Friday, October 21, 2005

Bleak reading

On Dickens and sanitation reform.
One finds the obsession with cleanliness everywhere in Bleak House. Dickens's filthmeter is always turned on. It goes into whirring overdrive in such scenes as that of the first visit to the brickmakers' hovel in St Alban's. "Is my daughter awashin?" asks the drunken brute of a brickmaker, in response to Mrs Pardiggle's condescending inquiries as to the state of his soul and whether he has read the uplifting tracts she has kindly left him: "Yes, she is awashin. Look at the water. Smell it! That's wot we drinks. How do you like it, and what do you think of gin, instead? An't my place dirty? Yes, it is dirty - it's nat'rally dirty, and it's nat'rally unwholesome; and we've had five dirty and onwholesom children, as is all dead infants, and so much the better for them, and for us besides. Have I read the little book wot you left? No, I an't read the little book wot you left."


A "Condition of England" novel — "Help me to be clean": that is what the unfortunates who crowd the pages of Bleak House are saying.

Having read Tale of Two Cities in grade 9 (and having loved it), I proceeded to pick up Bleak House — this one rather than other Dickens novels because I liked the title. I remember little of the story; I remember feeling bogged down and lost about halfway through. I know I turned all the pages to get to the end, but nothing of it stuck with me.

It's almost a year since I vowed to properly acquaint myself with Dickens (What makes him so great?). There's a fresh copy of David Copperfield beside my bed. My paperback of Bleak House has long since been discarded, but I'm thinking it may be worth an adult look.

9 comments:

patricia said...

How serendipitous! I was (and still am) going to do a post about Dickens this weekend. I have tried twice before to read Bleak House and failed miserably. But hopefully three times is a charm! I'm plugging along, and it's really connecting with me this time. Though it is slow, slow work.

We should try and have a 'BleakHouse-athon!'

Isabella said...

A BleakHouse-athon! Like a Bleakclub! Realistically, I can't see getting to it before Christmas — when I do, I'll be looking for your encouragement. (And I'll be checking up on your progress in the meantime.)

melinama said...

Dickens is one of my very favorite writers. I've done Bleak House several times. Don't give up on it!!

matchingtracksuits said...

When I moved to Poland in 1996, I set as a goal to read all of Dickens' works within ten years. A modest goal, but as it's approaching 2006, I must admit I won't reach it.

However, in Poland I made it through quite a few of his wonderfully fat books, Bleak House among them. It has a wonderful beginning:

"London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill."

And it has one of the most annoyingly memorable characters in Harold Skimpole. Still, it's not my favorite.

That "honor" goes to Martin Chuzzlewit, though I'm not sure why. I just found myself laughing more often in that book.

rachel said...

Bleak House was always in my top five, and it's as good a place as any to start.

Julie said...

Bleak House is one of my all-time favorites! In fact, I incorporated that lovely opening paragraph into the design of my blog (previous design, that is). I highly recommend you give it another go, Isabella.

martha said...

Dickens is one of those huge embarrassing holes in my reading. I have never, ever read one of his books. Any suggestions on a good one to start with?

Isabella said...

Gary: the very name, Martin Chuzzlewit, makes me laugh. I find as I get older it's more important to set goals — we may fall short, but come out further ahead than without them.

Rachel, Julie: but I have a copy of David Copperfield, not one of BH. I'll just have to see where the next couple weeks of reading take me...

Martha: I'm trying to plug the same hole. I get the feeling, from all the above experts, just jump in anywhere.

lesezeichen said...

Serendipity, yes! Actually we are currently doing a Bleak-House-readalong. You can find links to the discussions and other BH-related stuff in our blog entry... Please come and visit us :) Best wishes!