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

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

After all, how can you not like a novel like Bleak House?

You can pretty much see the end of Bleak House coming over the horizon long before you get to page 2,000 or whatever; it's still a heart-warming moment, schmaltzy though it may be, when Jarndyce gives up his "claim" to Esther, freeing her to marry the much more suitable suitor, Mr. Woodcourt. All we have to know is that she calls Woodcourt "Allan" and she calls Jarndyce "My guardian." Marrying him would have been such a mistake, leaving her life so unfulfilled, sexually and maternally. We have to wonder in some way about Jarndyce's life - did he have any love life or family life at all? What was his life all about? There is so much sacrifice in this novel, and so much death as well. It's hard not to love this novel despite its flaws, the most glaring of which, to me, is the utterly bland character of Woodcourt. Dickens has so much fun with is comic characters, his evil characters, and the extremes of wealth and poverty - but he doesn't quite know how to create a heroic character (other than a heroic narrator, who will grow and change over the course of the narrative, as does Pip or David C.). Not that Woodcourt is meant to be the hero of the novel  - the hero is the unrelentingly kind and self-sacrificing Esther, of course - and wouldn't we like her a little more if for two seconds she showed a flash of temper, anger, or disgust? As noted previously, she's just too good. But those quibbles aside, how can you not enjoy a novel with such breadth, comic verve, rhetorical flourishes, and even some trenchant social criticism? It may not be the best Dickens novel, and Dickens may not be the best novelist of his century (though he may be the most entertaining), but it's one of the those rare long journeys that's worth the time invested.

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