Dickens Challenge – Bleak House Recap Post

Today is my conclusion to Bleak House.  First, I wrote this several months after the other posts.  In those months I had read a couple of short essays on the book, which in ways made me change my mind about a little of what I wrote.  I left what I wrote mostly unchanged because they were my first impressions. (Note – I added a few lines on some of the posts, but no major changes and no changes to conclusions)

Some of the big changes in my thoughts after the later reading were about Esther’s narrative.  For instance, how reliable is it?  I took it at face value when I read the book.  On the other hand, I took the difference between her and Mrs. Rachael’s reactions at their parting as a later, adult sense of irony.  So, if the writer Esther is allowed some editorial license here, what is to say she didn’t use it everywhere? Was her emotional reaction what she was thinking during the time the book was taking place or was it from a perspective more than 7 years later?  Back when the book was released, a lot of people complained about how unreliable the narrative is.  I am not so sure I would come to some of the conclusions they did, but maybe some of it has to be questioned, or at the very least acknowledged.  (I still take it mostly at face value, but with eyes fully open.)

I did bring up the plot and the ins-and-outs of Esther’s narrative during these posts.  What I didn’t bring out was that Esther’s narrative really was about the lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  She came in relatively late, but even before she met Mr. Jarndyce, she imparted important information on the case (for instance, Mr. Kenge mentioned the cost of the suit at that time, which, of course, was huge importance at the end!).  Overall, though, her narrative is the story of Ada, Richard, and Mr. Jarndyce. She gives her own story as part of it, and her mother’s story almost incidentally.  Her mother’s role in her narrative is actually quite small! And though there are players in the law suit in the other narrative, it is not very important in that narrative, which is mostly (indirectly) about Lady Dedlock.

So I had once stated that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce plot was just the glue of the story, and yet, in some ways it formed an equal, counter plot to the other side, the Lady Dedlock plot.  They have little to do with each other and work on different levels, and yet there are odd similarities and connections do exist. And in ways each of the two narratives follows each of the two plots with just a bit of intermingling between them, and, as I said, some connections between narratives and plots (though it is only mentioned once or twice, Lady Dedlock has a minor role in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, another connection.)

Thinking of all these connections, there is the huge complexity of the stories and the often-contradictory conclusions.  I did see a lot of that, but how do you write about it?  Others have, I didn’t as much. (OK, my piece on PoV did explore some of the contradictions.)

And, of course, as with all Dickens, this book was very much a product of its day and it was a very political product at that.  Some of the politics still exists and a lot of the social commentary is still relevant, but it is impossible to see it as Dickens’ contemporaries would have, where court cases did sometimes run for decades (actually, some still do…) and where the level of poverty glimpsed here still existed in Britain (you can argue it still does, but not quite like back then!).

A lot of complaints about Dickens does have to do with the fact that it is product of its times.  Today a popular author would not be so wordy!  And yet, some of these “flaws” are also what gives the book its character.  And in part our attitudes seem odd – we might spend a huge amount of time reading, but we don’t like to wallow in a book, we want it done, out of the way and a new book in its place (even when it is book 2 or 3 or 27 of a series).  We have short attention spans and demand a constant change.  It is often difficult to slow down to a Victorian pace and savor the words on the page, to take to a book like a large meal instead of a snack.

But it often fun to try.

And I hope you did enjoy this little taste of moving at a horse carriage pace instead of the speed of light of the Internet pace.

I did.

*

Here are my posts for this challenge:

Sunday – Intro Post (Challenge Main Post)
Monday – Bleak House Overview
Tuesday – Just for Fun (PoVs)
Wednesday – Mr. Skimpole
Thursday – Sir Leicester
Friday – Character Sketches

Here are Yvette’s posts for this challenge:

Yvette’s Bleak House Challenge A-Z – Yvette gives 26 take-aways from the novel in this great post!
Yvette’s Challenge Opening Remind (Besides a reminder, Yvette is keeping track of the challenge on this post)

Here are all of the pre-challenge and reminder posts (some contain good material for discussion!):

Yvette’s opening post
My opening post
Yvette’s reminder post (includes other material)
My Reminder Post
My Month Countdown Post (London Fog…)
My Last Reminder (Lady Dedlock)
Yvette’s Challenge Opening Reminder

And here are your posts (I’ll add links taken from ones I find on both my posts and Yvette’s posts):

First in: derrickjknight – ‘Bleak House’ Comes To The End
Retirement Reflections – What’s on Your Bookshelf? (June Edition, leading off with Bleak House)
Marsha Ingrao – Always Write – Too Early to Have Coffee Today (Coffee share post with a few Bleak House paragraphs)

The Bleak House 2022 winners:

  • Derrick Knight here
  • Marsha Ingrao here
  • Retirement Reflections here
Charles Dickens at his Desk in 1858 – This was from Wikimedia and I make no claim to ownership

47 thoughts on “Dickens Challenge – Bleak House Recap Post

  1. Marsha

    Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity to read this book. I have since read Great Expectations and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I loved both of them. I don’t think they were quite as long as the Bleak House, but maybe they were not as complicated either. Both had great plots and kept me guessing. Thanks again for the lovely award. It was fun getting to know you better through this reading. I loved all the chatting. :)

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  2. Pingback: Monday Morning Blooms, #DickensChallenge Winners, & Dream Theater Song “Through her Eyes”🎵 – priorhouse blog

  3. Marsha

    Wow, Trent, this is such an engaging commentary. In my Story Chat Summary yesterday I posed the question about whether or not I should allow ie publish agenda stories or reject them. The question probably wasn’t very clear. Most of the comments so far say I shouldn’t censor stories (I think they meant after-the-fact) or the comments that rage because of the agenda.

    Then your discussion of Dickens in his time writing this 900-page masterpiece with a huge agenda makes me even question my question. I guess the real issue for me is how important is the issue or agenda to humanity, should I get an agenda story. As you pointed out, this story was so much differently received then than it is now. Now the biggest issue is how wordy it is. I found the references and nuances to other works that were classics then troubling because I was missing a lot of the meat. The literate people then were much more literate in those classics. For us, Dickens and Hemmingway are the classics, and for the next generations, someone writing now will be the classic writer.

    I thoroughly enjoyed being part of this lengthy discussion, and I agree with you that you barely scratched the surface in spite of how much time and thought you put into it. There is so much meat in this story that you have alluded to that it could go much deeper. I appreciate what you said about people today moving from book to book. Like, you, I like to wallow a little. I can’t just go on to the next book that easily. I am amazed at people who can do book challenges and read tons and tons of books. I can do that if they are light, but this one was not light, as you said it was complex with interlacing plots and themes.

    Thanks for such a stimulating reading experience. I hope that you will do something like this again. It might be fun to attach a book discussion like we did with Charli’s Story Chat and have people respond with flash fiction as one of the links they create. We could maybe pull Charli into that, too. Another idea for getting readers more involved along the way might be to do what you did and challenge people to discuss questions about specific characters. I loved your post about Simpole, and I could have spun off that post for quite a while. I think this was such an exciting project. I’m sorry I didn’t wake up to it sooner so I could get more involved. It was time well-invested.
    Thanks again to both you and Yvette for this wonderful experience. :)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I am on semi-vacation, so missed your post yesterday – I may have to go back and see.
      For myself, I try to stay away from politics (or “issues”) when I do a non-fiction post, though I did a series on some hot topics, like racism, but in what I hope was a non-partisan way. When I write fiction, though, I do sometimes have hot topics or take on issues that have a more political bent. I think in ways all arts have always done that, from painting to music to literature – they all reflect the times and try to make people think.
      I think the thinking part is why some people don’t like Dickens – not only is it wordy, but you have to think a lot about it to enjoy it. This was not a mindless beach book. And since society has changed so much, you don’t have to just think, but the more you know about the society the more you get from the book. As you said, Dickens referred to so many previous works,most of which I had never heard of, that I had to ready every foot note to truly understand what he was saying. Like all of those pet names for Esther.
      I am glad you were able to join in. I’m sure we’ll be doing this again next year and most likely will see what people think about ways to get more involvement.
      Did you see the note I dropped you in your contact page?

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      1. Marsha

        Hi again, Trent. I did not notice my contact page yet, but I haven’t finished going through all my comments. I see one comment in my menu. I didn’t look up Esther’s pet names. I read a lot of footnotes and clicked on the online dictionary quite often! :)

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        1. Prior...

          Hi Marsha (and Trent) sorry to be late in commenting here – but wanted to add fat I think writers always have an agenda –
          Even if subtle or unconscious – and the sometimes it is so obvious – which can be okay too!

          And with your story chat – it sounds like you have a great approach already – you do screen the stories a little and then you go with your gut on what you think fits – and as the editor at Always Write – that is the exact kind of leadership that is needed – a decision maker with care and thought.
          And I will write you privately to share other thoughts on the June story chat because I had some insight since then – and give you kudos for bringing that story in (after not accepting other stories from that anonymous author).

          And from this thread with you and Trent – Marsha – love how you pointed this out about Beale house
          “There is so much meat in this story that you have alluded to that it could go much deeper”
          So true

          And Trent – I really
          Liked this point:

          “the more you know about the society the more you get from the book”
          Agree and I would say that 2022 was better because we
          Explored Bleak House
          Woo hoo

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            1. Prior...

              Yes / i think I know what you mean
              Even tho I still think teachers of a certain subject will have a certain higher experience than someone who has nit taught it (like maybe you with your history knowledge and experience) and then people vary so much with what we take away –
              Hmmmm
              And was just a lot of fun to explore #Dickens
              📚☀️🙏

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  4. Resa

    Lol! I wallow in books.
    That’s because I am a turtle reader.
    Anyway, wow, you put a lot into these posts. I haven’t read all, maybe 4 of 8.
    You are intense. I like it!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      As a turtle reader wallowing in the words, I hope you do enjoy them… The problem with something like Bleak House is that it might take you as long to read it as it did the original audience – It was originally published in 20 monthly installments – almost 2 years!
      Glad you enjoyed the posts (I’d be surprised if anyone other than Yvette read all of them!) and glad you don’t just back away slowly when I get intense ;)

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  5. Pingback: What’s On Your Bookshelf? The June Edition. – Retirement Reflections

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks, Diana. There are people who read little else besides classic literature, but I think for most of us that change of gears can be a little tricky. Switching gears and keeping an open mind and that world of yesteryear can come alive…

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  6. Retirement Reflections

    HI, Trent – Thank you for this recap post. One of my favourite things about book groups / challenges is that they provide an opportunity to expand and even change our initial thoughts on a particular book or piece of writing. I agree that Bleakhouse definitely made a huge difference. Dicken’s satirical take on the judicial system helped propel the legal reform of the 1870’s. Reducing politics to Boodle vs Noodle was absolutely brilliant! Thank you for co-leading this challenge. I look forward to the remaining posts on this topic and will publish mine as part of next week’s What’s On Your Bookshelf.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      “Reducing politics to Boodle vs Noodle” – I do remember Sir Leicester’s politic thoughts and battles, but I forgot how funny the names Dickens used for them were. He was so brilliant!
      It was fun sharing my thoughts – there was so much to this book that I could barely scratch the surface! It was nice to have some discussion. Yvette should be posting soon, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she wrote. Also looking forward to your post. These types of challenges are great, but obviously the more people who join in , the better.

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      1. Retirement Reflections

        This has been an awesome challenge — although it did end up having a different take for me than I had originally planned. When Yvette first mentioned it, I marked Bleakhouse in my calendar to read in May which I did. Check! I then wrote my post for What’s On Your Bookshelf early – which I am so glad that I did. Early this week we’ve had a family emergency which requires me to be out-of-town and provide fairly constant care (my 92-year-old mother broke her hip). I had already been on a short blogging break which I have now extended until I post next week. Being able to chime in on your posts (albeit rather briefly) has been the one small blogging piece that I have been able to handle. As I recently finished Bleakhouse, this has been a wonderful diversion.

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I am sorry about your mom. I hope she is doing OK.
          I am glad you were able to participate. I think we had more people in the discussions last year. I am also glad that it was a positive diversion while you cared for your mom.
          I look forward to seeing what you and Yvette post.

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  7. robertawrites235681907

    HI Trent, this is a good round-up to your posts. I like Dicken’s wordiness and I started Great Expectations today. I never understand complains about wordiness in classic books, books are supposed to contain words, descriptions and experiences. You need words to do that.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I do enjoy writing that is little more spare, like Hemingway, and I guess I can understand thinking “just get on with it already!” on occasion, but for the most part I agree with you. I do like sitting back and wallowing in the words – in the descriptions, the characterizations, the bit of philosophy, etc. If you want to be lost in the words, sometimes it helps if there are lot of them…

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  8. Prior...

    Hi again T
    I still have to read your other two posts – but wow- wanted tonsay that our approach to this reading challenge summary is so opposite – and i think that will be a good thing
    Have a great day

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I wasn’t sure how I should sum up such a week of words! It is great that we are takign very different tactics and that, though we mostly agree on plot points and Dickens’ philosophy, there are some differences in our read – it would be boring otherwise ;) I can’t wait to see your post! It will be fun to see what your major take aways are :)

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  9. Prior...

    The first that stands out to me was how you noted some things still apply today – long lasting court cases and the stuffy costly legal profession for sure!

    But dickens did help advocate the change to protect children and help the needy (with debt issues and working conditions and protection of our children).
    For someone to say that we don’t have enough change today and that bleak house (and other books from CD and other authors) to say they made little difference is incorrect!
    And the division and problems we have today – which might be similar in some ways – are not the same and it DOES NOT mean no progress has been made.
    ***
    Instead – the problems of today are a normal part of humans living together
    Humans are diverse and in large countries like England, USA, etc
    Part of the united approach is
    To compromise and problem solve!

    We know that organizations are never perfect and prepare for problems and to strategically manage issues and problems

    So the same mindset should apply to the way problems happen in our country – we are made up with different opinions and preferences – and the way some
    Folks are silencing (or trying to ) those who disagree shows such immaturity and an autocratic approach !
    Labeling someone ad giving disinformation because they don’t agree with you is one of the biggest issues we have right now (IMO) and so much anger, fear, worry, and upset about issues and topics we won’t agree on!
    -/
    I mention this because to be so disgusted to where one can’t read bleak house and then tonsay little has changed since bleak house is an example of this exasperation I think some folks feel!
    It makes me sad to see such a spirit of heaviness on some folks to where maybe they are missing out on the positive changes that have been made since the 1800s and early to mind 1900s!
    It makes me sad that some folks feel that fool and gloom (and can’t blame CNN propaganda) for all of it but it is true that the narrative we believe is what takes root in our thought life!
    ***
    This is why we need to watch what we camp on and this is why we cannot silence those with “other” views because they just might have the truth we need to see!
    There was a time when bloodletting was viewed as helpful to body healing – it was wrong and at the time – dissenters were shunned but think god some spoke up and those (like king George) had some one intercede with herbs and stop the nonsense – which eventually came out as truth surfaces
    Or how about scurvy?
    At first it was blamed on ships and the conditions but then an orange came along and then truth about vitamin c!

    So dickens in his time advocated for so much and just because we still have serious societal problems does not mean that his efforts fell short!
    If anything it can be refreshing to see what possibly did change because of his powerful writing!
    ***
    And it is easy to see that Dickens advocated for protection of children and to have them schooled and not working at a young age! He advocated against work houses that were harmful rather than helpful – he tried to reside awareness about avarice and list for money and stupid hedonistic living!
    However
    As you so well noted here
    He raised awareness about love and the many approaches to partnership and what unfolds from that (in bleak house we had the two wards, lady d and Hawden/and lord d, Esther and Mr J/alan, to just name a few!)
    Dickens addresses topics of
    social status, forgiveness, manipulation, business, and of course – the courts!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I agree that Dickens did a great job advocating for change (Hugo did as well, and so did other authors – got to love them!). And there were huge changes made, particularly in Britain. A lot of those changes do owe Dickens so much. If you are not part of a privileged class in Britain, you need to give him his due and your thanks. I’m sure he influenced here as well, but our change where more internal, needs based.
      There has been much progress.
      There are always steps forward and steps back. Lately a big part of our country has moved to very self-centered ideology I think mostly because people have led them that direction, but also as a reaction to those how propose we go too far. Push and pull. It has happened continuously forever.
      I was taught as a child that diversity was our strength. The melting pot has created an alloy that was never created any place else, and it is stronger than any other ever made. And political/economic philosophy is part of the diversity, not just where great-grampa grew up, religion or skin color. I think we are so divided that we are losing that strength. I think the divisions are created by people who find they can gain more power by dividing the populous. It serves them, but not our nation. Or the world.
      Anyway, no more politics from me 😊
      I greatly admire what Dickens fought for. I really like his core philosophy about society. In some ways he did help create modern thought on things like education (we were far ahead her in the US since education was a major pillar of our country from the start), ideas of fairness to different “classes”, love and relations, etc.
      “Dickens addresses topics of social status, forgiveness, manipulation, business, and of course – the courts!” yes, all of those, and more, which is why we love Dickens :)

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      1. Prior...

        Yesterday we drove by some civil war sites in the midwestern part of Virginia
        And that reminded me that yes, there sure have been times this here United States of America was much move divided

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Yes, we have been more divided, though right now is very scary. I spend a lot of time on many news sources, including some that go against my personal ideas. Yeah, I would hate me too if any of the things the say about people like me were true ;)
          I also read that politics was once much violent and some people think Poe was killed by someone forcing him to vote for their person. When I read that article and the descriptions of political violence, it was like, whoa, we can’t complain too much!

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          1. Prior...

            I did not hear that about Poe – but did hear many other stable stories about the violence and shenanigans
            And add this book to your list if you have not read it yet –
            Huey Long, by T. Harry Williams (Knopf)
            So good (author won a Pulitzer) and is maybe longer than most dickens books – hahah – but the chapter with “blood on the marble floor” tells us about how FDR had so much support it led to violence !

            And the news has so much propaganda on all sides and makes me sick !

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            1. trentpmcd Post author

              I don’t think they ever proved that is the reason that Poe died, but the article did make a lot of sense. And just how violent those politics were!
              Sounds like an interesting book. I may have to look it up some time.

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      2. Prior...

        Much more divided than right now
        And I hope it does not lead to another civil war.
        And yes / that is one of the reasons we love dickens – an author who grabs your mind, your attention, your heart – and then helps highlight societal and human things in ways that help lift blinders to people can see (or at least start to see).

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              1. Prior...

                By the grace of god and by humans skiing down to remember we are make alike than not
                And…
                Letting love guide
                Letting more love in as opposed to all this anger and dogma and fighting
                Sigh

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