On February 8 of this year I made a post about American Gods, a book by Neil Gaiman , that I read. Late in American Gods, Bleak House (a novel by Charles Dickens) is mentioned and I decided that I needed to read it. Nine months later, I finally completed it and thought I would share my thoughts.
The book is very long, coming in at around 1000 pages. In addition, it’s not an easy read…..the plot is incredibly convoluted and there’s an amazing large cast of characters which, for a good portion of the book, seem to have no relation to one another. The fact that it took me so long to read the book is no surprise……on an average day I have about 10 minutes for pleasure reading right before I fall asleep.
The most amazing thing about Bleak House is that its major themes are as relevant today as they were back in the mid-1800s where the story took place. The rich rule the world (today’s 1%), the multitudes of poor are virtually invisible to most of society, and a corrupt legal system preys on people’s misery while enriching itself. In many ways very little has changed in the years since Bleak House was written.
Somehow, in the midst of all of this, the main character in the book (Esther) who is faced with many challenges of her own is able to remain centered, find happiness in her life, and maintain a focus on helping others that are less fortunate. There is a lesson for all of us in this character! I will be building on this theme in an upcoming post regarding the music of Jackson Browne.
Other than the above, my main take away from the book is a true reverence for the power of the words of Charles Dickens. As I was reading Bleak House I frequently ran into passages that caused me to stop in my tracks, absolutely staggered by the power of the words. When this happened I would stop reading for the night to ensure that I could come back the next morning, find the passage, and capture it in a book of quotes that I maintain. Here are a few of my favorites….I hope you enjoy them….
“Thus night at length with slow retreating steps departs, and the lamp-lighter going his rounds, like an executioner to a despotic king, strikes off the little heads of fire that have aspired to lessen the darkness. Thus the day cometh, whether or no.”
“I must travel this dark road alone and it will lead me where it will. From day to day, sometimes from hour to hour, I do not see the way before my guilty feet. This is the earthly punishment I have brought upon myself. I bear it, and I hide it.”
“For the cart so hard to draw is near its journey’s end and drags over stony ground. All round the clock it labours up the broken steps, shattered and worn. Not many times can the sun rise and behold it still upon its weary road.”
“But injustice breeds injustice; the fighting with shadows and being defeated by them necessitates the setting up of substances to combat.”
“All partings foreshadow the great final one.”
“A word in earnest is as good as a speech.”