Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bleak House Wrap-up

Bleak House
by Charles Dickens
first published 1853
Penguin Classics
989 pages

Blackstone Audio,  2000
read by Robert Whitfield
32 hours 56 minutes

Motivation for reading:
Read-along hosted by Amanda, but I started late and never caught up.

Penguin Classics paperback purchased from B&N. Audio downloaded from

In a nutshell:
Often referred to as Dickens' masterpiece, Bleak House features many characters and multiple plot lines, all connected to the interminable Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case. The novel truly defies summation.

Final thoughts:
Charles Dickens can spin a tale like no other ... and in today's world that may be a good thing. Bleak House is huge in scope and addresses nearly every aspect of life in Victorian England - from social class, the legal system, and politics, to love, marriage, and parenthood. Most 21st century readers are not willing to wade through 500 pages before plot lines begin to intersect. They won't wait 750 pages for that "can't put the book down" feeling. But those who do, will be rewarded.

Reading a Dickens novel is not a decision to be undertaken lightly. Patience, time, and perseverance are all prerequisites.  Dickens is wordy. His prose is often described as 'flowery'. Somewhere around page 400, I wondered where Bleak House was going and whether I cared enough to find out. In the end, I trusted Dickens to make it worth my time and was not disappointed.

A note on the audio:
The original plan was to immerse myself in Bleak House by listening in the car and reading at home. As it turned out, the audio was so well done that I rarely picked up the book. Robert Whitfield's perfectly-paced narration and pleasing voice, which varied with the characters, resulted in a totally engaging audio experience.

When it's time for another Dickens novel, I will definitely seek out an audio version.

Bottom line:
Bleak House was an enjoyable novel that provided a great sense of accomplishment upon completion, but I can only recommend it to die hard Dickens fans. Great Expectations is still my favorite Dickens novel.


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  2. You have hit the nail on the head when you mention the way we are today. We are too impatient to spend all that time reading. We want everything instantly, no longer have the patience to wait. We want a book or a film or even life to hook us straight away, otherwise we are off to find something else that will happen quicker.

  3. A few days ago I reads an interesting article about the Victorian reading experience which echoes Vivienne's comment. It fascinates me that people would read an author's work over the period of 18+ months. I think it says tons about an author when a reader is willing to trust in them as you did with Dickens. It is exactly that kind of trust that got me through a couple of rough spots in Copperfield. Bleak House is definitely on my list:)

    Here is the link to the article if you wanted to check it out...

  4. I like how so many of the Bleak House read-a-longers are using audio. Vivienne is right about waiting 18 months to experience the entire book. It's also true that books in Victorian times were written to be read aloud. Asking someone to read the lastest edition to the family was a common way to spend an evening or afternoon in a Victorian household.

    How many people do anything like that today.

  5. A Big BRAVO for the completion of this mighty tome. I bet it feels good, now that you are done.

    It was nice to see that your family enjoys the silliness of the Yankee Swap...LOL

  6. Vivienne - Exactly! That's why these Victorian novels pose such a challenge for readers today. It probably also explains why I usually read Dickens in the winter - after the holidays, long dark evenings, life is a little slower it seems.

    Stacy - Have you finished David Copperfield already? That will probably be my next Dickens. The article is very interesting... even more so since it's written by a Skidmore prof. That was Daughter#1's second choice school and is one of the colleges we looked at with Twin A, too.

    C.B. James - Dickens is now officially an 'audio author' for me. I like to have a copy of the text to refer back to, but hearing the story just carries me away. A Tale of Two Cities (which I read) was a struggle, and now I'm wondering if I would have appreciated it more on audio.

    Diane - Completing Bleak House may just be my biggest accomplishment of the year! And there's nothing like a good Yankee Swap ;-)

  7. I think GE will definitely be my first Dickens novel (I'm only read his Christmas novellas, which I loved). I'd like to get to Bleak House some day, but I might as well ease my way in with something more readable.

    I'd love to try the audio but I've had bad experiences with audiobooks so far - I just can't keep my mind from wandering and can't focus on them the same way I do on a printed book.

  8. Congrats on completing this JoAnn. I think it's sad that people aren't willing to take the time to really sit down with a good long book and immerse themselves in it. Those are ones I love the most.

  9. Congrats on making it through! I am impressed :-)

    I've heard Great Expectations is wonderful on audio, and I intend to tackle it that way for my classics project. If I end up really loving Dickens, I'll get to Bleak House (probably on audio as well!), but for now, I'm a little scared of this one!

  10. Wow! Thirty-two plus hours! That's incredible.

    My husband and I listened to an eight-hour audio book on a three hour trip to and from Austin the other day. We had two hours to go, so my husband suggested we finish it by listening to it at home. It was a cool experience!

  11. Nymeth - Great Expectations is the perfect place to start with Dickens! Hope you enjoy it.

    Darlene - I agree. Losing yourself in a big, long book can be wonderful.

    Erin - Great Expectations is excellent on audio! I think you definitely need to work up to Bleak House though...

    Readerbuzz - I wish my husband and I could find more audiobooks we both like. The last one we listened to together was The Nine.

  12. I truly loved Great Expectations too!!! I thought your wrap-up was awesome!

  13. Staci - Glad you liked the write-up. Did you see that Oprah just chose Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities for her next book club?

  14. I will admit to being intimidated by Dickens. Thus far, I have only read A Christmas Carol. However, I have included some Dickens in my 2011 reading list but your post makes me think that perhaps I should start with another Dickens novel.

  15. Everybookandcranny - Definitely start with something other than Bleak House. Great Expectations is shorter, more accessible, and my favorite Dickens!

  16. Thanks, JoAnn. I'm going to follow your advice here and start with Great Expectations.

  17. I might need to include Bleak House as one of my choices for the Victorian Literature Challenge next year!

  18. Coffee and a Book Chick - Bleak House would be a great choice, especially if you are already a Dickens fan.


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