Its single-mindedness makes it more readable than a novel like Pickwick Papers , where the title character is little more than a human clothesline on which a welter of equally vivid minor characters are hung. Just about everyone I reached out to was game. The opening sequence plays like a Scorsese tracking shot on steroids. And can your own second wife come first for you after her predecessor dies? The emotions the scene calls up are honest, earned, poignant.
It might be predictable, but for me the later, darker, reflective books often suit this purpose best: The great pleasure of this novel is the pleasure of plot -- of retroactively putting events into sequence. Esther, by contrast, is a timid outsider, for whom everything is new and strange. Right after Esther talks with Lady Dedlock, for instance, she walks through the fragrant gardens of Chesney Wold. The emotions the scene calls up are honest, earned, poignant. Turveydrop; Vholes, the vampiric solicitor , Bleak House is Dickens at his very best. But in its pages, Dickens also frames each of these qualities as problems. A body fished out of the Thames becomes gossip at a nouveau riche banquet, from which two lawyers slip out to a dockside police station, where they meet a mysterious man who runs off to take lodgings with a clerk, whose daughter becomes the ward of a dustman, who hires a peg-legged balladeer to read him The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. As the narrator says of the self-important balladeer: It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. Saving those conversations for another day, here then are six impassioned, knowledgeable opinions on the topic of the best Dickens novel. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it. He meditates on the production, reproduction, and preservation of memories; he surrounds his typically perfect female characters, the child-bride Dora and the Angel-in-the-House Agnes, with the indomitable matriarch Betsey Trotwood and the sexlessly maternal nurse Peggotty; and he lampoons the melodramatically longwinded Micawber while devising thousands of ways to keep the reader hooked. Just about everyone I reached out to was game. She agrees to see him, and even more strangely, betrays in his presence a quivering vulnerability, a longing to know that echoes our own perplexity as readers of this novel. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. As the lines between networks of characters thicken, the world gets smaller, more recognizable, but also more dangerous for the ones we love most. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. The laws of this world are quickly established: Separate realms coexist with little contact with one another. Conventional wisdom asks you to choose Dickens savory or sweet: He does the more difficult and subtle thing in Bleak House, relying not on humor but on sad case after sad case to reveal the evils of the system. Here he is, at once a young man thoroughly soused after a night of boozing and a comically estranging narrative voice: But then the novel explodes when gauche Mr. Yes, yes, and yes.
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