Bleak House by Charles Dickens | Victorian-style Read-Along | March Update Chapters 1-4

I briefly wrote about this read-along at the beginning of March, when I spoke of all the read-alongs I had planned to do that month. Little did I know, I would get sick throughout most of March, which made it hard to focus on reading some of these books, so I’m just a little behind! Now, as we’re nearing mid-April (as I write this update), I’m happy to finally be doing my readings for the Victorian-style Dickens read-along of Bleak House, hosted by Katie over at Books and Things.

I wasn’t planning on writing updates every month, but since this read-along takes place over the course of 19 months, I figured doing monthly updates might be good, and help me keep track of what I’m reading, what I’m liking and disliking, and just keeping my thoughts on the story straight.

Thoughts So Far

I love the imagery that Dickens’s puts forth right in the first few chapters, the fog especially. It’s interesting because I had just read a collection of poetry that dealt heavily with fog, to go into Bleak House and meet with it again.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

In Chapter 3, we meet Esther and I adore her! I was a little worried that we’d meet her and move on to someone else in the next chapter, since I’ve heard Dickens is known for having many, many characters, but I’m happy to see that she’s in the next chapter and seems to be an integral part of the story. Esther is such a lovely and compassionate character and I loved how she was already caring for people who seemed to slip by the wayside. She seems always willing to help and I can’t wait to see what comes to her in the next chapters.

I also feel a bit sad for Esther, who lost her parents, then her godmother and Mrs. Rachels (who seemed all too eager to be rid of her), and is now alone.

At first I was painfully awake and vainly tried to lose myself, with my eyes closed, among the scenes of the day. At length, by slow degrees, they became indistinct and mingled. I began to lose the identity of the sleeper resting on me. Now, it was Ada; now, one of my old Reading friends from whom I could not believe I had so recently parted. Now, it was the little mad woman worn out with curtsying and smiling; now, some one in authority at Bleak House. Lastly, it was no one, and I was no one.

Dickens’s humour is so great – I had only read A Christmas Carol before this and loved the writing, but I’m loving the writing even more in this book. I keep having this idea that all classics must be serious and so I’m always wondering if I should be laughing, but seriously – Dickens is really funny! I think the part I laughed most about so far was the man from Shropshire crying out of “My Lord!” during the court proceedings in the first chapter. There’s also Jarndyce & Jarndyce and the fact that it’s been going on forever and ever:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

For some reason, I thought this was going to be really hard to get into, hard to stay into once I got used to the Victorian writing, but I’m really enjoying the coziness of Dickens’s writing. I remember reading something somewhere that said he was paid by the word and that makes me happy because he really is good with words.

I’m hoping to stay on top of my readings from now on and will post my April update at the beginning of May. So far I’m really enjoying reading this and loving the characters, the setting, the writing. Let’s go through a few more months before I decide if I like the serialized reading of it or not, but I will say that reading it this way makes it easy to catch up when falling behind!

If you’ve read Bleak House, what did you think of the first four chapters? 

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7 thoughts on “Bleak House by Charles Dickens | Victorian-style Read-Along | March Update Chapters 1-4

  1. My favourite book of all time, so I’m delighted you’re enjoying it! I love the section on the fog too – he’s such a great, atmospheric writer. You have lots of good stuff in this one to look forward to… 😀

My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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