Tag Archives: dickens challenge

Bleak House Day 5 – Character Sketches

(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 have given a few character sketches as part of my posts over the last few days, so I want to do a few “stand alone” sketches, starting with Mr. Jarndyce (John Jarndyce).

Mr. Jarndyce was one of the main characters, in the top three or four (Esther and Lady Dedlock being the only two I’d put before him, though he might have a lot more “screen time” than “my Lady”), but who was he?

He was obviously rich.  Bleak House wasn’t a giant manor like Chesney Wold, but it was multi-storied and rambling, so not small.  It had full-time live-in servants, even when Mr. Jarndyce and his wards weren’t there, possibly quite a few.  A half a dozen?  A dozen?  Two dozen?  More?  They are rarely talked about, but I would guess a minimum of half a dozen, though it could approach that biggest number.  He didn’t seem to work and was able to afford to rent a large house in London for months at a time.  He was very free and giving with his money, almost as if there was an endless supply.

Although he was not in the same class as the Lord and Lady Dedlock, Sir Leicester paid a visit to Bleak House to apologize for not being more welcoming when Mr. Jarndyce and his wards were close to Chesney Wold.  I doubt Sir Leicester did that to everybody in England.  Just saying…

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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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Bleak House – Dickens Challenge One Month Countdown!

Charles Dickens at his Desk in 1858 – This was from Wikimedia and I make no claim to ownership

Imagine the scene.

“Smoke lowering down from the chimney pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”

Cheerful, no?

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among the green aits and meadows; fog down the river, were it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.”

London is notorious for its weather.  It is in a natural bowl that holds the air, and a sea-level river runs through this bowl, pumping moist air in.  Back in the 19th century, at the start of the industrial age, when every chimney emitted coal smoke, when factories lived in with the dwellings, that heavy fog was mixed with smog.  And then there was the raw sewage in the streets and in the river, filling the air with their pungent tones.  Not pleasant.

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