The Novel 100 ~ Bleak House


I have finished Bleak House and, like all books written by Charles Dickens, this has been another of his amazing insights into human character.  Charles Dickens continues to be my favorite author.  His complex web of characters is spun masterfully and, at first, you are overwhelmed by the many characters.  But, as you continue in your reading each character weaves his own thread into the complex web until you reach the center of the web where the characters overlap and arrive together at their concluding destination, the center of the web.  It truly is an incredible accomplishment on Dicken’s part.  If you have never read a Dickens book you must take the opportunity to do so.


Bleak House was originally issued in monthly installments, the first appearing in March, 1852 and the last in September, 1853.  I think I would have enjoyed reading it this way.  After this, it was published in book form.  It actually took me a couple months to read.  These are a few of the ink drawings that were published in the installments.


Principal Characters. Esther Summerson, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, the three young wards who live with John Jarndyce.  John Jarndyce is a benevolent elderly gentleman.  Other characters include Lawrence Boythorn, a country squire; Mrs. Jellyby, a philanthropist who neglected her family; Harold Skimpole, a lovable rascal who leeched off others; Mr. Guppy, a lawyer’s clerk infatuated with Esther; Sir Leicester Dedlock and his lady; Mr. Tulkinghorn, the family lawyer; Bucket, the detective; Jo, the homeless boy; Snagsby, a law stationer and Allan Woodcourt, a physician.

The story is told partly in narrative form and partly as Esther’s autobiography.  The plot hinges on a never-ending lawsuit held up in court- Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce – to which the principal characters are parties.  John Jarndyce adopts two wards of the court, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, taking Esther Summerson into his household to be Ada’s companion.  Ada and Richard soon fall in love and Richard, after many different job attempts, settles down to study law and become a lawyer.  He becomes consumed entirely in the Jarndyce case and begins to distrust his guardian, eventually declining so far to have a nervous breakdown.  Ada secretly marries him.  At last, when a new will is discovered, the lawsuit is finally settled with the revealing that inherited money was used to cover court costs.

A second web being woven in this novel is the story dealing with Lady Dedlock, the beautiful and stately wife of Sir Leicester.  When she was very young she had an affair with Captain Hawdon, the mysterious man who dies in poverty at the beginning of the web.  For years she has thought her secret safe, but Guppy, the law clerk gives her certain information proving that Esther Summerson is her natural daughter by Hawdon.  Heartbroken and terrified, Lady Dedlock makes herself known to Esther and soon afterwards discovers that Mr. Tulkinghorn has also figured out her secret.  He threatens her with exposure, but before he can carry out his plans he is mysteriously murdered.  Suspicion falls on Lady Dedlock, who flees from her home.

There are other intricate webs woven using these characters that are worked into the theme which concludes with Esther’s married happiness in the new Bleak House to someone I will not name.  Why watch cheesy made for television movies when you have such a book as this?  Have I been successful in sparking an interest in the book?  Don’t have the time to read a book of this magnitude?  Listen to it on tape as you knit!

There are always characters in Dicken’s books that I admire and want to to emulate.  John Jarndyce was an incredibly  benevolent, kind man in this book.  He secretly used his resources to help others.  When things troubled him, he would say ‘There is a wind blowing up from the east….” and then disappear into the room he called his, ‘ Growlery.” This was the only place he allowed himself to grumble and complain.  Imagine how pleasant our own homes would be if we had our own ‘growleries’!

Esther Summerson, the principal female character, was a gentle, quiet spirit greatly to be admired.  Each person she encountered loved her for her gentleness.  She was kind and, as the holder of  the housekeeper keys at Bleak House, made this ‘house’ with a troubled history a ‘home’ for the inhabitants therein.  She was restrained in speech and thought through every thing she said so that it would be of great encouragement to its hearer.  We all could do with a little restraint in our speech, couldn’t we?

Another great novel on THE NOVEL 100 List!  Next up, Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.

3 Comments on “The Novel 100 ~ Bleak House

  1. Thanks for a nice review as I have not read this book. I tend to read more family or romance fictions as they are easy reading especially before bedtime.

  2. Nice review! I love Dickens, but haven’t read Bleak House since college. I might need to dig it out again. How did you come up with your Novel 100 list? There are some wonderful choices there.

  3. Great review! My favorite Dickens is Bleak House. It’s easy to see why he was so wildly popular with this book. Imagine having to wait for the next bit to come out in the mag.

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