- Author: Charles Dickens
- Title: Bleak House
- Genre: novel, satire of manners
- Published: monthly parts, March 1852– September 1853
What does the title mean: Bleak House ?
- Irony: Bleak means, cold and unsheltered, somber and damp.
- Bleak house is exact the opposite!
- Ch 6: Esther describes the house as a delightful irregular home.
- “…in every one (room) of which a bright miniature of the fire was blazing.
- …charming little sitting-room, looking down upon a flower-garden,”
- Practically every other location in the book is bleak!
- Chensey Wold, the Chancery courthouse, Tom-All-Alone’s,
- Krook’s Rag and Bone shop, Mrs. Jellyby’s neglected and bare rooms
- …and the slum home of Jenny and her family.
What is the point-of-view?
- Anonymous 3rd person : narrator (Dickens ?)
- who dares address ‘the Lords of gentlemen’ of England
- Modest, humble 1st person: Esther
- the least powerful voice in the novel.
What is the tone?
- Dickens uses a very satirical narrative to set the tone.
- His choice of words and the viewpoint on a corrupt judicary
- are central to the book.
What is the BEST quote in the book?
- This quote sums up the main theme Dickens wanted to expose:
- “It won’t do to have TRUTH and JUSTICE on his side;
- he must have LAW and LAWYERS…” (Ch 55)
What is the mood?
- I read and listened to the first few paragraphs of chapter 1 at least 5 x.
- I think it is one of the BEST examples of creating a mood through setting.
- Dickens makes you feel the emotional situation that surrounds his characters.
- He wants to FOG and MUD set the mood.
- The images of fog and mud that surround the Court of Chancery
- reveal no one can escape the terrible weather conditions or the courts!
- The legal case Jarndyce vs Jarndyce is central in the book.
- This suit symbolizes material property.
- It is about a will and testament.
- Inheritance of property (Bleak House)
- Inheritance of affection (mother/daughter)
- Judiciary: the presentation of lawyers and legal processes
- is corrupt and deliberately obscure.
- NO oral evidence is given in the Chancery.
- Everything is on paper…
- bills, cross-bills, rejoinders, affidavits, issues (Ch 1)
- Suits just melt away in their own costs: Jarndyce vs Jarndyce
What is the structure?
- Bleak House has a ‘circular narrative’.
- It ends where the story begins on Chancery lane.
- Chancery lane resembles the entire society.
- Krook’s Rag and Bone Shop is on Chancery lane.
- Miss Flite and Nemo/Captain Hawdon have rooms there.
- The Jellybys and the Snagsbys live near Chancery Lane
What social commentary does Dickens highlight in the book?
- Tom-All-Alone’s is an example of a slum area, fallen into disrepair.
- People who live in slums do so because they have nowhere else to go.
- Mr Dickens names Tom-All-Alone’s after a boyhood memory
- of a house built by a local eccentric.
- Its name sums up the individual and collective
- …misery and loneliness of the place.
Who are some quirky characters?
- Lady and Lord Dedlock: – deadlock …couple that produce no heirs
- Rev. Mr. Chadband: loves his own voice, bravuras and flourishes
- Mrs. Jellyby: people who help noble causes (Africa) but neglect own children
- Mr. Skimpole: people who ‘do absolutely nothing’ in society
- Capt. Hawdon: living secretly as his nickname indicates ‘Nemo’ = nobody
- Mr. Jarndyce: Dickens uses a the clever symbol of ‘east winds’
- …something evil or depressing is bothering this man.
Why is Bleak House considered the best Dickens novel?
- It has everything!
- Curse of the Ghost’s path is explained and Lady Dedlock’s foot steps will break the evil.
- Lady Dedock believes her child is dead – Esther believes her mother is dead.
- Rosa is surrogate daughter for Lady Dedlock; Esther surrogate daughter for Jarndyce.
- Detectives: there are unskilled, skilled, Tulkinghorn who
- …threatens suspects and Mr. Bucket who conjoles them!
- Letters: contains secrets, are lost, hidden, falsified…‘smoking gun’ evidence!
- Names: Honoria Dedlock is ironically not at all honorable …child out of wedlock
- Nicknames: Esther has several…Why?
- Ch 8: “…my being called Old Woman, and Little Old Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame Durden…”.
- Esther’s guardian Mr Jarndyce is assigning her an important role as
- the woman who will manage Bleak House.
- The house keys symbolize responsibility.
- I’ve mentioned just a few items about the book….
- but there is so much more to discover when you read it.
- I avoided the book merely because of its size.
- This was my big mistake.
- Never judge a book by its cover or size!
- Dickens is the greatest victorian novelist.
- Strong points: realism, humor, characters with quirks and dialects
- If you put the names of all the characters in an
- excel spreadsheet then you will see that
- they all connect to the law suit in one way or the other.
- That is an amazing writing achievement by Dickens!
- Of all of Dickens’s novels Bleak House is not a best seller.
- It is outsold by millions of copies by A Tale of Two Cities.
- Yet it is often chosen as the ‘best’ Dickens novel.
- I totally agree!
- I am taking part in Brona’s Books #HLOTRreadalong 2017.
- I read The Hobbit but did not plan to write a review.
- Now I at least want to try to put some thoughts on paper.
- I am not a fan of fantasy …so this will be a journey for me
- as well as for Frodo, Merry, Pippen and Sam.
- My quest: complete the read-a-long!
- I needed to break the reading down into manageable parts.
- The Hobbit in February – DONE
- The Fellowship of the Ring in March – April – READING
- The Two Towers in May – June
- The Return of the King in July – August
- Write a blogpost after 6 chapters.
- This is the half way point in Fellowship of the Ring book 1.
- Write a short wrap-up post after I finish the book.
- My post will consist of my ‘random thoughts’ while reading.
- I’m trying to keep it simple.
Thoughts: Book 1 – chapters 1-6
- Quotes: settle down and grow some hobbit – sense!(Gandalf)
- Quotes: do not meddle in the affairs of wizards (Gildor)
- Quotes: short cuts make long delays (Pippen)
- Gandalf = wisdom
- Sauron = evil
- One Ring = power
- Old Man Willow tree = anger of nature toward those who try to destroy it
- Search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something
- Gollum and Sauron are on a quest find The ONE (ring).
- Ch 3: ‘What is to be my quest?
- Bilbo went to FIND a treasure…
- but I go to LOSE one…
- Ch 3: Frodo is on a quest “…find the Cracks of Doom…”
- great fissure that split a long tunnel that bored into Mount Doom.
- I enjoyed The Hobbit more than this book
- …just because I know what is going to happen in Lord of the Rings.
- I should have read the book first, then see the films versions.
- But if I read the book carefully
- ….there is much to discover besides the plot!
- Backround information: LotR does fill in the missing ‘gaps’ The Hobbit.
- Tension: Tolkien keeps the reader captivated with the hints Gandalf repeats
- Ch 1: The Ring: keep it safe, keep it secret; don’t use it!;
- Gandalf’s attitude: I am not certain, so I will say no more;
- I wonder many other things.
- The old wizard looked as if he was carrying a great weight.
- Ch 5: Figure: it looked like a dark black bundle
- … Something that is following us.
- Puzzle: Tolkien gives names to stars I don’t recognize but
- he adds descriptions to help the reader.
- My research taught me that
- Arda = earth; Eä = the universe; Timeless Halls = heaven.
- Ch 3: This book can be approached no only as a story but also as a puzzle!
- Remmmirath = Netted stars (Pleiades)
- Menelvagor = Swordsman of the Sky with shining belt (Orion).
- Borgil rose glowing like a jewel of fire (bright orange star in Taurus)
- Alliteration: I love Tolkien’s use of this literary device.
- It gives the text a musical effect…makes reading attractive to the ear!
- Ch 1: Frodo, Folco, Fredegar
- Brandybuck, Burrows, Bolger, Bracegirdle,
- Boffins, Bagginses, Brockhouse
- Grubb, Chubb
- Ch 4: bog and briar; deeply dug beds; steep slippery sides
- Friendship: is a element of ch 5.
- Ironically Frodo feels he cannot trust anyone.
- Merry explains he CAN trust his friends
- …to stick to you through thick and thin, to the bitter end.
- Merry explains Frodo CANNOT trust them
- … to let you face trouble alone and go off without a word.
I used this to follow Frodo, Pippen, Merry and Sam during these chapters.
- Editor: Tara Prescott
- Title: Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century
- Published: 2015
Essay: What Neil Gaiman Teaches Us About Survival (M. Miller)
Essay: Remembering the dead: narrative of childhood (R. Long)
I read 2 essays commenting on Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
I plan to read this book very soon.
Commenting on essays that are works on a single book by Neil Gaiman is not easy!
How do you review a review?
What is the narrator in Gaiman’s the book trying to do?
The narrator is trying to survive his traumatic childhood.
Essay nr 1:
Monica Miller tells us that the child uses creation and imagination to survive.
Creation here is the art of cooking and sewing (domestic arts)
that give the boy a sense of comfort and security at Hempstock farmhouse.
He has lost the feeling of being safe in his violent home (abuse).
The Hempstock ladies – grandmother, mother and daughter
help the narrator relive, restore and recover from his trauma.
They seem magical to the young boy!
Essay nr 2:
Rebecca Long tells us the nucleus of childhood is imagination and memory.
Children construct childhood as they go along.
Childhood is not only lived experiences but stories and narratives other than their own.
The narrator is constantly trying to figure out what was ‘lived’ and what was ‘imagined’.
Child is caught between the inner (imagination) and outer world (reality).
His trauma can only be resolved through a cycle of remember, retell what he has
forgotten….only then to forget it again.
Do the essays have anything in common?
Both essays emphasize the importance of imagination in a child’s life.
Rebecca Long’s essay was good but didn’t appeal to me.
She relies on quotes by philosophers
Trigg and Warnock, Hollindale and literary theorist Frye to support her views.
Tone: academic, helpful, knowledgeable
I enjoyed essay nr 1 because it felt more polished and personal
Monica Miller referred to many lovely quotes
from the book. and also used Neil Gaiman’s famous speech
‘Make Good Art’ as the backbone of her essay.
Tone: sincere, intelligent, creative
Author: R. Massie
Title: Catherine the Great
The author, Robert K. Massie, is the father of a hemophiliac.
This is how he became interested in the Romanov family.
Massie is a writer who majored in history at Yale and Oxford.
He impresses the reader with many details about Catherine’s’ love affairs.
Comment: Let’s be honest, information about a person’s love life
appeals to many readers especially female.
Massie was following the golden rule: ‘give them what they want’.
The book is written in the third person with the narrator being the author.
It is written in a straightforward objective matter but it reads like a novel.
The facts are presented without much emotion.
Weak point: The author’s personal views very rarely come across.
Comment: Because the reader always knows what happens next
…that is why psychological insight in a history book is so important.
If you want to read a very good historian,
I suggest reading Mme S. Bertière.
Her book The Indomitable Marie-Antoinette has been translated into English.
Strong point: Massie humanizes the Catharine for the reader
by revealing her intelligence and sharp-wit.
She educates herself (learns Russian quickly) because
she knows she is only a pawn on the chessboard of power.
She must please Empress Elisabeth (mother-in-law) at all costs.
Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great consists of
7 parts, 73 chapters.
The basic elements are included:
early reign, reforms, war and revolt, domestic and foreign affairs.
Comment: the first 26 chapters could have been reduced to one long chapter:
Catherine’s early life, marriage and the nine years waiting to give birth to an heir.
Weak point: Massie has lost an opportunity to write an impressive biography
by including too much superficial details about:
makeup, coiffure, dresses, jewels, carriages, harness and horses.
wedding preparations, ceremony with candles, icons and incense.
the approaching nuptial night and Catherine’s pink nightgown.
The author conducted basic research necessary to produce a biography.
I would have preferred a more in-depth glimpse into the Catherine’s soul.
This is a good book..just not a great one.
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Published: 1980
- Language: English
- ISBN: 9780307275332
- Link: Plot summary and themes
- Vasily Grossman died of cancer in the Soviet Union in 1964.
- His novel Life and Fate was composed between 1950 to 1960.
- This is his most ambitious work
- …but was never published during his lifetime.
- This book contains scores of characters and several narratives:
- home life – warfare – Jewish ghetto’s – concentration and labor camps.
- 71 chapters (part 1) – 63 chapters (part 2)- 61 chapters (part 3)
- This feels a bit excessive.
- Viktor’s (main character) mother’s letter from Jewish ghetto
- was the only chapter I really enjoyed in the entire book!
- The the turning point in the lives of many characters
- occurs exactly at the moment of the Russian victory at Stalingrad.
- Grossman’ s other books were more compact and to the point.
- Reading this book was a real chore.
- Fate and Life is marked as one of the best novels of 20th C.
- I am no so sure.
- Panoramic in scope and vivid social realism but weak on writing.
- Grossman uses War and Peace as a structure for the book.
- Although Life and Fate has been praised
- by others it is not the great Russian novel I was looking for.