(Review) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classics. 2003. First published 1853.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Victorian literature.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 1083-this includes all supplementary material. The story itself is 989 pages.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of Charles Dickens, classic literature, and Victorian literature.
Rating: Excellent.

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The Kindle is free at this time.

Bleak House was first published in a series, 1852-1853. It was published in one volume in 1853.

I’ve read several of Charles Dickens books.
1. David Copperfield.
2. Hard Times.
3. Oliver Twist.
4. A Tale of Two Cities.
5. Great Expectations.
6. A Christmas Carol.
7. Bleak House.
In January, I plan to start reading The Old Curiosity Shop.
David Copperfield is my number one favorite book!

Front cover of the serial cover that first published Bleak House. The series ran from 1852-1853.

The time period is probably the 1830s.
England is the setting.
A lengthy litigation case tied up in Chancery court proceedings is Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Two young people who are at the center of this case is Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. They are young adult cousins. John Jarndyce is their guardian.
Esther is the heroine and the only first person narrator in the story. She was raised by a critical and unloving godmother named Miss Barbary. Her life with the godmother is lonely and sad. After Miss Barbary’s death, Esther is placed in an establishment where she can be educated to be a governess. It is John Jarndyce who arranges her schooling. He is also the one who hires her to be Ada’s companion. Esther is a person who has a strong lack of vanity. She is humble. She rarely looks in the mirror; and, her feelings about her looks will become more apparent in the story towards the end. She is a character who is strong in positive traits. She is a true heroine.
Lady Honoria Dedlock is married to Sir Leicester Dedlock. It is apparent early in the story Lady Dedlock hides a secret.
These are the three main plots in the story.

There are several subplots along with a long list of characters.

There are internal and external conflicts.

Themes in the story are illegitimacy, death, dying, revenge, bravery, loyalty, perseverance, honesty, compassion, love, shame, honor, and romance.

My Thoughts:
I love, love, love Bleak House. The more I think about this story the greater respect I have for it.
It is a huge—epic story. It encompasses so much terrain. I feel Charles Dickens crafted a superb story. It holds it all in terms of what a story can share with a reader.

My favorite points of Bleak House:
1. Charles Dickens is a master at manipulating me by pushing, pulling, and moving me along through the story to the last page.
2. Dickens creates characters not only with unusual and memorable names, but their personalities are dimensional and demanding of attention.
3. The use of imagery is always a favorite with me. The story begins with a fog that will not go away. The fog is “everywhere.” It hangs on and impacts everyone.
4. I have strong empathy, like, dislike, disgust, or anger at characters.
5. Moral lessons in the story. I’m referring to how people should be treated humanely and with empathy.
6. I feel this is a story I can read multiple times and learn something new each time.
7. Bleak House is a reminder of the things most important in life.

Why does the story Bleak House matter?
One reason is the example of the ridiculous lengthy court proceedings of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. A change in court proceedings happened later in the 19th century.
A secondary reason is the shame and energy it takes to hold on to a secret.
This story tells me it is always wrong for people to abuse a child because of what some in the adult world has decided is the correct response.
Charles Dickens is telling me about his world. He wanted to bring to light a kinder place than the one existing in Victorian England.

(Review) Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald

Publisher and Publication Date: Dover Publications. Originally published in 1905. Dover edition in 2005.
Genre: Fantasy fiction.
Pages: 224.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Very good.

Illustrations by Arthur Hughes.

Amazon link

George MacDonald 1824-1905

I heard about this book while reading, The Door on Half-Bald Hill by Helena Sorensen. In a Goodreads review Sorensen left about Phantastes, she remarked it is a “marvelous” book. I’ve also read other Christian writers in the 20th century were encouraged to write their own fantasy stories after reading Phantastes.
Fantasy fiction is a genre I’ve read only a few books in my lifetime. I’m working towards a change. So far I’ve read 3 books in 2021 in this genre.
I’m not sure this is technically a classic literature book choice. Unless I stand corrected I am adding this book to my list for The Classics Club.

A young man has keys delivered to him that fit a secretary desk belonging to his late father. A key opens up an unknown area of the desk. He expected to find papers letting him know more about his late father. Instead, a tiny and lovely woman reminding him of a “Greek statuette” rose to life. She greets him and grants him one wish. Later, while he ponders this strange experience, his bedroom became an oasis, a garden with a spring, it is a path to Fairy Land.

My Thoughts:
When I first started reading this story I wondered if I was missing important images that mean something deeper?
I wondered if I needed a certain mind-set for reading fantasy fiction?
I decided to relax and enjoy the experience.

Phantastes is a story reminding me of the journey of life.
For example:
~The young man is warned where to go and who not to associate with or trust. He decides to takes his chances and make his own decisions.
~He is attracted to and enticed by beauty.
~He is looking for adventure.
~He is alone at times.
~He admires courage and chivalry.
~He realizes he has lessons to learn.

Phantastes is an innocent child-like story.
It is a fantasy story about a place called Fairy Land or the Country of Faerie.
Different imaginative creatures live in the land. Some are trees who are given humanlike qualities. Some of the creatures cannot be trusted and the young man discovers this through hardship.
Phantastes has a moral lesson.
The story ends well with a sighing satisfaction.

Pen and ink illustrations by Arthur Hughes are throughout the book. They add both a charm and richness to the story.

“My spirits rose as I went deeper into the forest; but I could not regain my former elasticity of mind. I found cheerfulness to be like life itself-not to be created by any argument. Afterwards I learned, that the best way to manage some kinds of painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst; to let them lie and gnaw at your heart till they are tired; and you find you still have residue of life they cannot kill.” Page 59. Chapter VIII.

(Review) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2013. First published in 1937.
Genre: Fiction. Women and literature. African American literature. Classic literature. Romance. Relationships between men and women.
Pages: The story has 219 pages. An additional 40 pages for the “Foreword”, “Afterword”, 2 bibliographies, “Chronology”, “P.S.” section, and an excerpt of Barracoon.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of women and literature. Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Excellent.

PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

Christian Book link
Abe Books link
Amazon link

Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford. She is a light-skinned African American woman living in a rural area of Florida. The time period is the early 20th century. She is raised by her maternal grandmother. The first part of her life is determined by her grandmother and first husband. Then, like a sudden direction change in the wind, Janie is married to another man who takes control of her life. Later, Janie’s life take a different direction.

My Thoughts:
Janie is independent, rebellious, bold, and resilient. She is a person who ponders. She is a person who makes up her mind about a decision and moves forward with determination.
I enjoyed reading the “Foreword” by Edwidge Danticat. It provided well thought-out questions and answers about the story itself. Also, Janie’s choices versus women of this era’s choices. And, has she been a solid “role model for women” and “is this important?”
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a character driven narrative. Janie is a character that provides through her thoughts, attitude, words, behavior, and actions everything needed to make the story dramatic and memorable.
The narrative structure is chronological. The story begins when Janie is a child and progresses to midlife.
This story is less about “what is going to happen next” and more about how Janie is transforming as a person.
This is a story that is full of things to review. It’s a story heavy with further conversations. It is a book highly worthy of a book club.

Questions I have about the story:
~If Janie had children would she have made the same choices?
~Did Janie (at some point) understand her grandmother’s reasoning?
~Why did she tolerate certain behavior from one husband, but not the other husband?

Further Thoughts:
The dialogue is difficult for some readers. They become bogged down in the southern sayings, dialect, and accent. It’s best to read through the dialogue quickly and don’t stop to try and enunciate each word.
The story has author contributions. For example, the behind the scenes information and wise observations.
The story is filled with beautiful quotes. The opening line is beautiful, poetic, and memorable.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story that provokes my mind and heart. The choices I have made. The experiences I have had. And, my response to those.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is now a favorite book of mine. It’s a story I treasure.

(Review) The Iliad by Homer, A New Translation by Caroline Alexander

Publisher and Publication Date: Ecco. 2016. Paperback edition.
Genre: Greek mythology.
Pages: 608.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers who love the classics. Readers of Greek mythology.
Rating: Excellent.

Original title: Ιλιάς

This is the first book to contribute to my list of The Classics Club. My goal is to read 50 classics in five years.
On a sidebar widget on this blog there is a photo of old books. Clicking on that photo will take you to the list of books I plan to read. However, the list is a living list-meaning it can change!

Amazon link

Links for further information:
Ancient History Encyclopedia

Image is from the Iliad, Book VIII, lines 245-253.

The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem. It was written in the 8th century BCE. Homer is considered the author.
It is the story of the last year of the ten year Trojan War. The time span for the poem covers several weeks.
The two groups fighting are the Achaeans or Greeks and the Trojans of Troy or Ilion.
The war began, because Paris (a son of King Priam of Troy) abducted Helen of Sparta, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Menelaus and his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, and their armies descend on Troy for revenge.
Achilles is the greatest warrior of the Greeks. He is a demi-god. His parents are Nereid Thetis (a sea nymph) and Peleus, King of Phthia.
Hector is the greatest warrior of the Trojans. He is the eldest son of King Priam.
The true history of the Trojan War began in the late Bronze Age, probably 1200 BCE. Homer’s epic poem is not to be taken as factual history. It is a form of literature, more like a legend. It’s an oral poem. It is written in 24 books.
Some of the characters are: Achilles, Ajax, Patroclus, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Priam, Hector, Andromache, Helen, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athena, and Zeus.
The poem begins with an argument between Achilles and Agamemnon. Achilles wants Agamemnon to return the priest’s daughter who was taken captive. Agamemnon doesn’t want to return the girl. He prefers her to his wife at home.
Achilles is the principle character throughout The Iliad. The spotlight will include Hector and other characters, but Achilles is the dominant focus.

My Thoughts:
The Iliad is a story you will want to take notes.
Some examples of notes:
~The change of names, Paris is called Alexandros at times.
~Making a list of expressions: “swift-footed Achilles,” “silver-footed Thetis,”
and “of the lovely cheeks.” The last example is referring to multiple women.
~The gods and the mortals they prefer.
~The gods and their human qualities.
~A list of women abducted.

The introduction is interesting. I enjoyed learning about the text, history surrounding the story, Mycenaean culture and history, the city of Troy, oral poetry, battle scenes; and relationships between men, and between men and women.

The Iliad is a sad story. Some of the characters know they will die. The war is lengthy (ten years), and the men are tired and wonder if the war has been worth it. The response of Achilles after Patroclus’s death is heartbreaking.
Hector has a family. What will happen to them after his death? This answer is not included in the story. The Iliad doesn’t tell this part. It also doesn’t tell the story of Achilles’s death.
The Iliad is gruesome, but war is gruesome.
How does Helen feel about what happened to her? Her voice is a deep cry at the end. Helen says, “would that I had died before.”

Death of Hector. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens.

The Classics Club

I attempted this challenge several years ago and almost made the goal of reading 50 books in 5 years. Life happened. I’m starting again.
The Classics Club began in 2012. The club’s emphasis is to encourage people to read the classics. If you are interested, this is the link for more information about the club: Club FAQS.

I began reading for this challenge on May 2, 2020. I plan to finish reading the 50 classics by May 2, 2025. This is a living list, not a strict list of books.
*I might change what I’ll be reading.

My Classics list:
1. The Iliad by Homer, a new translation by Caroline Alexander—Read in 2020
2. The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles (reread)
3. The Aeneid by Virgil
4. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
5. Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Major Works 
6. Anne of Green Gables (reread) by L. M. Montgomery
7. Herodotus-The Histories
8. Complete Poetical Works by George Herbert—Read in 2020
9. Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; The Necessity Nature, and Means of it by John Owen
10. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
11. Eleanor Roosevelt’s book, You Learn by Living
12. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
13. Curious, if True Strange Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
14. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco
15. Memoir of Jane Austen by James Austen Leigh (a reread)
16. Agatha Christie, an Autobiography
17. The Complete Works of George MacDonald
18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
19. The Metamorphoses by Ovid
20. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
21. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
22. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
23. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
24. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
25. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (reread)
26. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
27. The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy
28. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
29. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
30. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (reread)—Read in 2020
31. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte —Read in 2020
32. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
33. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
34. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
35. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
36. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway—Read in 2020
37. Watership Down by Richard Adams
38. The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas
39. The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
40. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
41. Two Years Before The Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
42. Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
43. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
44. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
45. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
46. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
47. Richard III by William Shakespeare
48. Henry V by William Shakespeare
49. Henry VI by William Shakespeare
50. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
51. Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset—Read in 2020
52. The Brother’s Grimm by Jacob Grimm—Read in 2020
53. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James—Read in 2020
54. Phantastes by George MacDonald—Read in 2020
55. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston—Read in 2020
56. The Fellowship of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien—Read in 2020
57. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle—Read in 2020