“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.”
“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.
In late January and into early February I did a little research. Yeah, in the modern age a half hour with Google counts as “a little research” ;) OK, it was more than a half of an hour. Anyway, using several searches such as “what is the best Charles Dickens novel”, I discovered that the book that topped the most lists was Bleak House. Not just that, several people were of the opinion that to understand Charles Dickens you needed to understand Bleak House, that it was the key.
Sounds great, right? I thought so, and so did Yvette Prior. The two of us picked Bleak House for our 2022 Dickens challenge. (Last year was Little Dorrit).
Today, February 7, is Charles Dickens’ birthday. Dickens needs no introduction, though last year I filled a couple of paragraphs with introduction. And thinking back to last year, if you remember, Yvette Prior and I ran a little “Little Dorrit” challenge. The idea was to read the book before the anniversary of Dickens’ death on June 9th and then have a discussion. I ended up reading the entire book at the last minute. Oh well. But it was fun and I’m glad we did it.
In fact, it was so fun that we are repeating the challenge! No, no, no, we are not asking you to read “Little Dorrit” again! No, this year the challenge is to read “Bleak House” by the 9th of June.
When I did a search of “the best Dickens’ book” I found that many scholars give that honor to “Bleak House”, even though it is not necessarily the most popular. And, of course, it is all a matter of opinion, so a few scholars had other books as their top pick.
So, the way it works is that Yvette and I will read this book and each of us will do a post or two on it, but to make it fun we are inviting others to join in! We’d like other posts about it and discussion on our posts. The more people who participate, the better it will be.
OK, confession time – I did not finish Little Dorrit until last night. I have a lot of excuses (other reading, a huge amount of writing, etc.) but for the most part they are just that, excuses.
Anyway, when I was about three-quarters of the way through, I drew up a list of talking points. Well, after finishing, I have some other things to say…. I will mention these talking points, I just won’t spend as much time with them as planned. Still, maybe I will spend too much time on them ;) (long post warning…)
One thing that I noticed when I was deep into the book was that Dickens had spent the first 100 pages or so (my copy had 787 pages) just introducing characters and planting a few seeds of plot and subplot. When I started reading, I only did a few pages at a time, usually before going to bed. The problem was that there was no plot or substance to get my teeth into at first and so it was a real chore getting through the first 200 pages – I spent almost 4 months on those pages and less than 4 days on the other 587 pages!
You may have seen that Yvette Prior and I are running a small Little Dorrit challenge. The challenge runs from today, June 9 (Dickens passed away on June 9, 1870) and will run until Sunday, June 13. You can join by writing a post about the book and linking to any of mine or Yvette’s posts about it. Your posts can be about anything at all – what you though of the book, a review, talking about the writing style, about the characters, about humor, about satire, about what you liked, about what you hated or anything else that comes to mind.
This post is to get things started with a few facts about the book.
Little Dorrit was originally published in serial form between 1855 and 1857. The story is set in London in 1826 and features Amy Dorrit, aka “Little Dorrit”, the youngest child of her family, born and raised in the Marshalsea prison for debtors in London, the same place where Dickens’ father was imprisoned in real life. Arthur Clennam encounters her after returning home from a 20-year absence, ready to begin his life anew. (paraphrased from Wikipedia) In many ways Arthur is the real “main character”, not Little Dorrit, but she is the center of attention.
Today, February 7, is Charles Dickens’ birthday. This an author who needs little or no introduction, being perhaps the most famous 19th century English language author. Even if they haven’t read a word, everyone knows A Christmas Carol, can quote the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities and most likely can summarize Oliver Twist. There are other big name books, like David Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations, etc.
Dickens is known for some of the most colorful characters created in the English language. He also pushed for social reform and helped improve the lot of the average British citizen. He is often thought of as the greatest, most influential British author since William Shakespeare.