Readalong: Bleak House, instalment 5, ch14-16

The fifth instalment of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens consists of Chapters 14 to 16, and was originally published in July 1852.

A few days ago, I read that Roget’s Thesaurus was first released to the public in that same year. On picking up Bleak House again for this month’s instalment, it struck me as quite impressive that the vibrant and varied language of Dickens (and obviously other authors, until much more recent times) was produced without the on-tap availability of those spell-checking, thesaurus and grammar-checking tools on which many modern writers seem to rely.

I’m finding the slow pace of reading to be quite frustrating. If I read the allotted chapters at the start of the month, in a block, then I forget some of the material by the time the next month’s reading chunk comes around. A lot of my initial reaction to the new instalment becomes “oh yes, I remember!” rather than actual appreciation of the text, although it does quite quickly become immersive again.

On the other hand, if I read a chapter a week for the first three weeks of the month (as I plan to do for this fifth instalment) then I don’t forget the material in between sessions — but reading just one chapter a week requires discipline to enforce. And I’m not accustomed to exercising discipline in my leisure reading, so that feels rather alien and unnatural.

There are so many secrets and layers of mystery in Bleak House. In Chapter 14, even Esther admits to not having told us everything:

"I have forgotten to mention—at least I have not mentioned—that Mr. Woodcourt was the same dark young surgeon whom we had met at Mr. Badger’s. Or that Mr. Jarndyce invited him to dinner that day. Or that he came. Or that when they were all gone and I said to Ada, “Now, my darling, let us have a little talk about Richard!” Ada laughed and said—

“But I don’t think it matters what my darling said. She was always merry.”

Is this just Esther being coy and irritating about a romantic interest? Or is Dickens warning us that Esther is an unreliable narrator, who is being selective in what she communicates in her chapters of the book? We’ll have to wait and see…

For our previous discussions on Bleak House, see:

Do join in! You can download the full text of Bleak House from Project Gutenberg and Standard Ebooks, and audiobook versions are available from LibriVox.