A few weeks ago, I let Dickens lead us into a very foggy and polluted London. I didn’t continue with that first chapter, but if I had, I would have led you to the equally murky civil law of Dickens’ day. There we would have first heard of the infamous law suit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which forms the basis of the first, outer, plot of Bleak House.
In chapter two, we go out on that same bleak day but move to a far, far more fashionable part of Town where Dickens introduces us to Lady Deadlock, a woman who couldn’t move a finger without the action being reported by the fashion journalists in the leading three papers. The fashion world knew she had bored of Lincolnshire and was spending a few days in Town before crossing to Paris for a short visit. After Paris? Not even the leading fashion experts could guess.
“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.