Good gracious! We seem to have come fully out of the transitional part of this book and landed right smack dab in the action. And holy cow, what a variety of action: we have Caddy Jellyby's wedding; we have the return of the increasingly odious Skimpole; we have poor Jo, sick and miserable, and even worse, sharing his sickness so that Charley nearly dies and it seems that Esther may be blinded; and--heavenly days, as my grandmother used to say!--SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION!
I guess you can't accuse Dickens of not being willing to take a few chances.
According to Wikipedia (so take it for what it's worth), during Dickens' day, spontaneous combustion was not actually much believed in, but his use of it here in Bleak House may have caused people to think twice. That's the kind of power Dickens had, people.
The Wikipedia entry reminded me of another stellar cultural piece involving spontaneous combustion:
I think Mr. Dickens would have approved of Spinal Tap, don't you?
Speaking of pop culture, Esther saying she's blind reminded me of this:
I think that clip cuts out the part where Pa cries. Because unlike the actual Little House books, in the TV series, Pa cried all the damn time.
But I digress. Sorry.
Besides the actual plot points, this was an interesting section because, even before Esther says she's blind, my sympathy for her increased. First, her tremendous kindness to Caddy--could there be a more pathetic wedding? Especially taking place after the visit from the odious Mrs. Woodcourt, who could not have been more hurtful if she tried? What's this about Esther marrying a man 25 years older than she? Clearly Mrs. Woodcourt is in the love-smashing business, and she's doing a dandy job of it.
If that wasn't odious enough, we have the wedding party with all the cause-devoted, grim-faced guests and Caddy's own mother's condescending attitude. Esther rises to the challenge, in spite of what she's just been through with the awful Mrs. Woodcourt, and does everything within her power to give Caddy some much-needed support and a taste of joy.
And if THAT wasn't enough, we have poor Jo near death and Mr. Skimpole's arrival and arrogant proclamation that Jo should just be sent off, nothing to be done. For he is a child--Mr. Skimpole is--and that is his way. If it wasn't clear before, his so-called childlike ways are now fully revealed to be the vile self-serving attitudes of extreme egotism. Jo is the child here--and Jo needs help. Mr. Skimpole is a user who needs a slap upside the head and to be sent away in the manner he wants Jo to be sent away. But no, Esther again steps up to the challenge and does everything she can to help the poor boy, who is so used to being sent away that he can't recognize an honest offer of help.
And THEN we have the creepy, conniving Guppy and Tony, sitting in that dreary, frightening room with ashes and goo, waiting for the stroke of midnight to collect the letters that will likely prove Lady Dedlock's past, when they discover that Krook has simply combusted with no apparent cause.
I don't know about y'all, but I was pretty exhausted after this batch. I can only imagine what readers back in Dickens' day did when they got their hands on this section. I think these three chapters show what Dickens could do best: combine social commentary (and a whole lot of it here) with some ripping good plot maneuvers and enlightening of characters.
This week's Gorey picture accompanies what I thought one of the most gently sad section of text:
"Then Caddy hung upon her father, and nursed his cheek against hers as if he were some poor dull child in pain. All this took place in the hall. Her father released her, took out his pocket-handkerchief, and sat down on the stairs with his head against the wall. I hope he found some consolation in walls. I almost think he did."
In my edition, at least, we've just crossed the halfway point. Next week: chapters 33-35.