Classic Remarks is meme hosted at Pages Unbound that asks questions every Friday about classic literature in hopes of starting a conversation. This week’s prompt is:
Which Charles Dicken’s novel is your favorite?
Oh what a prompt, oh what an author! It’s just 9 days until Christmas, does that mean by default I should choose A Christmas Carol? That’s a winner of a book but no. I have so many of his books to choose from. Gotta catch ’em all – Bleak House, I choose you!
“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from 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. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
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.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time—as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.”
No one starts a book like Dickens. We begin with a sense of foreboding. Life is cold, dirty and truth is obscured by this fog that rests over the city, coming from Chancery. The Court of Chancery is almost a character itself. It is the source of confusion. It takes people up, uses them until there is nothing left and breaks them. Into this court have come our three young protagonists. Ada, Richard and Esther suddenly find that they are involved in a court case at Chancery, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. This case embodies everything that is wrong with the judicial system of Dicken’s day. It is a court case that has dragged on for generations and destroyed many people in the process.
Dickens was a social activist. His novels frequently attacked the problems facing people in his day. He targeted workhouses, child labor, debtors prisons, the banking systems, and the state of the poor. His books served to make people aware of these issues, and he did it by telling a ripping good story.
All of that being said, I think what drew me to this book most is one of the main characters, Esther Summerson. She is a wonderful person. Selfless, kind, generous and principled. She has had her share of hardships. She is a selfless person, because she has no sense of self worth. Her dubious parentage has been visited on her all her life. In those days, if you were not born well, then you might as well not have been born at all. But, she has not become embittered by her circumstances. Instead, they have inspired her to acts of generosity towards other, in particular, people who are disadvantaged or unfortunate in some way. I love this about her. As a young woman, I was very conscious of my faults. My temper, my perceived selfishness, all the ways that I was not a perfect person. In short, I was a normal girl. A little good, a little bad all mixed in together. Esther was a role-model for me. An unattainable one, because who could ever be as good as Esther? But a role-model all the same. Reading about her reinforced to me the need to have principles. She and Jane Eyre taught me that standing up for what you think is right, still has a place in these modern times.
There is so much more to this book though! On top of all that, there is mystery. A fallen woman, a love story, tragedy, heartbreak, sickness and a terrible, cruel villainous man who wants nothing more than to ruin people. There is unrequited love, spontaneous combustion, Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach!
It has everything you could want from a Dickens novel. Yes, it’s my favorite. It will always hold a place of honor on my shelves.
If you like the BBC adaptations of classic books you should check out their version of Bleak House with Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance. It’s really terrific.
And since it is Christmas after all. Here’s some Christmas Carol too! Take it away, Muppets!