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

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The ending of Bleak House and thoughts on what makes a work "Dickensian"

As Bleak House hurtles toward its conclusion, we see Dickens at his extremes - best, worst, funniest, schmaltziest, you name it. First, how about the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, seemingly resolved after decades when they discover a charred version of the final will and testament of one of the J's, among the ruins of Krook's shop (Krook died in a rare case of spontaneous combustion), and that seems to be the definitive record that will resolve all the claims. (Even the dullest reader must realize by this point that there will be no money left for any but the lawyers and creditors.) And Esther - clearly she is not going to marry her guardian, Jarndyce. Sweet as he may be, its a totally asexual match - and especially with the handsome and heroic Mr. Woodcourt in the wings - and yes, Woodcourt offers her his undying love (the 3rd suitor for Esther) and she can't really even listen to him - she is so torn because of her commitment to her guardian, as she always calls him, even in their engagement. Dickens is at the end of his rope here, and the dialog gets so ludicrous it's probably the only place in this very funny, at times, novel in which the humor is unintentional: "Forebear! Forebear!" Esther pleads with Woodcourt to stop professing his love. But, as in all great novels, the plot is working itself toward some kind of resolution, and, also as in all great novels, there are mixed emotions (ours, theirs) on reaching the end of the arc: yes Esther may live HEA (happily ever after) with Woodcourt, but look at all the suffering she has seen: the ruin of her friend Richard (and by extension of his wife, Ada), the death of Jo and of her birth mother, the poverty of London, the cruelty of the court system, the absence of any kind of welfare of social services system, the snobbery and irresponsibility of the wealthy (including the funny but actually quite evil "friend" Skimpole) - so the novel - I'm not quite finished yet - ends with a range of emotions - very fitting for such a capacious and ambitious piece, a true example of what people mean or ought to mean with they define a work as "Dickensian" - not just long, urban, and with multiple plot lines, but a vast society that and a complex narrative that uses humor, caricature, pathos, and rhetoric to create an image of society in a specific time and place, an image that mirrors the author's mind rather than a mirror held up to nature (naturalism, later realism).

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