Readalong: Bleak House

As I have mentioned several times, I have been reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens as part of the readalong organized by Wallace @ Unputdonables.net Well, I am happy to announce that I have finished the book and this week is the last discussion — “happy” not because I didn’t like the experience, but because the novel seemed never-ending and I am glad I made it through! For several reasons, I limited my discussion to Wallace’s blog, and never made posts about the readalong here (except once, to understand different readings of a specific scene) — so now you’ll get a mix-and-match post with my non-organized thoughts about the both the book and the readalong.

The book: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

The edition: I read the Project Gutenberg version (downloadable here) — the cover on the left is for illustrative purposes only. In this case, the Project Gutenberg version means the bare text, with no notes or explanatory aids, which I missed sorely. (Page number? I have to check.)

A question for readalongers: have you ever heard about this book: Inside Bleak House by John Sutherland? Do you think it would help?

About the book: for the story, have a look at this synopsis, which makes a good job of telling you about the book without getting stranded in the (too many) plot details nor giving away anything. Also, I’d like to direct you to this infographic on The Guardian, which Hannah found and Wallace shared with us, and according to which this is The Most Dickensian Novel Ever! Wow.

About the readalong: I am sure reading groups and book clubs and readalongs are the best thing ever. This was my first try, and I just loved it. I don’t often have the chance to discuss books with someone, much less in so much detail, and it was very good to exchange ideas on even the tiniest bit of information (and to play the guessing game together). I also loved the group, because they brought different views and information, and different help to interpreting. But most of all because they are great people, wonderful readers and bloggers! Thank you all, fellow readalongers, and a special thank you to Wallace for all the work she does for hosting! This is for you:

I know, animated gifs are kind of cheesy, but you deserve an applause!

My experience with the book & my thoughts: let me begin by saying that I’m not a passionate Dickensite (is that a word?), but I have read some of his works before and enjoyed them. I liked a well-built plot and loved the words. Now, here? Here Dickens gets so verbose that I tended to get distracted for paragraphs on end… and when I focused back, I realized I had missed nothing! He talks so much and says the same thing over and over in so many different ways that, by the time all the characters are introduced and the story really starts, we’re over halfway into the novel! (And that, for a novel of over 1000 pages, is something.)
I’m sorry I didn’t like the novel better. There were good things, characters that were nicely done (Boythorn, and the Bagnets, most of all), and there were the mysteries, and even a detective story… Some of these parts I even enjoyed. But the rest, I’m sure I’d have abandoned this one if it were not for the readalong. And throughout I was so distracted that I continuously came up with improbable totally crazy theories. This, and trying to guess where the story would lead, were the best parts for me 🙂

The part with spoilers and my crazy theories: to my fellow readalongers I already mentioned my idea that Esther could be gay without knowing it. (She would still marry and be happy about it, but deep inside, sh would be in love with Ada.) Now, after finishing the book, I have another one (brace yourselves!): the scene where Mr Jarndyce tells Ada she can go and live with him, and kisses one of her locks? It totally creeps me out. I think there is room for a retelling of this story, a retelling where Jarndyce actually has the hidden goals Richard accuses him of having, and where he (Jarndyce) has some kind of perversion and interest in much younger women (which would explain why Esther still calls him Guardian right through to the end…)
Just let me add: I don’t think these interpretations are correct, they are just crazy ideas that popped into my mind. This alternative version would work, but it’s not present in the original work.

Language and writing: even with what I wrote above about being too verbose, I liked learning new words, words, words (and more words).

In the author’s own words: a few preferred extracts. The first, about analphabetism:

It must be a strange state to be like Jo! To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and at the corners of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows! To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postmen deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language–to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb!

The Bagnets are the redeeming grace of this book, I just love them and they may be the best married couple I ever saw depicted in a novel:

“George,” says Mr. Bagnet. “You know me. It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained. Wait till the greens is off her mind. Then we’ll consult. Whatever the old girl says, do–do it!”

[…]

“She’s worth her weight in gold,” says the trooper.
“In gold?” says Mr. Bagnet. “I’ll tell you what. The old girl’s weight–is twelve stone six. Would I take that weight–in any metal–for the old girl? No. Why not? Because the old girl’s metal is far more precious—than the preciousest metal. And she’s ALL metal!”
“You are right, Mat!”
“When she took me–and accepted of the ring–she ‘listed under me and the children–heart and head, for life. She’s that earnest,” says Mr. Bagnet, “and true to her colours–that, touch us with a finger–and she turns out–and stands to her arms. If the old girl fires wide–once in a way–at the call of duty–look over it, George. For she’s loyal!”
“Why, bless her, Mat,” returns the trooper, “I think the higher of her for it!”
“You are right!” says Mr. Bagnet with the warmest enthusiasm, though without relaxing the rigidity of a single muscle. “Think as high of the old girl–as the rock of Gibraltar–and still you’ll be thinking low–of such merits.”

[…]

Mr. George produces his present, which is greeted with admiring leapings and clappings by the young family, and with a species of reverential admiration by Mr. Bagnet. “Old girl,” says Mr. Bagnet. “Tell him my opinion of it.”
“Why, it’s a wonder, George!” Mrs. Bagnet exclaims. “It’s the beautifullest thing that ever was seen!”
“Good!” says Mr. Bagnet. “My opinion.”
“It’s so pretty, George,” cries Mrs. Bagnet, turning it on all sides and holding it out at arm’s length, “that it seems too choice for me.”
“Bad!” says Mr. Bagnet. “Not my opinion.”

The following one is just so much fun:

“But I trusted to things coming round.”
That very popular trust in flat things coming round! Not in their being beaten round, or worked round, but in their “coming” round! As though a lunatic should trust in the world’s “coming” triangular!
“I had confident expectations that things would come round and be all square.”

And so is this (there actually is a reasoning behind it, but I had to laugh out loud):

“How old ARE you, Phil?” asks the trooper, pausing as he conveys his smoking saucer to his lips.
“I’m something with a eight in it,” says Phil. “It can’t be eighty. Nor yet eighteen. It’s betwixt ’em, somewheres.”

Counts as: What’s in a name challenge – house; Back to the classics challenge – XIX century

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens (3)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come again from Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

*****

That houri, appearing, shakes him up in the usual manner.

houri: n. a beautiful young woman, especially one of the virgin companions of the faithful in the Muslim Paradise.

I think Dickens is being satirical again here…

*****

He seems chary of putting his visitor to the trouble of repeating his late attentions.

chary: adj. cautiously or suspiciously reluctant

*****

Mr Bucket stops for a moment at the corner and takes a lighted bull’s-eye from the constable on duty.

Bullseye: n.

  1.  (Individual Sports & Recreations / Archery) the small central disc of a target, usually the highest valued area
  2.  (Individual Sports & Recreations / Archery) a shot hitting this
  3. Informal something that exactly achieves its aim
  4. (Miscellaneous Technologies / Building) a small circular or oval window or opening
  5. (Transport / Nautical Terms) a thick disc of glass set into a ship’s deck, etc., to admit light
  6. (Clothing, Personal Arts & Crafts / Crafts) the glass boss at the centre of a sheet of blown glass
  7. (Physics / General Physics)

    a.  a small thick plano-convex lens used as a condenser
    b.  a lamp or lantern containing such a lens
  8.  (Cookery) a peppermint-flavoured, usually striped, boiled sweet
  9. (Transport / Nautical Terms) Nautical a circular or oval wooden block with a groove around it for the strop of a shroud and a hole at its centre for a line Compare deadeye
  10. (Earth Sciences / Physical Geography) Meteorol the eye or centre of a cyclone

*This definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged via TheFreeDictionary.com

These are all the meanings I could find, but none of them really fits. It seems to mean some sort of lantern, and I do remember that old railway people had these huge portable lamps with glasses that could be bull’s eyes in meaning #6… but I’m not sure if it’s that at all.

*****

Mrs Snagsby sounds no timbrel in anybody’s ear.

timbrel: n. archaic a tambourine or similar instrument

*****

I never could do nothing with a pot but mend it or bile it.

bile: v. a Scot word for boil
*This definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged via TheFreeDictionary.com

*****

I was passable enough when I went with the tinker, though nothing to boast of then; but what with blowing the fire with my mouth when I was young, and spileing my complexion, and singeing my hair off…

spile: v. chiefly US or dialect broach (a cask) with a peg to draw off liquid

I’m not convinced this is the meaning here… Any ideas?

*****

This so intensifies his dudgeon that for five minutes he is in an ill humour.

dudgeon: n. deep resentment

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from Bleak House by Charles Dickens, which I am reading for a read-a-long hosted at Unputdownables.net — and as could be expected, Dickens’ writing is full of interesting words!

*****

The old gentleman is conducted by a Mercury in powder to my Lady’s presence.

Mercury: n.

I wasn’t able to find a definition for this usage of “Mercury”. I imagine, as Mercury was a messenger-god, the meaning is of messenger. If anyone has any other input, please share!

*****

A whisper still goes about that she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family that perhaps he had enough and could dispense with any more.

Howbeit: adv. archaic nevertheless

*****

She supposes herself to be an inscrutable Being, quite out of the reach and ken of ordinary mortals.

Ken: n. (one’s ken) one’s range of knowledge or sight.

*****

… while a milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were endeavouring to drag him back.

Beadle: n. Brit. 1 a ceremonial officer of a church, college, or similar institution 2 historical a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders.

*****

He wold immediately have been pushed into the area if I had not held his pinafore.

Pinafore: n. a collarless, sleeveless dress worn over a blouse or jumper.

*****

Nobody had appeared belonging to the house except a person in pattens, who had been poking at the child from below with a broom.

Patten: n. historical a shoe or clog having a raised sole or set on an iron ring, worn to raise the feet above wet ground.

*****

Her dress didn’t nearly meet up the back and the open space was railed across with a lattice-work of stay-lace.

Stay-lace: n. a corset lace
*This definition comes from Merriam-Webster.com

*****

Some of the inscriptions I have enumerated were written in law-hand

Law-hand: n. a style of handwriting used in old legal documents, especially in England.
*This definition comes from Dictionary.com

*****

All the other children got up behind the barouche and fell off.

Barouche: n. historical a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with a collapsible hood over the rear half.

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Book: The Prague Cemetery

The book: The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco

The edition: Italian (original) edition, as published by Bompiani Vintage, 522 pages (with Appendix)

The story: suddenly addled with an incapability to remember the past few days, a man writes the story of his life in order to discover the secrets his mind is trying to repress. And his is a life threaded in all the secrets of European history during the XIX century, as this man is a spy, a forger, an impersonator, as well as the mind behind the biggest conspiracy schemes of the time (think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I usually say I like Umberto Eco. Truth is, I loved The Name of the Rose to pieces, and his non-fiction is interesting, but no other novel he ever wrote since was anything like that.
This one puts together an horrible protagonist/narrator (one who only lives for his hatred of, basically, any other living person and for his love of good food), a confused story with no positive character and a huge cauldron of every possible conspiracy or sect (Freemasonry, satanism, every possible form of racism, Jesuits, the Church as human power, whatever). Not something I could like.
Sprinkle that with all kinds of scholarly references. Oh, I know, I am limited in that there are surely lots of references I didn’t get. And I have the impression that I was lucky, being Italian, because there were many references that would be completely obscure to a non-Italian reader. Would I have liked this book better, had I been more knowledgeable? Possibly, possibly not (I still need positive characters to root for). To me, it looks more like Eco wrote something just for his own fun, something that no one will get fully, something that is only selling because of the name of its author.

What I liked: mmmm words, maybe?

What I didn’t like: endless descriptions of food preparations, which seem to be there just to pump up the size of the book.

Links to better understand this book:

Read this if: basically, don’t.