Bleak House

I have watched the BBC adaptation, back when it was out, and I remember enjoying it. The scene between Lady Deadlock and Esther Summerson on the grounds of Chesney Wold still sticks in my memory, but little else does (my memory is a very imperfect instrument). Happily, this meant I got more out of reading the book – the chase sequence at the end was a thrill since I couldn't remember how it ended.

Nevertheless, cannot escape the conclusion (formed early in my life) that Dickens isn't really for me. I'm not the sort that finds the caricatures (Skimpole, Mrs. Jellyby) particularly funny – they strikes me as shallow (more hints of knowingness on Skimpole's part would have been good), and the repeated catchphrases kept getting on my nerves (a bit Little Britain in that respect). This stuff became so repetitive it just stopped being interesting, I kept wanting to get back to Esther, Charley, Caddy and the mystery of Lady Dedlock.

Satire is exaggeration for comedy, and Dickens contrasts it with another kind of exaggeration, towards the ideal. I'm a real sucker for this kind of Romanticism. But actually, what's great about Esther is that her humility looks almost like a neurosis, and is thus lightly, ever so gently, mocked. There is a kind of balance to the character. As for Mr Jarndyce, perhaps Nabokov is right and he is "the best and kindest man ever to appear in a novel" – sacrificing his own personal (and sexual) desires for the good of those he loves. There is a kind of balance there as well, between temptation and self-denial.

And I guess what I mean by "balance" is... depth.

Undeniably, certain chapters in the novel build to very moving illustrations of fortitude amidst poverty, which make slogging through every session with Skimpole worthwhile. Also undeniable the skill necessary to so intricately (if implausibly) interweave these various plot lines and character arcs into a satisfying whole. If the plot of Bleak House could be visualized, it wouldn't be linear so much as a web. Which is why adapting it into a soapy TV series makes so much sense. It would also provide the opportunity to cut out a lot of the repetition. A bit like with Jane Eyre, (and The Lord of the Rings, for that matter) I'm left with the impression that the adaptation (what I remember of it) matches the original.

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