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.
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