A quick note for those of you who didn't see Miss T's comment late last week: she provided a link to a very interesting article about dinosaurs in the Victorian age. Dickens' mention of a megalosaurus on the first page of the book makes particular sense, given that dinosaurs were big news just a few years before he began writing Bleak House.
Recently I was thinking how sad it is that I have so little reason to brag about reading War and Peace last year. But this section of Bleak House made me realize that I have another opportunity to do just that. So: Hey, everyone, last year I read War and Peace! And the reason that this is relevant here? The part in chapter 5 where Krook talks about Tom Jarndyce:
"He got into a restless habit of strolling about when the cause was on, or expected, talking to the little shop-keepers, and telling 'em to keep out of Chancery, whatever they did. 'For,' says he, 'it's being ground to bits in a slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad by grains.' He was as near as making away with himself, just where the young lady stands as near could be."
What I love about this passage is how Dickens shows his anger and contempt for the legal system in Britain at the time, but he does it by using the story and character. This is a far better approach than the one Tolstoy used at times in War and Peace, where he'd become so angry at both Napoleon and historians that he'd just stop the book altogether and go on an authorly rant about why they were both horrible. In fact, the book's epilogue is just one long, boring, meandering rant about the false nature of historical writing and opinions.
Good on you, Dickens. You got Tolstoy on this one.
In this set of chapters we have our Jarndyce kin and their angelic chaperone, Esther, finally making their way to Bleak House after that rather disturbing encounter while out exploring London. Seriously, how creepy is that little old lady with her bird cages? And Krook and his crazy shop? If he was alive today, for sure he'd be on Hoarders. It's a bit of a relief to get to Bleak House and find out it's not really bleak at all, with John Jarndyce seemingly Esther's soulmate, at least in terms of refusing to hear and believe good things about themselves.
I have to confess I don't find Mr. Skimpole as delightful as the other residents of Bleak House. I'm not exactly sure why they find his childish ways to endearing, and don't seem to see that he's really a leech. Although John Jarndyce does seem to have an inkling, even if he doesn't want to believe it:
"'He's always in the same scrape. He was born in the same scrape. I verily believe that the announcement in the newspapers when his mother was confined was, 'On Tuesday last, at her residence in Botheration Buildings, Mrs. Skimpole of a son in difficulties.'"
So everything is going swimmingly, and everyone loves everyone else, and the house is beautiful, and surely Ada and Richard will fall in love and live happily ever after. The end.
But this is Dickens, so not quite. I loved chapter 7, the complete switch in tone from delight to brooding and sinister. I loved the house tour with Mrs. Rouncewell, and the discovery of the painting of the current Lady Dedlock, and the oh-so-delicious and scary backstory of the Ghost's Walk. My favorite quote of this chapter: "Mrs. Rouncewell holds this opinion, because she considers that a family of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost. She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper classes; a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim."
This section of chapters also illustrates why Dickens got his readers in such a frenzy. I had a very hard time not continuing on to the next chapter after the Ghost's Walk. But I have the option to do that, if I can't control myself--imagine being a reader in Dickens' day, having to wait weeks between installments with these kinds of cliffhangers!
Is everyone who's reading this got an edition that explains what the Chancery is and how it works? My edition has a nice overview. If you don't have it, let me know, and I'll summarize next week.
A few other things I liked: the Jellybys' cook seen leaving a tavern early in the morning, wiping her mouth, claiming she had just been out to check the time. My edition had a footnote for that, explaining that at the time, Parliament had passed a tax on clocks in households, and also required public establishments to have clocks. The phrase "going to see what o' clock it was" quickly became a euphemism for going out to drink.
What did you think? Next week, chapters 8-10. And now it's time for my favorite Gorey illustration of this section, the discovery of the painting of Lady Dedlock: