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Trent P. McDonald Musician, composer, author, photographer, general creative.

Bleak House Day 4 – Sir Leicester

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.) (A few small spoilers)

I am not British and have never lived in the 12th century (well, I guess it is possible I did, but I don’t remember any past lives), but I have read a lot about the old aristocratic system, both the pre-feudal and the feudal society. 

Some points.

In many ways, partially because of the background of the almost democratic Anglo-Saxon world before the Normans tried to force the feudal system on England, it was never as pure as in other places, and slowly died out, a process that accelerated in the between-the-wars period (early 20th century), a process that is still occurring to this day.

One thing that people usually do not think of, but in a feudal society a Lord has set responsibilities, obligations, to the people under him.  It is a two-way street.  In 11th century England, the lowest serf working the land was given a place to stay, a certain amount of grain with the ability to increase it through labor, a small plot for vegetables, quite a few days off for religious celebrations/holidays (many, many more than mill workers 800 years later!), etc.  All of this was the Lord’s obligation to his people. 

Sir Leicester, with over a half a millennium of Dedlocks before him, still thought of himself as part of that 11th or 12th century system.  Yes, he knew it was a modern world, but he hated the way England was changing away from the old aristocratic, semi-feudal system where his class was entitled to many things just for being them, and resented the new world where ordinary people were given positions and privilege just because they had the skill and knowledge to do those jobs! Oh, the indignity of it all!

And yet, he did know his obligations to the people in his household and the village around Chesney Wold.  He would rather die than neglect these obligations.

For example, the village had a school, what he thought was a very good school, one he was proud of.  The village had prosperity, somewhat tied to the lord of the manor.  He was not unkind, nor uncaring.

He was just old fashioned.

He was the Lord of the Manor, after all.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this description of Sir Leicester as seen in the second chapter of the book: Although he was only a baronet, his family was as old as the hills, and far more respectable than the hills.  In fact, Sir Leicester could imagine a world without hills, but not a world without Deadlocks (yes, I stole that from Dickens).  Sir Leicester at 70 was still dashing, if no longer quite in the prime of his life.  And despite his complete devotion to the traditions of the past, he had married out of love and so didn’t mind that she had no family (he had plenty to spare…) and wasn’t in the same economic class as he was.  And he continued to dote on her as much as he did the day they were married.

I found the character of Sir Leicester fascinating, particularly at the end.  In a Dickens’ novel, we do not feel anything unless Charles has led us to it.  And we do feel sympathetic to Sir Leicester at the end.

Of course he is introduced as part of a long married couple that still acted as newlyweds.  He truly loved Lady Dedlock with all of his heart.  He doted on her.

And, though we find that he wasn’t her first love, probably not even close to “the love of her life”, she obviously loved him very much.  In her fashion.

She was willing to sacrifice herself for him.  She said many times that she would do anything to protect him

But Lady Dedlock was the love of Sir Leister’s life.  That has to be remembered.

Sir Leicester, and the relatives that surrounded him looking for his good graces, represented the aristocratic system, with all of its faults, corruptions and warts. 

Dickens did not love this system.  In fact, a happy ending in most of Dickens’ novels was a respectable middle class, not too rich, and far from being aristocratic.  Little Dorrit lost her fortune, Oliver Twist’s aunt’s lover gave up the aristocratic life and a seat in Parliament to marry the woman he loved (only because her sister bore Oliver out of wedlock – it ruined him!) and Esther and her friends end up, if not poor, not rich.  That was Dickens’ happy ending, not a fantasy of becoming Lord and Lady of the manor (something given up in Oliver Twist!)

And yet Dickens obviously didn’t totally hate it.  Perhaps it was so ingrained in society that he could not see it going away.

And since he didn’t totally hate the system, he didn’t totally hate Sir Leicester.

Despite his dated views on politics, industry, society, etc., Sir Leicester had good traits.  One instance is him going out of his way to go to Bleak House to apologize to Mr. Jarndyce and his wards for something that wasn’t his fault.  Sure, he did appreciate being treated as the aristocrat he was on that occasion, but he felt that obligation and was at least a bit friendly.

In the end Sir Leicester discovered what was truly important.  His wife, of course, was by far the most important thing in his life.  The people who chose to be around him for more than the thought that he might do them favors, whether while still alive or after passing, were important.

Loyalty.  Honor.  These were as important to him as they were to an old soldier.  I love the picture of Sir Leicester, weakened from his stroke, leaning on the strongest, most loyal person around, his old “friend” George.  Yes, the son of a servant, and a man of service himself, in many ways George is a far better friend than those cousins who are waiting from some scrap form his hand.  Or his will.

And I like that end.  It is perfect, and in ways touching.  Despite earlier having a grim laugh at Sir Leicester’s self-serving indignation at the changing state of England, we are sympathetic for the old man who has lost his greatest treasure but finds comfort in the stability of an old friend.

Dickens talks about a future where Sir Leicester joins the many generations of Dedlocks, including his beloved wife, in the family mausoleum, but he does not speak of that end as having occurred.

So let’s imagine Sir Leicester and George out for one more ride around the Park, the old soldier proud to be supporting the old man, the old man comfortable in relying in his best friend, the son of his servant.

(Note – I discovered long after I wrote this that “only a baronet” was actually quite the position – although it was the bottom rung of the inherited “nobility”, the aristocracy in Britain was much thinner than in other European countries and represented only one percent of one percent of the populace – 0.01%.  So Sir Leicester was part of the elite of the elite.)

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Bleak House Main Challenge Post

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Bleak House Day 3 – Mr. Skimpole

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

I’ll admit Mr. Skimpole provided a bit of riddle for me from the beginning.  He shows up just after we are truly introduced to Mr. Jarndyce (we had met Mr. J once before and had heard of him often, but we had only just begun to actually know him when Mr. S shows up).  He is a character that is very often in Esther’s narrative but never, I believe, in the third person narrative.  The thing is, I never really figured out his purpose.  I know that sounds odd, but even though Dickens wrote a whole telephone book of names into his novels, each one has a purpose, and the more they show up, the more important the purpose. Mr. S. is one of the biggest characters in Esther’s narrative but did not figure in either of the big plots (the law suit, Lady Dedlock’s mystery) nor did he further any subplot at all.

So what was Mr. Skimpole’s purpose?

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Bleak House Day 2 – Just for Fun

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

Today I want to do something just for fun.  Before I go on, I need to warn you that there will be some spoilers in here.  Maybe not the biggest ones, but spoilers none the less.

Bleak House is written by two different pens.  Well, obviously it was one, Charles Dickens, but he wrote it from two different points of view.  One point of view was first person from Esther.  She several times mentions that she knows that it is “her part” of the story she is telling, that is, there is another writer, but she doesn’t know who commissioned her to write, or even if it was a male or female.

So, who commissioned her to write and who did write that part that is in third person? 

OK, I understand Dickens might not have had anybody in mind, he just wrote it the way he wrote his other third person narratives.

But what if he did have a person in mind?  Even if it was subconscious… 

Let’s pretend that there really was a mysterious person who commissioned Esther to write her part but was also responsible for the other part.

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Bleak House Day 1 – Overview

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

This first real post of the challenge is just a quick review of the book, looking at it from a few angles.

The main story of Bleak House follows a civil lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  From the beginning we find out that this has been going on for decades and most of the principal players are long dead.  Although this is, in ways, the primary story and goes from beginning to end, in other ways it is just the glue that holds the rest of the book together.

There are many smaller stories and subplots, but the main story, after the lawsuit, is that of Lord and Lady Dedlock, and particularly Lady Dedlock and some mysteries surrounding this lady.  Oh, and Esther’s story, of course, but her story is in many ways just incidental to the main story lines of the law suit and Lady Dedlocks mysteries (I introduced Lady Dedlock and her mysteries here.)

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The Weekly Smile for the 6th of June, 2022 #weeklysmile

Hi All! An odd wee for me. There were a lot of negatives – super stressful week at work, outside of the UK the news was all very depressing, there was a seemingly an endless barrage of hate and such coming through social media, etc., etc., etc. Ugh. I think everyone is feeling it for not only have I seen more hate on social media in the last week than ever before, I have also read more messages saying we need to step back and be thankful for all of the good, to keep that positive attitude, to be kind, to continue forward with a smile. I’ll admit that even though I write “The Weekly Smile” every week, it is often difficult to keep that positive attitude, so it was nice seeing all of those positive posts :) Thanks to all of you for posting those notes of positivity and kindness!

(Real quick aside, on the subject of kindness – I have four signs on my lawn, a pair on either side so cars can see from both directions. One of the pair is from our local Lions Club and says “Be Kind” in large letters and then some Lions stuff in smaller letters. The other is that “hate has no home here” sign you see all over. I make the Lions sign more prominent since the other seems to have taken on political ramifications – I want the message seen, not the politics.)

On to the post…

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Dickens Challenge – Bleak House Intro Post

Welcome to this year’s Dickens challenge on Bleak House!  I hope you have read the book…  If not, you should still be able to enjoy these posts and perhaps even participate.

I am calling this post my “Main Challenge Post”.  If you have posts you want to include in the challenge, please link them here or to Yvette’s main challenge post. (Don’t worry too much if you link to other posts, I will find them).

Over the course of the week, I will post five short essays and then post a wrap up on Saturday.  I am going to put links at the bottom of this page as they come up.

I had looked into Dickens’ books before this started, but I read absolutely zero about Bleak House beyond that it is many critics’ absolute favorite Dickens’ works, and some feel it is his most important.  In other words, beyond knowing it was the favorite of many, I went into it “blind”, knowing absolutely nothing about the book. 

(Did I use the word “absolutely” enough in that paragraph? 😉)

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If We Were Having Coffee on the 4th of June, 2022 #weekendcoffeeshare

Hello and Welcome! Come on in and I will get you a nice large mug of super strong dark roast, a cuppa tea or other beverage. It is a little cool and damp outside, but not bad. It will warm up today, bordering on hot, but the humidity will cut in the early afternoon. In other words, it will be a typical early June day. Oh, and a June day where? Some of you may recognize the photo at the top as being from New Hampshire.

I had a very long weekend last weekend. I had a few hours off on Friday, Monday was a holiday and I took Tuesday off. I spent a big part of it down on Cape Cod. Saturday was wet, but I still was able to do a long walk in the woods. I also had a great kayak paddle on Sunday. I visited the beach and actually went swimming, though the water was warmer than the air at the time. Still, first time in the water this year. I did walks, both with and without dogs, and ran on Monday. I did some photography, but I am not sure how many good photos I got. Over all, it was nice.

I drove back Monday night (don’t ask about the drive, or rather “sit in traffic”). Tuesday I just relaxed, did a few small chores, walked, exercised and typical stuff. In other words, I tried to relax.

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The Bucket #writephoto

Photo by KL Caley

I’m not the type to relax on the beach, and I would never think of sleeping.  I might sit for a minute and people watch.  I might even read for a few.  But relax?  No, relaxing is walking or swimming, or exploring or, well, just about anything in the world other than just sitting.  Sitting on a hot beach was my personal idea of Hell on Earth.  The idea of sleeping on a beach was repugnant.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up.

Of course it took me a moment to establish were I was, and then another moment to recall sitting down to dry after a quick swim.  How had I fallen asleep?

I have no idea why it took me so long to realize that the beach was completely empty.  

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The Weekly Smile for the 30th of May, 2022 #weeklysmile

Hi All! For my fellow Americans, happy Memorial Day. Hmm, “happy”, isn’t quite right, since it is a day of remembrance for our war dead, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Anyway, despite an ultra-busy work week, I had plenty to smile about. There was some time off (not including today), a good doctors report, friends and family, etc. And, something I use too often, time spent on Cape Cod.

I was able to do my long woods walk on Saturday and yesterday I got out for a long paddle on the kayak. I had kayaked a few times in March, but yesterday was the first time since then! Also, it was the first time I kayaked with my new camera lens (I talked about it here).

The new lens is “splash proof”, as is my camera, while my old telephoto lens isn’t. It is a little brighter than the old lens and a little “longer (400mm compared to 300mm). In other words, it should be a much better fit for wildlife photography from the kayak. The problem is, it is also a lot heavier! And bigger! I had no idea where to put it as it couldn’t just dangle from my neck as I paddled. I could put my legs together and it fit perfectly in my lap, but that gives my much less control of the boat (steering a kayak has more to do with weight distribution than what you do with paddles). There was also the issue of aiming the huge lens at 400mm at a flying bird as the wind moves the kayak and waves wash over the bow. Yep, 1st world problems. lol. I’m sure the more I use it the better it will get, and it was fun playing.

Those are my smiles for the week, enjoying Cape Cod including a long paddle, testing my new camera lens.

What made you smile?

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Come on, I’m sure you smiled at least once last week.  Why don’t you share it?  I hope you can join in!

Here is list of “rules” and guiding ideas.  If you don’t have time to read it right now, just remember that this is an exercise to spread positivity.  Don’t smile about the misfortune of others.  Don’t smile in a way to excludes others.  Make sure a 12 year old can read it.

To join in, write a post to share your smile and then leave a comment on this post with a link to your smile.  Or, if you prefer, do a pingback to this post (pingback = have a link from your post to this one) (Note – pingbacks have been very inconsistent – please leave a comment :) ).   You can post any time until next Sunday evening (to be simple, I will say midnight GMT, which is 7 PM Sunday for me).  Note – I am no longer compiling the smiles into a weekly post as I used to – Sorry, I do not have time.

If We Were Having Coffee on the 28th of May, 2022 #weekendcoffeeshare

Hello and Welcome! Come on in and I’ll get you a large mug of super strong dark roast, a cuppa tea or some other beverage. I think the rain is finished for the day, but it is still super wet out there and it is humid. Despite the wet, I will have to get out and about today. I know I will walk and puppy play outside as these are things I do even when there is a hurricane blowing through or the worst blizzard in a century. But it isn’t that bad today and I hope to do even more. Oh, where are we? Some of you may recognize the photo at the top as being from Cape Cod.

So this was a super busy work week. OK, far too much about work!!!

I think I told you last weekend that it goign to be hot. Yep, though not quite as bad as originally forecast. I mean, we only hit 95F/35 C, so not too bad 😏 There was also a breeze, so I spent most of the day on both Saturday and Sunday out doing things. I think it will hit 90 F/ 32 C in New Hampshire on Monday, so it will be three weeks in a row, in May, in New Hampshire, that there was 90 degree weather! Wow, and people complained about the cool spring!

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