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What word will be spoken that will give meaning to all this?

José Saramago

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Friday, May 26th, 2006

🦋 Characters

I am reading Dickens' Bleak House now -- it is a book that has been on my shelf for many years, one that was spoken of very highly on the Pynchon-l and that I've always been resolved to read sometime. It's proving easier going than I expected, with plenty of laughs and a plot that is only occasionally obscure. But there are so many characters! It's a little hard to keep track of who, say, Mr. Guppy is, who has not been mentioned in the past 50 pages or so, when he pops up.

So the Unofficial Moomin Characters Guide has given me an idea -- a general purpose, web-based database utility for keeping track of characters in a book or series of books. I don't think this would be very difficult to do and it seems like it would come in handy.

posted evening of May 26th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about Bleak House

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

At the party last night, Roy reminded me of my initial aim in starting this blog (and this website in general), which was to write about the books I am reading. Well, and, right now I am reading one that I'm finding just lovely, very moving, to wit Dickens' Bleak House.

It is hardly the perfect book I suppose -- I find myself thinking as I read it that there are too many lucky coincidences -- and I think I will notice even more such when I reread it and have the various threads of narrative more firmly in mind. I think that is the principal failing of the story. But with disbelief suspended, what a lovely story it is! The poetry of Dickens' language and the acerbity of his wit make for a world I can spend all day thinking about.

Also: I think the story is very sentimental in places; but it is sentimental in such a way that I respond emotionally, which I am finding pretty unusual. I felt a tear in my eye when Jo was dying -- when I was talking with LizardBreath last night she said she didn't really respond to that, Jo was just the poor orphan who dies, rather than a fully human character; and I could see what she meant, sort of -- but it worked on me. So whatever.

Next up: A White Bear is going to be conducting a discussion of Tristram Shandy. So I will read it! I started to back in 1999, it was the very first book written about on this web site. So here I am full circle! Nice.

posted evening of July 20th, 2006: Respond
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Friday, July 21st, 2006

I realized this morning, why I have such a strong visual picture of Lady Dedlock -- she is the only character in Bleak House who I really feel like I can see her face, or at least for whom the image of her face remains constant. This morning (oddly at the moment when Esther beheld her dead) I figured out the face I am seeing is Margaret Dumont's! And I think she would be a well-cast in the role of Lady Dedlock. Great! Groucho can be John Jarndyce and Chico will shine as George Rouncewell; and Harpo I can see in no other role than that of Dr. Woodcourt. It would be a beautiful movie.

Update: Also, Zeppo as Richard Carstone.

posted morning of July 21st, 2006: Respond

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

So I found the last hundred pages or so of Bleak House really unsatisfying. The quality which I think had really drawn me in about the rest of the book -- which was the airy, meandering way of storytelling, the tangential ramblings along the various paths of the story which led seemingly by accident to the revelation of some connection, somehow furthering the plot -- disappeared and was replaced by a driving, all-too-visible narrative structure. The last really affecting moment in the story, for me, was the discovery of Lady Dedlock's body. -- And even by then it had lost a lot of what I was reading for.

But the two things which really put me off about the ending were Mr. Jarndyce's bequeathing of Esther unto Allan -- which just took the inhuman quality of their relationship about three steps too far for me -- and the final chapter, in which Esther sounds like a sanctimonious prig.

I liked the resolution of the court case a lot; but the discovery of a new will among Krook's papers really added nothing, really seemed like a lame excuse for a little extra suspense at the end.

posted afternoon of July 23rd, 2006: Respond

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

🦋 British books

I wonder how much J.K. Rowling's diction actually resembles Charles Dickens', and how much that is a figment of my imagination inspired by their nationality and by the audio book format. I've been listening to Bleak House on tape for the last few days, and loving it (though to be honest, I don't think I would be digging it as much if I had not read the book already); my previous experience with audio books is mostly overhearing the Harry Potter books that Sylvia listens to from noon to night... but the expressions (and the characters' names) in Bleak House are definitely reminding me of Rowling! To be sure, Robert Whitfield (who is reading Bleak House) has a similar voice to Jim Dale's, and similar affectations -- I wonder if the creaky old-person's voice is a standard element of audiobook-reader training...

Anyway, I got the idea that Sylvia might enjoy reading Dickens. So when we were at the bookstore today, I bought her a copy of David Copperfield, which neither of us has read, which I am hoping she will read and recommend to me... Virginia Woolf called it, in a pull-quote on the back cover, "the most perfect of all the Dickens novels."

posted afternoon of May 15th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

🦋 Reading Dickens aloud

I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was withdrawn, at a dead loss—for as to sherry, my poor dear mother's own sherry was on the market then—and ten years afterwards the caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of in that way. The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket, who, very reluctantly, produced from it the stipulated five shillings, all in halfpence, and twopence half penny short—as it took an immense time and a great waste of arithmetic, to endeavor without any effect to prove to her. It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two. I have understood that it was, to the last, her proudest boast, that she never had been on the water in her life, except upon a bridge; and that over her tea (to which she was extremely partial) she, to the last, expressed her indignation at the impiety of mariners and others, who had the presumption to go "meandering" about the world. It was in vain to represent to her that some conveniences, tea perhaps included, resulted from this objectionable practice. She always returned, with greater emphasis and with an instinctive knowledge of the strength of her objection, "Let us have no meandering."

Not to meander myself, at present, I will go back to my birth.

-- David Copperfield
What an amazing passage! I love the humor and the (positively Shandean) self-referentiality, I love the information about a superstition I knew nothing of, but most of all I just love the rhythm and flow of the text. I was reading this passage to Sylvia earlier (the reading Dickens with Sylvia plan is going into effect, she was pretty into it for a couple of pages and then lost interest -- dunno how far we will get) and thinking, out loud is the absolute best way to read this book. Listening to it is nice too, as I was finding with Bleak House, but listening to a person is way better than listening to a tape.

posted afternoon of May 16th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about David Copperfield

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

🦋 Suffolk, Yarmouth, London

Here is something that has been puzzling me about David Copperfield (which I've been reading, and lazily enjoying, for the past week or so): When David travels from his mother's home in Suffolk (northeast of London) to the school Murdstone sends him to, which I'm pretty sure was described as being near London though I can't find that now, he travels by way of Yarmouth, which is southwest of London (assuming Google Maps is not misleading me) -- and similarly, I believe, when he travels to work at Murdstone and Grinby. This doesn't make any sense to me. It is certainly possible I got mixed up about the location of the school; but in any case why would the carriage from Suffolk to Yarmouth not stop over in London? Never mind all that -- Google Maps is indeed misleading me. The Yarmouth referenced here is Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, fairly close to where David and his mother lived. (It is still farther away from London than is Suffolk, but I can easily imagine it to lie on a main road which bypasses David's mother's house.)

Also -- I wonder what age David is when he goes to work for Murdstone and Grinby. I've been thinking it is roughly in the range of ten to twelve, but I don't think that was stated in the text, it is just a guess. (The first time in the book that David mentions his age is when he is fallen in love with the eldest Miss Larkins, near the end of his time at Dr. Strong's school, and he is 17 -- I think that could fit with him being about 11 at the time he's working in London.)

posted afternoon of August 7th, 2011: Respond

Monday, August 8th, 2011

🦋 Dickens, Sendak

This is an exciting find: when Steerforth is growsing to Copperfield about his lack of ambition and drive, he makes reference to his childhood --

At odd dull times, nursery tales come up into the memory, unrecognised for what they are. I believe I have been confounding myself with the bad boy who "didn't care," and became food for lions --
and my mind leaps of course to my own childhood, and to Pierre. But wait! How could Dickens have known of Sendak's work?... Clearly Sendak was taking off from an older source. I wonder what it was? Not finding much of anything with Google.

posted evening of August 8th, 2011: 5 responses

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

🦋 Bicentennial

(A day late, but) Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

posted morning of February 8th, 2012: Respond
➳ More posts about Birthdays

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