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Published in periodical installments through 1853 and 1854, Bleak House follows the story of a young woman named Esther Summerson as she examines events in her life and learns the secret behind her illegitimate birth.
Alternately, Bleak House also tells the story of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a court case which has lasted for decades, and the ceaseless meanderings of Chancery Court as it corrupts lives, drives individuals insane (or kills them), and tears families apart.
In Bleak House, Dickens crafts a rich, compelling story full of brilliant characters, interweaving plot lines, and beautiful scenery laced with social commentary.
It's fantastically complex. In fact, it may just astound you how many connections one author can fit into a single book.
Also, Dickens has a special place in his heart for creating entirely hopeless and laughable characters, like William Guppy (a young law clerk, who often mingles legal jargon with his English so as to almost lose his point completely) or Grandpa Smallweed (a decrepit old man with a rotten heart and a tendency to throw cushions - and his granddaughter - at his wife).
Bleak House is no small undertaking. It has exactly 67 chapters, and most copies contain more than 800 pages, so it is not a novel to be finished in a single afternoon (or a single weekend, I might add). And, occasionally, the text does become stale, which makes the novel seem even larger and more foreboding.
Additionally, Esther's chapters (which she invariably narrates) sometimes appear dull and contrived. She, of course, isn't without her merits; however, it isn't until she becomes more critical in her observations and, thus, less concerned about offending the delicate sensibilities of her peers that she grows into a more honest - and, I might say, likeable - character.
Dickens relies heavily on social commentary in his novel. While social awareness is certainly not a bad thing, it makes for a tragic story. Many characters, several of whom will become near and dear to your heart, will suffer under a social hierarchy that entirely abandons and disregards them.
And I should mention that Dickens creates a whole host of unpleasant characters. Like Grandpa Smallweed. Or Harold Skimpole, an "ancient child" who claims to have no concept of money - but has a habit for spending it just the same - and takes no responsibility for anything or anyone, including his own children.
After meeting a few of these characters, you may just begin wondering when they will keel over and die.