Monday, January 23, 2012

Bleak House

Currently I’m rereading Bleak House by Charles Dickens for the empteenth time – I really have lost count. Other than The Lord of the Rings, it’s my favorite book of all time. How it came to be so is rather curious.

It was assigned for a Dickens course I was taking, taught by Prof. Clement, my favorite professor. He loves Dickens and Bleak House in particular. I don’t know if I ever saw him as animated as during the classes devoted to this novel. “Connections,” he used to say, leaning forward intently and waving his hands, “it’s all about connections!”

I’d already read Little Dorritt a couple of times through the years and had at least a passing familiarity with most of the other books assigned for the course, but had never before read Bleak House. I read it before the start of the course...and hated it! It was tedious and confusing and made no sense to me whatsoever. In class, though, it was obvious that Prof. Clement loved the wretched book. There must be some merit in it somewhere.

When the semester was over, I doggedly began the book again, determined to find out what was so special about it and again, like Lady Deadlock, was bored to death. I like to consider myself a reasonably intelligent person; so, it puzzled and downright exasperated me that I couldn’t see what my professor – someone I admired – saw in the novel. So, I started it again! I didn’t keep a journal and don’t remember at what point the penny finally dropped, the book finally clicked in my mind and I saw, well, the light. But it did. The plot, with all its myriad of interwoven tributaries of minor characters and subplots is dazzling. But it’s the language that gets me every time, the sheer lyricism and descriptive power, particularly in the chapters with the third person, omniscient narrator. How I ever could have disliked the book is completely beyond me. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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