Readalong: Bleak House, instalment 8, ch23-25

In July, we’ll be reading the eighth instalment of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, Chapters 23 to 25, originally published in October 1852.

Previous instalments are coalescing into a twisty mesh of storylines and character relationships. Although I’m very much enjoying the book as a whole, I find the instalment structure a bit irksome at times. I want to read on! I want to find out what happens next! I don’t like having to wait until the start of the next month!

On the downside, I’m tiring a little of the stream of outlandish names, and of their contrived spellings, although I can fully appreciate the role that these techniques play in characterisation. Some of them are even amusing on first acquaintance.

I continue to be fascinated by Lady Dedlock. And now I’m impatient to learn more about Inspector Bucket, who appeared on the scene at the end of the last instalment. Dickens apparently modelled Bucket on a real-life police detective in Scotland Yard, Inspector Charles Frederick Field, about whom Dickens had written an account of a night on the beat, in an 1851 essay called On Duty with Inspector Field. The style of that essay is… curious, shall we say.

Back to Bleak House, I wonder what will happen next?

For our previous discussions on Bleak House, see:

Do join in as we read, and let us know what you think of the book. You can download the full text of Bleak House from Project Gutenberg and Standard Ebooks, and audiobook versions are available from LibriVox.

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Hi. :slight_smile:

After reading this instalment, although I still very much enjoy the read, I have to admit that I am a bit confused as to where this is going…
I mean, in the sense of the story’s structure.
It somewhat feels as if the intro was 300+ pages, and that it is not over with.
The characters are more and more connected to each other, yet this part is still very static.
And then there is this new intrigue, about Mr. Snagsby’s paranoïa (with good or without reason), all the while his wife suspecting Jo (the kid) to be his (and therefor that her husband had an affair in the past (?)) ← I am not even sure I got that part right…
(What I mean is that intrigues are piling up, as yet there isn’t quite one that is clearly defined.)

Spoiler, what I think what is...

Someone (I am not saying who) is someone’s (I am not saying who) dizygotic twin… (?)

Else, I’d be curious to know, given the way the story develops :

1- if Dickens had to respect a word count per instalments (say the thing was set before he even started writing – a sponsored order, to say)

and 2- if the story was published as he wrote. Meaning that he wasn’t done writing the story as the previous chapters were already published.


Despite the static side of the story development, (feels a bit like 2001, a space odyssey), I like it a lot and will definitely read it through.
I like the old style and the musicality of the sentences.

P.S. I still think these people should have learned to handle their emotions a notch. :stuck_out_tongue:

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I’m about to start reading this month’s instalment of Bleak House, so I’ll bear your comments in mind as I go. It should be an interesting change after my total submersion in Jacobite historical adventures while away on holiday in the Scottish Highlands!

As an irrelevant aside, although Dickens-related… To break up our long journey to the Highlands, we stayed overnight in a tiny village called Greta Bridge, in County Durham (England). With the introduction of mail coaches in the 17th century, Greta Bridge became a stop-off point on the London-to-Carlisle route, and it is still very convenient today if you happen to be travelling on the A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith, as we were. The bar of the hotel where we stayed is emblazoned with murals of Dickensian scenes created in 1946 by an artist famous for his Guinness advertising posters (amongst other things), and with calligraphic quotations from Dickens himself (who reportedly stayed there in 1838 when researching cruel school conditions in northern England, for Nicholas Nickleby). This one is taken from a letter that Dickens wrote to his wife:

“[…] we reached a bare place with a house standing alone in the midst of a dreary moor, which the guard informed us was Greta Bridge.”

And, from Nicholas Nickleby itself:

“Nicholas fell asleep towards morning. The day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At about six o’clock that night he and Mr Squeers and the little boys, and their united luggage, were all put down together at Greta Bridge.”

Dickens portrays the location as somewhat on the bleak side, but I have to say that it is rather charming today! The main road now runs on a by-pass, separated from Greta Bridge by a field and some degree of woodland, so the hotel has a lovely tranquil, rural feel, and the traffic noise doesn’t intrude.

Dickens seems to have slept everywhere. I once relocated for a new job, and stayed for three months in a hotel that featured in The Pickwick Papers. I suspect there isn’t an old inn in England whose doors Dickens did not darken.

(I did warn you that this was to be an irrelevant aside!)

I really, really don’t like reading instalments at such long intervals. I lose impetus, I lose interest, and I lose the thread. Between finishing Instalment 7 and starting Instalment 8, I had read so much other unrelated stuff that Bleak House felt alien. I had to flick backwards to remind myself of what had happened (I hope that all these quirky characters have some sort of major significance, and aren’t just distractions). Previously, I considered reading one chapter a week, and I think I should go back to that plan. It would “keep my hand in” better.

Anyway… Instalment 8 picks up Esther’s narrative again (it’s weeks since I last read anything from her).

@Vincent_Vincent is right — these people are astonishingly incontinent in their affections and behaviour! Just imagine being so overcome with emotion that you become cataleptic and need to be carried off to bed, like Mrs Snagsby. I suppose it adds to the melodrama. If everyone behaved sensibly, there would be less plot, and less scope for revealing character flaws and motivations.

Dickens is very perceptive in presenting characterisation. For example, he doesn’t just show us Richard’s perception of his own flighty foolhardiness, or Mr Jarndyce’s perception of it, but plays the two against each other in a very realistic fashion:

“It was strange to me that Richard should not be able to forgive my guardian for entertaining the very same opinion of him which he himself had expressed of himself in much stronger terms to me. But it was certainly the case.”

Dickens tends to indulge in vignettes, which are engaging in themselves but do little to advance the plot. After you’ve read them, you feel no further on, and it can make it hard to identify what is relevant (beyond general artistic creation). But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Mr Turveydrop’s hyperbolic selfishness and Mrs Jellyby’s misplaced philanthropism will turn out to be critical lynchpins.

And throughout, there are continued intriguing hints about people’s identities (for example, Mr George thinks he has seen Esther before, but doesn’t recognise her name, and she has never met him).

I had high hopes for Inspector Bucket of the Detective, and he doesn’t disappoint, spying from rooftops and adopting a disguise in order to gain access to a wanted man. May his role continue strong, and may he (or anyone else) soon cast light on all these hints and interconnections.