A big thank you to all of you who commented and emailed/chatted with me on Twitter/Facebook after my last post. I truly appreciate the support, hugely appreciate it. It's been a long few weeks.
But true to form, I have been reading. I'm probably not going to get caught up in reviewing everything I've read, but I will say that I lovedlovedloved The Round House by Louise Erdrich and thought Barbara Demick's nonfiction book Nothing to Envy was fascinating and terrifying, especially in light of recent events in North Korea.
There was some chatter after a bunch of us finished reading Bleak House about doing another read-along next winter. More Dickens? David Copperfield, perhaps? It works well for a read-along, the way Dickens published in serial form. But there are also other classics that are big gaps in my reading history. Moby Dick? Ulysses? Do any of these speak to any of you who might like a nice long classic winter read-along? Speak up!
Finally, I'd intended to finish off the Bleak House read-along with a discussion of the various introductions we read in our respective editions. That kind of fell apart with my mother's final decline, but I think it's still worthwhile. So here, in short form, are some of the interesting things from my editions. If the Bleak House bunch is still out there and wants to revisit their edition's intro, please do!
In the Norton Critical Edition (actually in the back, not the front), there's a round-up of reviews of Bleak House that were published at its original publication. George Brimley's review in the Spectator had me choking with giggles:
"Mr. Dickens has a greater power of amusing the book-buying public of England than any other living writer; and moreover establishes, what we should scarcely have thought probable, that his power of amusing is not weakened now that the novelty of his style has passed away, nor his public wearied by the repetition of effects in which truth of nature and sobriety of thought are largely sacrificed to mannerism and point. Author and public react upon each other; and it is no wonder that a writer, who finds that his peculiar genius and his method of exhibiting it secure him an extensive and sustained popularity, should be deaf to the remonstrances of critics when they warn him of defects that his public does not care for, or urge him to a change of method which might very probably thin his audience for the immediate present, and substitute the quiet approval of the judicious for the noisy and profitable applause of crowded pit and gallery. Intellectual habits, too, become strengthened by use, and a period comes in the life of a man of genius when it is hopeless to expect from him growth of faculty or correction of faults."
Does this mean that in 150 years' time, people will be reading Jodi Picoult's books as great literature?
In the Oxford edition, Stephen Gill sums up what to me was the great power of the book, and why it stayed with me after I finished it:
"The darkness of Bleak House must not be exaggerated...The abandoned child, born in shame and brought up to believe that it would have been better if she had never been born, marries the dark, handsome doctor. Her capacity for making order and decency in a home, whether it be the chaotic dwelling of the Jellyby family or the grander house of John Jarndyce; her unobtrusive tendernesses to Charley or Caddy Jellyby; her loyalty to Ada and Richard--all of these personal virtues, circumscribed though their action might be by all the possibilities determined by Esther's gender, are not so much counterpointed with as opposed to all the evidence of cruelty, neglect, chicanery, self-seeking, corruption, and self-righteousness that characterizes the world, and it is she who pens the novel's closing words.
"In previous novels, however, vice has been punished and individual virtue has triumphed in energetic and cathartically satisfying ways...All the tension that has built up as evil has consolidated its hold over the innocent and unwary is released in physical action and a dramatic expulsion of the wicked. Not in Bleak House. Here the climactic moments that release the strain and tension engendered by the story consist of the reader's gaze at the wasted body of Jo, or at the corpse of Lady Dedlock crouched near the grave of her lover, or in the knot of lawyers guffawing at the joke that costs have absorbed the whole substance of the Chancery suit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Yes, Esther Woodcourt, formerly Summerson, lives in the new Bleak House with her husband and children, but outside its walls nothing has changed or is likely to change. Each morning 'the great tee-totum is set up for its daily spin and whirl'."