Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Bleak House I & eerie similarities to my life

After the first eleven chapters of Bleak House many questions have been answered, but so many more have been raised. In the former category belong among others: Is this book going to be awesome despite the fact that it probably could literally kill someone with its size? (Unless there is a Shutter Island-like plot twist at the end, oh yeah!) Is Esther worthy of being Dickens's sole female narrator in all his works? (Yup.) And who calls his home Bleak House? (A guy who was, jugdging from circumstantial evidence, clinically depressed. Thank God there's an explanation and that's not just the normal name of the place!)

The infinitely more interesting latter category consists of life-or-death questions such as: What on earth is the stupid Jarndyce suit about at all? Who is the second Jarndyce? And how can a goddamned suit have wards?! Also, can Esther become any more gay for Ada? And did Dickens do that intentionally, like Victor Hugo with Enjolras and Grantaire (you will never convince me otherwise of Hugo!)? (Probably not is the sad answer to the last two questions).

Anyway, this seems to be turning into one of these long books with dozens of narrative threads which all connect in the end, or at least I hope so because at present the only narrative I am really interested in is Esther's. Esther. I don't quite know what to think of her. On the one hand she is mildly annoying with the sheer amount of her modesty (and I am still not totally convinced that this is not absolutely appropriate for a woman in Dickens's mind), but on the other hand she seems to be pretty badass and I like how psychologically accurate her horrible childhood translates into her adult behaviour. 
Something else I don't quite understand about Esther is the significance of her getting the keys to Bleak House. Is it an honour because it means that Mr Jarndyce trusts her so much that he sort of makes her Lady of the house? Or does it mean she is something like a housekeeper?

Oh, and can we take a moment to contemplate that this might be the book with the best minor characters ever? I mean Mr Boythorn with his carnary is clearly someone everyone would want in their life and Miss Jellyby is awesome not only because of her name, but also because she is a wonderfully sulky, well-drawn character. And this book might or might not be instilling a life-long fear of charitable philantropists in me.

However, what I've been noticing apart from the fantastic characters is the vast amount of symbolism concerning birds in Bleak House. Good, my cover has birds on it so I might be a tiny little bit oversensitive on the matter, but still: little Esther has a caged bird, the mad lady has dozens of them in her apartment and Mr Boythorn even included his carnary in his will. The obvious meaning would be freedom, but that doesn't make much sense in Esther's case at least, so I am curious how this will be developed further.

And to conclude I need to talk about Guppy and how he is the ultimate proof that Dickens was a time traveller and based his works at least partly on my life. 
So I once fancied a guy who we actually called Guppy (long story). And because I was young and dumb (which I am still, but shh!) I had a crush on him without really knowing him very well and was pining like Esther on Ada, until he behaved eerily much like his literary counterpart and made a very dramatic, very overdone declaration - to one of my best friends. I can't even tell you how glad I was not to be in her position as my tender feelings dissipated at light velocity and I was left with a sheer unbearable amount of secondhand embarrassment!

And with this romantic story onwards to chapters 12-17!



    No one knows what Jarndyce is about. No one.

    Diiiid Dickens make Esther super-gay intentionally. What I spent most of last year trying to figure out re Helena Landless in Edwin Drood. Answer: Probably not in the sense we think of it? Especially since 'homosexual' wasn't a word used in his lifetime really, so the way we think of it wasn't there, but could he have purposefully made it seem that Esther had a strong and romantic attachment to Ada? Totes. Goes along with the romantic friendship thing.

    It seems that everyone named Guppy sucks.

    1. I had hopes I would get to know that, but alas, it seems it's not meant to be.

      Hm, I like that. Romantic friendship is so great. Long live homoerotic subtext!

      Amen on that.

  2. I agree about being sort of annoyed at Esther for all of her modesty. Although I've yet to see her badassness. I hope it is coming. Of course I love her (SUPER OBVIOUS) love for Ada.

    Did your Guppy also wear a fabulous neckerchief?

    1. He did!!! Sort of. That's what makes the whole thing even creepier! He was at our school's ball and of the hundreds of guys there he was literally the only one with a brightly coloured tie (which is as close to a neckerchief as you get in the 21st century). Guppies are so weird.

    2. MAYBE he was unconsciously modeling himself on the original Guppy?!?

    3. Possible. I have to inconspicuously make Bleak House the subject of conversation to find out. Investigation is to be continued.

  3. Haaa welcome to our band of merry people!

    This Esther/Ada thing will ramp up significantly - if not in the text itself, in our posts. The last time we had a readalong (of The Moonstone) we spent most of our time pointing out how two of the ladies belonged together and it was splendid.

    Mr. Boythorn, though. He must not care much about bird poop on his coiffure and/or hat... /shudder

    1. Thank you! It is indeed delightful here!

      I don't doubt that. Dickens should have let crazy female readers and their love for perfect gay couples guide his writing.

      You're right! This is a dimension in which I have not thought about the matter before... it makes me consider the possibility that he was slightly nuts.

  4. I didn't get the whole key thing either- I was like 'oh, does this mean she's in charge, OR does it mean she has to be a servant while Ada brushes her shiny blonde hair and stuff?' Let's hope it's an honour rather than a shitty thing!

    BUT- Re: Enjolras and Grantaire- NO! Well, Grantaire might have been hot for Enjolras, but Enjolras's only love was the cauuuuse. ie he didn't know how to love.

    1. HAHA! I'm not the only one who doesn't get! I was afraid that maybe my unenglishness keeps me from understanding the intricacies of Victorian society, but alas! Very relieving.

      Of course you're right, but Grantaire was TOTALLY hot for Enjolras. Like that's hardly even subtext anymore. Maybe unrequited love, but definitely LOOOOVE.
      Just look at all the historical and mythological duos (such as Castor and Pollux, Orestes and Pylades, and Euryalus and Nisus) Enjolras and Grantaire were compared to, all of which were NOTORIOUS for being gay lovers.
      So yeah. Victor Hugo rocks.

  5. Hello, there!

    I THINK Esther's getting the keys is an honor because it's a very big responsibility to be the head of the house. She does have to earn her keep essentially, but I don't think she's considered part of "The Help," so to speak. Because her bedroom is right next to Ada's and she joins the family in the sitting room and for dinner, and servants don't do that.

    I like what you're saying about the birds. But notice that all the birds are captives of some kind...so maybe the theme isn't freedom but...the opposite of freedom.

    1. I think I am just going to agree with you, partly because it makes sense and partly because I like Mr Jarndyce and don't want to get a bad opinion of him for treating Esther like a servant.

      Sure, you're right! That's what I meant to say... or something like that. I don't know. I wrote this post very late at night with an insufficient blood caffeine level.

  6. Miss Jellyby is positively decadent in her sulks and I love it.

    I'm glad you guys talked about the keys thing, because I felt insulted for Esther when the maid lady or whoever it was gave her those keys. I guess I hadn't fully understood what her role would be at Bleak House. I also didn't know Esther was Dickens' only female narrator! She's the exception to a lot of rules, it seems. Looking forward to liking her better.