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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens at his greatest.
Nothing in Dickens prepares us for the greatness of Bleak House, asserts Norrie Epstein in the superb Penguin book, The Friendly Dickens. I couldn't agree with Epstein more. That writer even goes on, amazingly, to describe this novel as "the jewel in the crown of 19th century English literature." Wow! I guess that's liking something!
My own opinion is...
Published on Jan. 3 2006 by Ken Greenwood

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Original but Drawn-Out!
A marking originality of this novel lies in the fact that there are two narrators who alternate every few chapters. One is omniscient and uses the present. The other is the main character, a young woman, who speaks in the first person in the past tense. The threads of each story only link towards the end of the novel.

This very particular arrangement is...
Published on Feb. 26 2012 by Pierre Gauthier


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens at his greatest., Jan. 3 2006
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
Nothing in Dickens prepares us for the greatness of Bleak House, asserts Norrie Epstein in the superb Penguin book, The Friendly Dickens. I couldn't agree with Epstein more. That writer even goes on, amazingly, to describe this novel as "the jewel in the crown of 19th century English literature." Wow! I guess that's liking something!
My own opinion is that, if Dickens had never written anything else, he would still have deserved his final resting place beneath the floor of Westminster Abbey. I returned to Dickens at a stage in my life when I have time now to do so, having read nothing by him since the three required novels of my high-school days. It's an understatement to say that I enjoyed it hugely.
Bleak House, while not a very well-known Dickens novel, is frequently described as his greatest. Now in his early 40s, he seems to me to have reached the height of his creative genius, the peak of his writing and imaginative power. Time and again throughout Bleak House, I found myself stopping, backing up, and re-reading a sentence or a paragraph, and reveling in delight at the almost miraculous language, the imagery and the command and the brilliance of a first-class craftsman.
In a book of almost 1000 pages, we meet a large number of characters, from the pathetic to the unbearable, to the elevated and the admirable. As elsewhere, Dickens has characters' names do much of his work for him--names such as Lady Dedlock, Mr Smallweed and Mr Krook are a treat. The Penguin Classics version I bought from Amazon is clean and readable, with notes at the back for difficult or unusual references. This edition includes the original 1852/53 sketches as illustrations throughout the text, and we are even shown where Dickens started and ended the installments to be mailed to those lucky subscribers each month. Pages of Dickens's working and planning notes are thrown in at the back for good measure.
So read it and enjoy it; the 19th Century novel doesn't come any better than this--rank heresy, I know, from someone who grew up only two miles from Haworth Parsonage. As expected from Dickens, we are treated to a social and economic history lesson as part of the ride--again a treat for someone who specialized in economic history at the London School of Economics--in a novel apparently set in the late 1830s, and mostly in London (but only mostly).
(If the book isn't enough for you, a DVD version of the Bleak House serial that has just run on BBC television in the UK will be available after Feb28/06 at an attractive Amazon price, and can be pre-ordered already--I know it because I've done it.)
Ken Greenwood
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Original but Drawn-Out!, Feb. 26 2012
By 
Pierre Gauthier (Montréal) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bleak House (Audio CD)
A marking originality of this novel lies in the fact that there are two narrators who alternate every few chapters. One is omniscient and uses the present. The other is the main character, a young woman, who speaks in the first person in the past tense. The threads of each story only link towards the end of the novel.

This very particular arrangement is never explained (at least in the audio version. Is the girl's point of view published in order to defend the character of certain individuals? Is the traditional narrative inserted to present facts that she could not have known? Who then is in a position to be familiar with these elements and put them in writing?

As is frequent with Dickens' novels, a multitude of characters are included and, at times, sub-plots are quite difficult to follow. Some secondary characters simply disappear and their fate remains forever unknown.

The main plot rests upon a complex court case ... that is strangely never presented in any level of detail, as if the reader were incapable of understanding it.

Overall, it appears justified to consider this one of Dickens' best works, although of course by contemporary standards it appears very long. In that sense, an abridged version would definitely be recommended to anyone with limited time at his or her disposal.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens's best book, should be required reading for lawyers, May 24 2004
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
This book is without a doubt as relevant now as it was when Dickens wrote it. In fact, its probably more so. As G.K. Chesterton said, when Dickens wrote this book, he had grown up. We have the civil courtroom as it really is, a grinding machine that breaks lives underneath it every day. We see the lawyers who feed off of all this human misery, and encourage their clients to wreck their lives while piously portraying themselves as upholders of the law.
Of course, this book is about a lot more than just the law. One of the most amusing subplots involves various women involved in charity. As the character Mr. Jarndyce says, there are two kinds of people who do charitable work. Some accomplish a great deal, and make very little noise, and some make a great deal of noise, and accomplish nothing. Of course, most of the ones in this book are of the second catagory. The most memorable by far is Mrs. Jellybee, who obsesses over a colony in Africa while her own family falls apart around her. It's exactly like people today, who want to save the whales or free Tibet while people in their own neighborhoods starve.
The characters in this book are excellent, and far more realistic than in most of Dickens's works. Mr. Jarndyce is the heroic father figure, but he is a real one, who tried to be kind and guide his family but can only watch helplessly while his nephew slowly destroys himself trying to overcome the court, which of course is impossible.
Many people have had trouble with the character of Esther Summerson, and her relentless goodness and self-effacement. I think she is a fantastic character, and is Dickens's way of reinforcing the message of the book, that you need to find happiness in your own life, and things like lawsuits do nothing but destroy happiness and should be avoided. No one changes the world in this book. They just help those that they can and try to go on with their own lives. That's why this book shows a more mature view of Dickens. This is great reading for anyone, especially anyone involved in the law. Five Stars for this book!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Step back in time, '1984-Orwell'-1840's Dickens style, May 13 2004
Ada Clair and Richard Carstone come to live as wards of John Jarndyce at Bleak House, a manor in the English country side. Their governess is Esther Summerston, an orphan, who in the course of the novel gets three proposals of marriage. Quite an accomplishment for a modest unassuming Victorian maiden. One prospective suitor is a bit pesky, another too old and the third, well...you can imagine how perplexing this attention can all be for mild mannered Esther. As Richard Carstone matriculates to his majority he and Ada come to profess their love for one another. At the same time, Richard becomes preoccupied with a contested will, the infamous Jarndyce v Jarndyce which has wended its way through chancery for...could it be...decades? His zeal to win is reinforced by spendthrift man-child Harold Skimpole and a lawyer named Boythorn. Oh, there is intrigue aplenty here. Another lawyer seems to thrive on putting the screws to folks. Barrister Talkinghorn brings down the arrogant Lady Deadlock with his discovery of a child born out of wedlock. Instrumental in the unraveling of her mystery is a poor street urchin, Little Jo, whose life and fate are the stuff of nightmares. The mistreatment he receives make me shudder. Well, Dickens has in Bleak House quite a study in greed, primarily the greed of lawyers whose fees dry up the goods when petitioners come to chancery. It is a somber slow paced book well crafted and rewarding to the patient 21st century reader. For the instant, just add water types, skim the book, skip the slow laborious places...
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5.0 out of 5 stars A rose by any other name�well, maybe not, April 11 2004
By 
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
In an age of nuance, it is refreshing to read Dickens' Bleak House. Consider the characters' names: the young, beautiful, or otherwise admirable characters (Esther Summerson, Ada Clare, Allan Woodcourt) are hard to confuse with the villainous, silly, or simply mundane ones (Lord and Lady Dedlock, Krook, Snagsby, Lord Doodle, Miss Flyte). And consider the certainty that, while trials of the noble characters may surely be relied upon, all will be well in the end (well, OK, maybe not for Little Nell, but that's another book).
The story of lives sacrificed to a meaningless judicial system - the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce has been going on for generations when the book opens - includes the story of Esther Summerson, whose identity is surrounded by mystery. Esther is one of Dickens' more believable serious female characters, but perhaps she only seems so because she narrates large portions of the book.
But it is Dickens' wit that, as usual, steals the show. Human corruption and folly has not changed much since the nineteenth century, and it is a joy to observe it so skillfully skewered.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens' best, Nov. 26 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
(possible spoilers)
I have just started reading this book again and notice that the Chancellor asks Mr. Kenge if Esther is party to the suit of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Mr. Kenge assures the great man that she isn't. Dramatic irony! She is the illegitimate daughter of one of the parties. Yes, everybody complains about Esther's sentimentality. But as the part-narrator, Dickens uses her to make some funny and sharp observations about the other characters, especially the woman who eventually becomes Esther's (reluctant?) mother-in-law, and is always going on about her aristocratic Welsh and Scots relations. Esther is a lonely child brought up in a loveless home - can we blame her for trying to gain some love for herself, her stated ambition? Isn't being sweet and kind a ploy that's likely to succeed? I think we're meant to conclude that it wouldn't have worked unless she really was sweet and kind. Dickens almost gets away with marrying her to her guardian, a man at least twice her age. (He left his wife for a 17-year-old.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars It's mighty mighty, just lettin' it all hang out, Nov. 18 2003
By 
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
Academics seem to have declared this Dickens's best book, and although I enjoyed it a great deal I must say that I enjoy Character Focused Dickens much more than Epic Sprawl Dickens. David Copperfield - even though I can see how it's more flawed than this book - is such a warm and beautiful book, completely unforgettable. Even Pickwick, which is clearly inferior to Bleak House, is a book I would much rather reread.
Nonetheless, Dickens has like ten novels that everyone should read, and this is one of them. I only have one warning: DON'T BUY THIS EDITION! There's a cheap edition that has, as an introduction, Nabokov's lecture on Bleak House - which is the most helpful guide you can ever ask for, as well as a wonderful and hilarious piece of writing in itself. Also, these new black Penguins are expensive and have a tendency to get all scratched up immediately.
Bleak House is probably Dickens's most elegantly constructed book. The quality of his prose was never better - just read the first twenty pages: astonishing. But (I know, everyone complains about the sentimentality) Esther Summerson is INTOLERABLE! Every time she narrated a chapter and was more and more good and humble I was tempted to throw the book against a wall. She is a horrible horrible character - Dora was something like this in David Copperfield, but at least she dies. And I suppose there are plenty of others like Esther all over Dickens, but rarely are they such major characters who actually get to narrate parts of the book. Big mistake, Charles. Maybe it was necessary for unfolding of the plot, but - still - please.
This book failed to arouse human interest in me until the acceleration of the Lady Dedlock plot (of course, anyone of average intelligence can see every twist in Dickens coming a hundred pages ahead) - but still, she's a fascinating character.
Find the other edition of the book: it should be read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of Dickens' best, July 15 2003
By 
Alien Romeo "Librophile" (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Penguin Classics Bleak House (Paperback)
This is one of Dickens' most mature, sophisticated, and modern works, largely free of the sentimentality and crowd-pleasing melodrama for which he is known. An angry work filled with spleen about the inhumanity of the legal system and the way it grinds people up and spits them out, Bleak House is also notable for the strong ray of hope it holds out in the person of its protagonist, Esther Summerson, and her guardian, Tom Jarndyce. The story concerns an interminable legal case, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, that has been grinding on for so long that nobody involved with it really knows what it's about anymore, and any money that could possibly be won by any of the litigants has long been swallowed up by legal fees. Caught up helplessly in this incomprehensible mess are Tom Jarndyce and his orphaned wards Esther Summerson and the kissing cousins John and Ada Clare. Also involved in the affair in some mysterious way are the haughty and aristocratic Dedlocks and an enigmatic legal clerk known only as Nemo--the Latin word for "no one." Part mystery, part legal thriller, Bleak House is also one of Dickens' most satisfying books for a modern reader. As a spirited indictment of the legal system it ranks with Nicholas Nickleby and Our Mutual Friend as among Dickens' strongest statements on the side of the poor and disenfranchised against the faceless powers that would crush them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Deep, dark, delicious Dickens!, June 4 2003
By 
shoonzy (Blaine, WA United States) - See all my reviews
"There is little to be satisfied in reading this book"?? I couldn't disagree more. Bleak House left a profound impression on me, and was so utterly satisfying a reading experience that I wanted it never to end. I've read it twice over the years and look forward to reading it again. Definitely my favorite novel.
I don't know what the previous reviewer's demands are when reading a novel, but mine are these: the story must create its world - whatever and wherever that world might be - and make me BELIEVE it. If the novelist cannot create that world in my mind, and convince me of its truths, they've wasted my time (style doesn't matter - it can be clean and spare like Orwell or verbose like Dickens, because any style can work in the hands of someone who knows how to use it). Many novels fail this test, but Bleak House is not one of them.
Bleak House succeeds in creating a wonderfully dark and complex spider web of a world. On the surface it's unfamiliar: Victorian London and the court of Chancery - obviously no one alive today knows that world first hand. And yet as you read it you know it to be real: the deviousness, the longing, the secrets, the bureaucracy, the overblown egos, the unfairness of it all. Wait a minute... could that be because all those things still exist today?
But it's not all doom and gloom. It also has Dickens's many shades of humor: silliness, word play, comic dialogue, preposterous characters with mocking names, and of course a constant satirical edge. It also has anger and passion and tenderness.
I will grant one thing: if you don't love reading enough to get into the flow of Dickens's sentences, you'll probably feel like the previous reviewer that "...it goes on and on, in interminable detail and description...". It's a different dance rhythm folks, but well worth getting used to. If you have to, work your way up to it. Don't start with a biggie like Bleak House, start with one of his wonderful short pieces such as A Christmas Carol.
Dickens was a gifted storyteller and Bleak House is his masterpiece. If you love to dive into a book, read and enjoy this gem!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Misnomer....., May 9 2002
By 
B. Morse (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Bleak House, Charles Dickens' scathing look at the Victorian Legal system, is a wonderful portrait of people, ideas, and the power of fame and fortune to seduce even the most innocent. A house was never less bleak than the one that Dickens has portrayed in this book.
The central thread of the novel, the suit being handled by Jarndyce and Jarndyce...involves a large inheritance. But the proceeds of such have been tangled up in legal jargon and shuffled papers for years, to the point where no one really knows what the basis of the suit is any longer. But year after year, lawyer after lawyer, the case progresses.
Enter Esther Summerson, a young girl, orphaned at an early age, and raised in the care of an eccentric woman, who upon her death, leaves Esther in the charge of one of the aforementioned Jarndyce men, to ensure her well-being. She meets a myriad of other characters, some rich, some poor, all who influence her life in one way or another. There are far too many to name without slighting any others, but suffice to say that Dickens had an amazing ability to characterize anyone, from the simple street sweeper to the height of London's elite social scene...and does so with a deep, probing eye, and a proclivity for realism. Each character comes with unique traits and characteristics, and a wonderful story to tell. Although Dickens is often criticized for his loquacious writing style...the strength of his ability to bring characters to life is argument enough for the length of most of his works. Dickens ability to satirize almost any element of Victorian society is a must-read for anyone with an interest in history, and I am continually fascinated by aspects of many of these settings that still hold true in the present day world. The effect that the promise of wealth has upon people, the attraction of fame for those who do not possess it, and the truth that lies in the notion that money cannot always buy happiness.
While Esther's life, and the lawsuit, are the main focal points of the novel, the rest of the various plots and subplots will engage and entertain. Dickens was truly a master novelist, and proof that classic literature endures for a reason.
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Penguin Classics Bleak House
Penguin Classics Bleak House by Nicola Bradbury (Paperback - Feb. 25 2003)
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