Charles Dickens, “Bleak House” (1853) – I think my issue with Dickens is that I go in expecting Anthony Trollope but sentimental. I failed to recognize that Dickens is a lot more stylistically complex. This isn’t always a good thing, and with my acknowledgment that there’s more going on in Dickens on a literary level, I prefer Trollope’s clarity and sophistication of social observation.
All that said, “Bleak House” was a pretty good read, with the usual Victorian literary caveats of it being extremely long, filigreed, and full of subplots. Like a soap opera, it’s hard to say what the main plot is, though there is a main character in the part of ingenue Emma Sunmerfield. She acts so little for herself that it’s hard to say her plot is THE plot, but she does sort of tie it all together. “It all” includes an interminable, generations-consuming lawsuit, the mysteries of various births (including Emma’s own), a murder or two, some guy spontaneously combusting, and, of course, marriages.
I’m not about to recite the whole plot of this eight-hundo pager. Dickens isn’t shy about metaphor- the London fog swirling around the courts district, the contrast between the childlike selfish aristocrat Skimpole and the street child Jo, and of course the nasty do-gooders, all compassion for far-off problems but living in homes of squalor both physically and emotionally. All told, it’s pretty good Dickens, as far as Dickens goes. I should probably go back and give “A Tale of Two Cities” another shot. ****