During my early 20's I read several Dickens and loved them in a melancholy kind of way.
They were such big, epic reads about the trials and trubulations of nineteenth century England & France that I've found it hard since then to justify the time to read something that would ultimately make me feel blue!
On joining the Classics Club though, I couldn't help but notice the amount of love, love, love floating around for Bleak House. I wanted to have a Dickens on my list that wouldn't be a wrist-slitter and Bleak House seemed like the logical choice.
I'm so glad I did.
Bleak House is the complete opposite of it's name. With it's huge cast of memorable, likeable characters, Bleak House is a glorious read from start to finish.
There were times that I felt an editor might have been a good thing to have around. But Dickens wrote most of his work, one chapter at a time, as a serial for the newspapers. Each chapter was designed to stand alone, be a certain length and to leave the reader wanting more. (Bleak House was serialised from March 1852 to September 1853.)
Initially I thought that Bleak House was going to be a Jane Eyre type story with orphan Esther's sad, bleak upbringing and removal to boarding school. But there were soon so many characters, seemingly unconnected that I lost all ideas of where I thought the story might be heading!
Was it a courtroom, legal drama?
Was it a family dynasty saga?
Was it a murder mystery full of betrayal and lies?
Was it a social commentary on the life and times of Dickens?
Was it an epic tale about love, kindness and tolerance across ages, genders and classes?
In the end, it was all of these things and more.
One of the wonderful things about Dickens is his ability to wrap up the story and tie off all the loose ends.
Not everyone gets to live happily ever after in Bleak House, but Dickens gives us a final chapter or two where we discover the fate of all the people we've come to know so well.
It's very satisfying to have such a complete picture of their lives.
For anyone a little shy of reading Dickens for fear of it being too heavy, or too bleak or too Dickensian, then Bleak House is the one to try.
My edition of Bleak House had copies of the original etchings by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne).
Phiz worked closely with Dickens for over 20 years. The illustrations usually focused on the humorous elements of each chapter. If you payed close attention to the background detail it was possible to find extra elements that enhanced the story.
I saved that little snippet of information for last, because if you're like me, you have now disappeared from view, to hunt out your edition of Bleak House to scan all the illustrations once more!!