Monday, July 28, 2008

What a Terrible Title

Bleak House.

Not too inspiring, is it? Only the name Charles Dickens on the cover could induce me to attempt a book with that dreary title.

And really, he could've come up with a better one, I think. The story is not seriously bleak. Sure, there are distressing moments and ugly characters but the overall tone of the tale is redemptive, most assuredly not bleak.

When I read Dickens it's like I've made a whole bunch of new friends. I feel joy for their triumphs, anger when they're mistreated, and deep sadness when kindness and patience is repaid with cruelty and abuse. Dickens manages to make me care, and laugh, and miss the characters when I can't find time to read.

I didn't study English Lit. in college, so I couldn't tell you the techniques and tools he uses to do this. Mostly I feel like a funny, old English guy is talking to me and I think I would really love him if I met him. He mercilessly skewers hypocritical societal norms, imbecilic laws and craven, selfish people. I enjoy skewering. On the other hand, he draws (mostly) realistic pictures of his honorable, generous and kind characters. Plus, there is always a delicous mystery being unravelled though the story.

Dickens is one of the few authors who can make me laugh out loud.

Two of my favorite snippets from this book:

We get to know proud Sir Leicester Dedlock.

Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state, and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man, to have so inexhaustible a subject. After reading his letters, he leans back in his corner of the carriage, and generally reviews his importance to society.
We look in on the happy Bagnet family in their inept preparations for the "old girl's" birthday, in which she must sit and watch, with out helping:

It is well for the old girl that she has but one birthday in a year, for two such indulgences in poultry might be injurious. Every kind of finer tendon and ligament that it is in the nature of poultry to possess, is developed in these specimens in the singular form of guitar-strings. Their limbs appear to have struck roots into their breasts and bodies as aged trees strike roots into the earth.... But Mr. Bagnet, unconscious of these little defects, sets his heart on Mrs. Bagnet eating a most severe quantity of the delicacies before her; and as that good old girl would not cause him a moment's disappointment on any day, least of all on such a day, for any consideration, she imperils her digestion fearfully. How young Woolwich [the son] cleans the drumsticks without being of ostrich descent, his anxious mother is at a loss to understand.
Reminds me of Mother's Day, when one must Ooooh and Aaaaaah over every bite and present and decoration, while (usually) having to clean it all up the next day.

At just under 1000 pages, Bleak House is not bathroom reading. It took me several weeks for finish it. But is was a treat and indulgence to curl up with my friends of old England and ignore the kiddos whenever I could find a chunk of time. Just my kind of summer reading.

In the end, I suppose I simply love Dickens' voice. The way he expresses himself suits me.