards Mr. Skimpole; he seems to have no problem about the fact that Mr. Skimpole is essentially mooching off of him. Needless to say, I don't like him, especially since it seems that Mr. Skimpole is essentially manipulating everything and everyone to his advantage.
Is more light going to be shed on why Mr. Jarndyce is so indulgent towards Mr. Skimpole?
Who (if anyone) is Dickens trying to satirize with Mr. Skimpole? Does it have anything to do with Dickens' father?
"Solitude, with dusky wings, sits brooding upon Chesney Wold" (103).
"[Mrs. Rouncewell] considers that a family [the Deadlocks] of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost. She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper class; a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim" (112).
*I am reading the Peguin Classics edition of Bleak House.