Readalong: Bleak House, instalment 11, ch33-35

In October, we are reading the eleventh instalment of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, consisting of Chapters 33 to 35. This instalment was originally published in January 1853.

I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next, but it seems unlikely that Dickens will come up with anything more sensational than Instalment 10’s case of human spontaneous combustion!

You are welcome to join in the discussion, even if you haven’t yet read the previous instalments. Feel free to start at any point, and post your comments in our previous related discussion threads (which you can find listed below).

The full text of Bleak House can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg and Standard Ebooks, and audiobook versions are available from LibriVox.

You can find our previous discussions on Bleak House as follows:

Coming late to instalment 11, I continue to find individual passages to be lively and full of quirky characterisation, and therefore fully engrossing and a pleasure to read, but I must own up to finding some elements quite confusing.

In part, this is because Dickens has some of his characters express themselves in a rather coy and circumlocutory manner. I had to re-read the early part of Chapter 35 and then refer back to an earlier instalment, to work out that Esther had indeed been blind, but that her blindness has now turned out to have been temporary; her eyesight is back to normal, but she has been left disfigured by her illness.

I am also finding some of the emerging links between characters to be a bit baffling, and I’m not sure whether the fault is mine in forgetting what we have been told, or the author’s in releasing scraps of detail piecemeal. Did we previously know that the late, charred-to-oblivion Mr Krook had been the brother of Mrs Smallweed, and what is the significance of that relationship anyway? Why has Smallweed called in Mr George’s loan, and to what extent is Tulkinghorn managing Smallweed’s affairs (in regard both to this loan and to Krook’s estate)? Is Smallweed a more important character than I had previously given him credit for, or is Tulkinghorn pulling the strings?

Irritated (as always) by Mr Jarndyce’s addressing of Esther by the pet name of “Dame Durden”, I finally got round to looking it up. It turns out to be a traditional folksong about a farming woman with a large number of employees, although why it should have any particular relevance to Esther I can’t fathom, as the lyrics are all about that woman’s milkmaids and farm labourers getting off with each other! There is an audio performance here, and the lyrics and score can be found here.

And what of Esther’s potential love interest, the physician Mr Woodcourt? What could be more delightful than poor, mad Miss Flite’s breathless race through his recent adventures:

“[…] Well, my dear, there has been a terrible shipwreck over in those East Indian seas."

“Mr. Woodcourt shipwrecked!”

"Don’t be agitated, my dear. He is safe. An awful scene. Death in all shapes. Hundreds of dead and dying. Fire, storm, and darkness. Numbers of the drowning thrown upon a rock. There, and through it all, my dear physician was a hero. Calm and brave through everything. Saved many lives, never complained in hunger and thirst, wrapped naked people in his spare clothes, took the lead, showed them what to do, governed them, tended the sick, buried the dead, and brought the poor survivors safely off at last! My dear, the poor emaciated creatures all but worshipped him. They fell down at his feet when they got to the land and blessed him. The whole country rings with it.”

Such melodrama! Who could resist?

Now on to Instalment 12 — an enticing prospect as Esther is off to spend a week visiting Lawrence Boythorn, who I believe lives at Chesney Wold and is therefore a close neighbour of the intriguing Lady Dedlock…

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