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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dickens and love - further thoughts on Bleak House

As to Dickens and love ... his novels are not generally successful as love stories or romances, with Great X a possible exception, but probably only if you accept the "sad" ending - Dickens's broad comic sense and his tendency to make all of his characters extreme types with numerous tics and odd yet defining characteristics plays against the romantic mode, which requires subtlety, tact, and gradual shifts and changes of emotion, love, and sorrow. In Bleak House, the "good" characters are just too good and their adoration for each other is so extreme and untempered as to verge on the comic. I know that I'm only 1/4 of the way thru the novel and that there will be some unexpected romantic developments regarding Esther Summerson, who narrates many of the chapters - but pausing at the chapter in which her two friends Richard and Ada declare to her that they are madly in love with each other - and they suspect that she has not been aware of this all along - makes Richard and Ada seem at best dim-witted and at worst idiotic. And the too-good Esther is just completely thrilled about their love for each other and their plans for marriage - even though there are man of alarms about Richard's extremely passive and indifferent personality - that we have to wonder about her judgment and her repressed feelings. The Richard-Ada love is set aside the love directed toward Esther - by the law clerk Guppy, who has become something of a stalker. If he were not so feckless he could actually be an element of danger in this novel. Thought Guppy is yet another one of Dickens's comic characters, Dickens is a little unfair to Guppy, and to us - he makes it so obvious that Guppy is completely unsuitable for Esther, but why is that? They're both of the same "class" - but Esther seems far more educated and polished than Guppy - it's impossible to imagine him as the well-tempered narrator of of this novel. Is his strangeness part of Esther's perception,, her fear of how she might be seen by others, her sense that she can never fit in among the "upper" classes with whom she spends much of her time? Had Guppy been a suitable but uninteresting suitor - say, like Goodwood in Portrait of a Lady - Bleak House would be more successful and natural as a romance. But Dickens is not James nor was meant to be.

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