Charles Dickens depiction of Victorian life, in his excellent novel, is brutal.
Yes it is a funny,enjoyable novel that makes a very pleasant read. But Dickens includes an unflinching depiction of the many social injustices that existed during the Victorian era. Rampant poverty, exploitation, bad government, gender inequality, child abuse everything is including in Bleak house. The beginning of the novel is quite bleak to say the least.
Esther Summerstone ,the main character, begins life on a very depressing note. She is seen as a cause of disgrace and isn’t well loved by her guardian. She never seems to escape her inadequacy and sense of self doubt even towards the end of the novel. She is constantly convinced that all kindness towards her is undeserved and tries hard [maybe a little too hard] to please everyone who is nice to her. She also picks up this desire to serve, through her education and her own lack of self confidence. Although she does not seem to mind the fact that she subservient it doesn’t seem very fair.
Lady Deadlock is far more tragic. She is forced to abandon Esther ,her daughter from before she married Sir Leicester. She never expresses what she really feels and is eternally bored. She seems quite depressed and isn’t able to properly communicate with Esther when she discovers her. The story of her life and death serve to criticise the many restrictions placed on women. These two women are the cause of much of the plot and are extremely compelling characters.
The criticism of the legal system scathes. The court of Chancery is the butt of jokes and ridicule. Not without good cause of course. Lawyers,Judges and the legal system are all put on trail and make very poor defenses. The legal system seem to be a cause of woe and madness with no real good coming from it.
The many miserable characters like Jo,Mr. Krook, Nemo are obsessed with it or tormented by it. A lot of compelling arguments are made to treat them with more kindness and to understand their suffering. Dickens ability to create great characters really shows here. Many fall in to usually narrow categories of poor or crazy but all of them stand out.
The plot revolves around many mysteries that are very slow to reveal themselves. From Esthers parentage, Nemos identity, the flight of Lady Deadlock etc are extremely engrossing. Mr. Bucket is one of the best literary detective around and his method of investigation is what keeps much of the book fascinating. Other characters like George and Tulkinghorn, who seem very one sided when introduced, becoming compelling figures in their own right.
The many characters with smaller roles are equally interesting and often hilarious. Its amazing characters like Mr&Mrs Snagsby, Mrs Jellyby, Mrs Pardiggle can exist in a novel where Jo,Jenny,Caddy etc also exist. The humor gets quite dark at times, it also jolts you out of serious though at times -in a good way.
I haven’t even begun to talk about Mr Jardyce, Ada or Richard because it becomes very hard to decide which characters are more important than the others. There just so many well developed and compelling characters that you might need several essays to do them justice.
There is so much that going on in any given point of the novel. The many characters and their troubles ,lives, fears, mysteries etc along with much social commentary.
One of the most consistent [and compelling] topics is Dickens view on poverty. The law seems to be very unsympathetic and ruthless towards them. The gloomy dwellings at tom all alone, Charleys life, Jo, its hard not to be moved by them. Dickens is really determined to put his point across. Arguing for the poor, for the rights of women to resist abuse and for women who conceived out of wedlock must have gone against popular morality back them.
The satire is brilliant,the humor very agreeable,the story and characters compelling but Dickens goes a step further and includes a very real depiction of suffering in Victorian England. Characters like Ada, Sir Leicester, Jo might not have very happy endings but by the time you reach Esters happy conclusion, you can’t help but feel the story has come to a pleasant end.
With an excellent story, intriguing mysteries, compelling characters and great humor Bleak house is well worth a read.