But before we start, a few notes: A recent short story in the New Yorker, The Women by William Trevor, makes a quick but definitely not random reference to Bleak House. Also, while reading this lovely book, I came across this comment about broad-winged hawks: "Even during a week when tens of thousands are seen, there may be none at all spotted on days with rain or easterly winds." I guess Mr. Jarndyce and broad-winged hawks both think poorly of winds from the east. Finally, commenter V shared this link: was Dickens an influence on other writers?
If you had asked me earlier in this book if I would appreciate a section entirely composed of Esther's narrative, I probably would have shuddered. How much of that saccharine, selfless voice can one reader take?
As it turns out, I was happy to spend time with Esther this week, partially because behind that saccharine voice, there's an increasing sense of sadness and of bad fortune to come, as if Bleak House is finally going to live up to its name. Richard is going down a very bad path, and Esther is helpless to stop him, try as she might. The fact that he's pretty much walked away from his guardian is not a good sign.
Then there's her encounter with Lady Dedlock, the latter showing a side we've not seen much of before. How devastatingly sad for both of them, that they're alive in a time where Lady Dedlock would lose all her standing if she were to confess to being Esther's mother, and it's not like she'd have a way to make a living afterwards. For Esther to bravely go to Mr. Guppy and tell him to back off--and to face the hideous spectacle of him back-pedaling on his proposal so ferociously after seeing her scarred face--must have been just about unbearable.
We're definitely seeing a decrease in the amount of humor that was present in earlier sections, and a rise in melancholy. I found the scene where Esther decides whether or not to keep the flowers Woodcourt gave her that she dried to be heartbreaking:
"I wished to be generous to him, even in the secret depths of my heart, which he would never know, because I could have loved him--could have been devoted to him. At last I came to the conclusion that I might keep them; if I treasured them only as a remembrance of what was irrevocably past and gone, never to be looked back on any more, in any other light. I hope this may not seem trivial. I was very much in earnest."
Oh, Esther, how could it be trivial?? You've had so little go right for you, and your one chance at true love beaten down by Woodcourt's odious mother and your own fear of your decayed looks! This is not trivial at all!
There was at least a little glimmer of humor:
"'His'n, miss,' returned Charley; whose grammatical education was advancing, but not very rapidly."
But beyond that, this was so sad. Next week, we have 4 chapters to read rather than 3, but at least in the edition I'm reading, it's about the same number of pages overall. Dickens appears to have been quite consistent in his section lengths.