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am 13. Juli 2000
After years without picking up a novel by Dickens (memories of starchy classes at school), I decided to plunge into "Bleak House", a novel that had been sitting on my bookshelf for about ten years, waiting to be read. Although I found it heavy going at first, mainly because the style is so unfamiliar to modern readers, after about ten pages I was swept up and carried off, unable to put the hefty tome down until I had finished it. This book is a definite classic. The sheer scope of the tale, the wit of the satire (which could still be applied to many legal proceedings today) and the believable characters gripped me up until the magnificent conclusion. One particularly striking thing is the "cinematic" aspect of certain chapters as they switch between different angles, building up to a pitch that leaves the reader breathless. I can't recommend "Bleak House" too highly. And I won't wait so long before reading more Dickens novels.
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am 15. Mai 2000
The one great priciple of English Law according to Dickens is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Only when viewed by this light does the legal system become a coherent scheme, and not the monstrous maze we are apt to think it. Let the public clearly perceive that its grand principle (Dickens says), "is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble." Obtaining a decision in Court was likely to be frustratingly slow and expensive as Dickens discovered in 1844 when he launched suits against five piratical publishers for breach of copyright. As he complained in a letter, "I was really treated as if I were the robber instead of the robbed." Although Dickens won the suit, it cost him more than any damages he was able to collect and he resolved never again to become involved in dealing with Chancery, remarking bitterly in 1846 that "it is better to suffer a great wrong than to have recourse to the much greater wrong of the law." Ultimately, he got his revenge, as writers often do, by publishing in 1852, Bleak House, his novel, about, among other things, the law's delay, and the human consequences thereof. The story evolves around the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a law suit which in the course of time became so complicated that no man alive knew what it meant. The parties to it understood it least and the only way it could end, it did end: consumed in costs. Along the way to this pitiable end, the reader gets to know some wonderful characters who do amazing and interesting things, in an authentically described landscape of a polluted nineteenth century London. If you haven't experienced this great classic yet, I advise you to do so. You are in for a great treat.
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am 21. März 2000
When I first picked up Bleak House, I was daunted by its size. As I read, I found each page was filled with "maximum complexity with maximum conciseness," housing a great deal of character and setting details and descriptions. However, the novel proved to be full of clever satire, which I later found out to be directed at the High Courts of Chancery and lawyers of England. The character descriptions in the book are fantastic, and the witty satire borderlines the same genius. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the character of Mrs. Jellyby who is so concerned with foreign aid (what Dickens calls 'Telescopic Philanthropy' as a title of the fourth chapter) that she neglects her children. Her dirty and mistreated son Peepy gets his head stuck in bars in the stairs and then falls down them, only for Mrs. Jellyby to continue a conversation. Dickens' satirical look at many things in the book make it what I think is the best Dickens I have read so far in my life.
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am 16. Januar 2000
It opens with one of the finest descriptive passages in literature - a depiction of the London fog and dirt. And, out of this seemingly primeval slime, the characters emerge. We are made aware of a court case, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which has dragged on for years, and about which no-one knows all the details, but which destroys everyone it touches. There is plenty of documentation, but no-one has the time to go through them all. And many of these documents are in the hands of Krook, who cannot read. Here, it seems to me, are foreshadowings of 20th century expressionism, and the seeds of Kafka's "The Trial" and "The Castle".
The characters range from the heights of aristocracy - Sir Leicester Dedlock who is never bored, as he can always "contemplate his own greatness" - to the illiterate boy Jo, who has always lived on the streets, and who knows "nothink". We are invited to find connections between them, as everything is connected to everything else. The tone is dark, menacing, and tragic. There is no shortage of humour or exuberance: Skimpole and Chadband, for instance, are among Dickens' finest comic creations. But they do not lighten the darkness: quite the contrary. And neither can human goodness set things right: Esther's orderliness cannot impose order on the larger scheme of things, and neither can Jarndyce's benevolence prevent tragedy.
The scope of this novel is huge, but each new set of characters seems to introduce us to yet another circle of Inferno. The quality of the prose is astonishing, and the structure and organization of such masses of material masterly. And the novel also has a certain poetry to it, as in Richard Carstone's dying words: "I shall begin the world." Certainly, Dickens has created a world here that is a grotesque but nonetheless recognizable distortion of our own, and has animated it with his unique vitality and imaginative power. It is, without doubt, one of the world's greatest novels.
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"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NKJV)

Bleak House is Dickens' most complete statement of the virtues of self-sacrificing love. I am very sorry that I waited so many years to listen to the uplifting reading of this outstanding book by David Case.

Lest you make the same mistake I did in putting off this joy, let me explain how I ended up deciding to avoid Bleak House for so many years. First, of course, there's that title. You have to admit that you probably don't get excited about learning about a bleak house. On this point, let me assure you that the literal bleak house in this book is anything but. Second, there's the book's opening and continuing theme about lives being destroyed by the evils of the Chancery court, most vividly expressed by the suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. One of my law professors read part of that opening on my first day of classes in graduate school, and it made me think that surely the rest of the book must be nearly as depressing and discouraging. Wrong again! There are some very commendable characters and actions in the book that would inspire anyone.

Bleak House essentially describes England from the perspective of Miss Esther Summerson beginning with her guardianship by one John Jarndyce, one of the affected parties in the Jarndyce and Jarndyce chancery case. As Dickens does in many of his best novels, these two characters provide the examples of right behavior that encourage the reader while advancing the plot. Throughout the story, you'll find more characters that will stick in your memory than I suspect you are used to finding in a single novel. In that sense, Bleak House is a bit like a movie with a cast filled with Academy Award winners.

In fact, while there are certainly many sad events in the book, I think you'll spend more time smiling than feeling sad.

Enjoy this amazing book!
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(Caution, here be spoilers!)

Sir Leicester Dedlock, one of the main characters in Dickens’s masterpiece "Bleak House" (1852/53), has to experience this melancholy truth in more ways but just one. What Dickens undertakes in the writing of his ninth novel, which, to me, by the by, is one of the greatest books I have ever come across, is to create a veritable multifaceted microcosm with the help of which he gives vent to his conviction of there being something rotten in the state of Great Britain. Interrelations and parallelism abound in "Bleak House", not only between people of all ranks of society, but also between fates, situations, places, and even gestures [1]. So unlike Dickens’s earlier novels, this one here, despite being published in monthly installments as well, is extremely carefully woven, offering dozens of characters, two main and several sub-plots.

It tells the story of Esther Summerson, who was brought up as an orphan and taken under the protection of Mr John Jarndyce, at whose house she is a companion of Jarndyce’s young cousin Ada Clare. Apparently born out of wedlock, Esther’s origins one day start to haunt her when a young clerk, Mr Guppy, who is smitten with her, tries to find out about her past, surmising that she must be entitled to part of the property that is under dispute in a dinosaur of a lawsuit which has been carried on in Chancery for decades under the name of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. This lawsuit and its corrupting effect on young Richard Carstone, another cousin to John Jarndyce, makes up another part of the plot of "Bleak House". Apart from that there is the story of the beautiful and haughty Lady Dedlock, who falls prey to the machinations of her husband’s Machiavellian family lawyer, Mr Tulkinghorn, when this merciless man digs out a secret concerning her past and threatens to expose her - which he cannot do after all, being mysteriously murdered just in the nick of time.

Dickens uses two different narrative perspectives, which was quite an unusual thing for a writer to do at that time, each expressive of a different attitude towards life and the world in general and each following a certain strand of the plot, but both still being dependent on one another and therefore contributing to the general idea of the novel. On the one hand, there is the past tense first-person narrator, Esther Summerson, who regards herself as anything but clever, although her way of looking at things and people around her will certainly belie this assessment of herself in that she is a keen observer. From her earliest childhood on, Esther, an orphan, was instilled by her stern aunt with the idea that it would have been better for her and for her mother if she had never been born, and so she resolves to render her existence useful by making other people happy. So she is all efficiency, organization and gratitude, which becomes obvious in her way of writing, which seems to see a deeper sense in everything, even in her own illness. In contrast to her rather traditional voice, there is an omniscient narrator who tells things in the present tense and whose tone is less sure of a divine spark at the centre of human life. It is especially this disenchanted narrator that comes up with some of the finest descriptive passages in the book, for example with the famous fog-scene at the beginning of the novel or the Lincolnshire home of the Dedlocks, ducking under a never-ending spell of rainfall, and last not least, Sir Leicester’s waiting on his sickbed on a dying winter’s night.

The novel also introduces some of the most memorable Dickens characters like poor Miss Flite, who is another hapless suitor waiting for judgment, eccentric Mr Krook, who hoards all sorts of documents, thus mirroring the Lord Chancellor from across the Street - another example of a great man having his poor relations, by the way -, the calculating and yet so awkward Mr Guppy, the sinister Tulkinghorn, the meek Mr Snagsby and his jealous wife … and we could easily go on in this vein until the cows come home. What strikes me as interesting is that, maybe with the exception of the money-grubbing Smallweed family, none of the characters are the dyed-in-the-wool villains of Dickens’s earlier works of fiction - i.e. characters like Quilp or Mr Squeers who do evil as their part in a Punch-and-Judy-show. Tulkinghorn, Mlle Hortense, Mr Vholes and all the other dark characters are psychologically more credible than Dickens’s earlier scoundrels. Maybe this is because the author has realized that society is not going downhill because it is led there by ill-willed individuals, but because there is something wrong in the system as a whole. [2] Dickens’s next full-grown novel, "Little Dorrit", may have individual villainy, but it surely also has the infamous Circumlocution office and its school of Barnacles as well.

Presenting a book like "Bleak House" is all too easily being prone to falling into literary criticism, because this novel certainly has depth, atmosphere and hidden meaning waiting to be unearthed, but it also has a lot of suspense, even a murder case with Inspector Bucket as one of the first investigators in literature. Even though Lady Dedlock’s secret can be guessed rather early, the reader will have a lot of other things to pay attention to because there are so connections and so much detail woven into this dense novel. I have already read it three times and can still discover something new in it or re-construct events and characters and can therefore highly recommend this novel as my favourite one by Dickens.

[1] Yes, even gestures! Consider, for instance, the parallelism between the pointing gesture used by Jo to designate to the veiled lady where his friend Nemo lies buried, and the same gesture of the Roman painted on Mr Tulkinghorn’s ceiling, whose index will finally also find its gruesome object.

[2] The man from Shropshire and his wild insistence on there being some person to blame may hit home with many of us, since we all prefer anthropomorphic explanations of whose fault it is, but his demise might suggest Dickens’s opinion that such an outlook could be obsolete.
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am 27. April 2000
I've only read eight of Dickens's novels so far, but this is by far my favorite. It's so very rich! It did seem to take a bit longer to read than _Little Dorrit_ or _The Pickwick Papers_, but I think that may be because the novel is so rich that it demands to be savoured rather than devoured quickly. My favorite character? Ah, that's a tough one, but I think it has to be Lady Dedlock. In addition to possessing a really great name, she is a really tragic figure. However, when Dickens first introduces her into the narrative, it's a little difficult to be sympathetic to her. I still felt a sympathetic connection to her; I don't know why. Esther Summerson was a queer little bird. Her need to make everyone happy all the time--typical "Angel in the House" behavior, I know--was a little grating at times. I did like her though; I wanted to see her happy at the end of the novel. I really like the way Dickens structured this novel. He alternated between a first-person narrator, Esther Summerson, and a third-person point-of-view, with some quite interesting results. At any rate, if you're a fan of Dickens, then this book is a must-read. If you're not a fan of Dickens, then you've probably only read _Great Expectations_, and that for a class! I highly recommend this novel as one of his best!
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am 1. April 2000
When I first read "Bleak House" (1853) I thought it was slow reading. When I finished it and saw how everything came together, I considered it a phenomenal masterpiece. Along with "Dombey and Son" (1848), "David Copperfield" (1850), and "Hard Times" (1854) this is a personal favorite of mine. There are very comical moments. Also there are journeys through the poor parts of London. We are also presented with chilling images as well as a murder mystery. Another well drawn part of this masterpiece is the protagonist's painful realization of her questionable birth. There is a dramatic chase through the snow and well placed dramatic irony. While this book may seem to move slow, it will get easier as you proceed.
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am 18. Juli 2009
Charles Dickens ist nie geizig mit Figuren umgegangen, doch "Bleak House" dürfte all seine anderen Romane an Charakteren übertreffen. Manchmal fällt es nicht leicht, den Überblick zu behalten, zumal auch die Erzählperspektive wechselt ' zum Glück nicht in zu schneller Abfolge und nur zwischen Esther als Ich-Erzählerin und einem neutralen, übergeordneten Erzähler.
Die Charaktere sind sehr plastisch und authentisch gezeichnet; ein paar Zugeständnisse muss man dabei an die viktorianische Zeit machen, wirken Esthers Demut und Adas Engelhaftigkeit doch ein bisschen zu sehr als reine Wiedergaben des Geschlechterrollenklischees. Zum Ausgleich erhält man unzählige Geschichten in der Geschichte, von Arbeiterfamilien, in denen die Frauen misshandelt werden, von Waisenkindern, die für sich selbst und manchmal zusätzlich für ihre Geschwister den Lebensunterhalt verdienen müssen, von Juristen, die der Autor nicht sonderlich zu lieben scheint, verschrobenen Menschen jedes Standes, Missionare, die kein Herz für die eigene Familie haben, Adlige mit dunklen Geheimnissen und so fort.
Man möchte meinen, die Handlung müsse entweder sehr langweilig oder verwirrend sein, doch dies ist nicht der Fall. Nicht zuletzt Esthers Erzählabschnitte wirken wie ein roter Faden. Der Roman ist trotz seiner extremen Länge kurzweilig und spannend gehalten; immer wieder kommt es zu verblüffenden Wendungen.
Robert Whitfield liest in fast 33 Stunden den gesamten Roman vor und verleiht ihm durch seine Fähigkeit, auf Rollen einzugehen, ohne manieriert zu wirken, und auch dialogfreie Strecken abwechslungsreich zu gestalten, echtes Leben.

Zusätzlich zum Hörbuch, das zwei mp3-CDs umfasst (und somit ein mp3-fähiges Abspielgerät erfordert), erhält der Leser eine PDF-Datei mit dem gesamten Text samt Track-Verweisen und kann somit beispielsweise mit- oder nachlesen. Ein nützliches Extra, da man den Sprecher zwar sehr gut verstehen kann, aber durch ein Hörbuch in englischer Sprache möglicherweise doch vor eine Herausforderung gestellt wird. Im Übrigen findet man sich rasch in Dickens' Sprache ein, auch wenn man nicht täglich englische Texte liest oder hört.
Die Aufmachung ist schlicht und zweckmäßig, der Preis, gemessen am Umfang, wirklich günstig. Sehr empfehlenswert!
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am 27. April 1999
Reading Bleak House was one of the hardest but most worthwhile tasks I have understaken in a long time. I am happy it was an assignment, or else I might not have made myself finish it. This would have been a big mistake. Bleak House is an amazing Victorian story of life in London, for the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. The multitude of characters can be difficult to keep up with, but each one is a piece in an elaborate jigsaw puzzle that only makes sense together. Without even one of the myriad of minor characters, Bleak House could not be the same. The novel alternates between the first person narrative, told by orphan girl Esther, and a third person omniscient narrator. Honestly, I enjoyed Esther's parts more, but the entire thing was moving and endearing. Many moments brought me to tears. Others annoyed and angered me to no end. Some parts were very humorous. And by the time I got to the end, I realized the value of this wonderful novel, which is beyond words.
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