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Bleak House is the best and I guess this post has Oliver Twist spoilers

I've talked a lot this year about how Dickens was kind of an asshole but I still love him, only not so much him the person as the words, THE WORDS that flow from his blessèd pen.

Bleak House is his best book. No, I haven't read David Copperfield. Or Tale of Two Cities. Or Little Dorrit. Or...others. But it's still his best book. The way I came to Dickens is in high school I made myself read Oliver Twist, because I loved the character Nancy in the musical Oliver ridiculous amounts (she sings a song called 'Oom-Pah-Pah,' people) and thought the book would flesh her out more. Ehhhhhh! Wrong! Oliver Twist isn't just Dickens: it's EARLY Dickens, which means black and white portrayals of people and EXTRA flat female characters.


Poehler's not putting up with
your bullshit, Dickens

I wrote a paper on Nancy using an idea I stole from a Nabokov novel, saying that because characters in the Oliver Twist world exist on the good or bad side, and she is an in-between, she has to die. IT WAS A GOOD STOLEN CONCEPT, OKAY? But anyway. Oliver Twist the book kind of sucks, especially compared to the amazing musical, which you should all watch. And so I haaaated Dickens. Then I went to college and got very excited about the prospect of taking a class called Victorian Literature and Culture. But two of the required books were Dickens. One was Oliver, so...that was great, and the OTHER -- the other was a giant-ass book called Bleak House, which sounded just SO up. Yeah, no, I was not looking forward.

Then we started it and...it was the best. Bleak House takes Victorian social problems, tens of characters, wit, brilliance, pathos, psychological insight and MIXES 'EM ALL UP TOGETHER, and the result is characters like Mr Turveydrop and Jo and Mrs Jellyby and George Rouncewell and Lady Dedlock and Mr Guppy and Inspector Bucket and Harold Skimpole, and these are people who inspire rousing feelings. Do you know how much I want to give Jo a place to sleep? And shake Mrs Jellyby until she forgets about the natives of Borrioboola-Gha and starts keeping her children from getting their heads stuck in fences? And hug Esther -- WHO DOESN'T WANT TO HUG ESTHER?



let me give you raccoon hugs, book character

My younger self loved it maybe even more. In the course of writing this, I found a college response paper to Hard Times which begins, "Reading Dickens's Hard Times after the masterful creation that is Bleak House is a bit like hearing the Berlin Philharmonic followed by Uncle Chuckles's Moosejaw Sinfonia." (I really didn't like Hard Times)

Bleak House isn't historical like Tale of Two Cities, it isn't didactic like Hard Times, it isn't obsessive and limited like Great Expectations, it isn't meandering and pointless like Pickwick Papers (note: I still love Pickwick Papers), it doesn't have senseless moments like Our Mutual Friend. It catches Dickens in a rare moment of just being very, very, very good. You almost always have to excuse something in his books, but Bleak House can be read without that sort of wariness. It is excellent, in the true, excelling-all-others sense. Go read it.

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