(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.

Link at Amazon
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.

Summary:
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.

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(Review) Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Publisher and Publication Date: Bantam Classic. 1986. Originally published 1853.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Victorian literature.
Pages: 510-this includes the introduction.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature, Victorian literature, and women and literature.
Rating: Good.

Link @ Amazon
There are several choices of Villette in Kindle. They are less than $5.00.

Charlotte Bronte 1816-1855

Summary:
Villette is the final novel Charlotte Bronte wrote.

In Villette, a young woman named Lucy Snowe left England and became an English teacher in a French boarding school. The school is located in the town of Villette, France. While in Villette Lucy fell in love with Dr. John Graham Bretton. In the story he is called, Dr. John. His feelings toward her are lukewarm. He doesn’t take the time to know her as a person. He doesn’t appreciate Lucy. Lucy is heartsick. Much of the story is Lucy’s thoughts and feelings. The story is rich in detail of her insecurities, fears, anguish, loneliness, and disappointment.

My Thoughts:
I’m going to be gender bias (forgive me): Villette is a female story. A story of this particular female’s thoughts and feelings. For me, and I’m female, it was too much. I had a difficult time sticking with the story until the end. It is not a bad story. It has its merit. It is not a very good story. It is definitely not an excellent story. It is mid-range.
My problem is I disliked being in Lucy’s head. I wanted out.

After the above paragraph, I will list a few things I like about the story.
1. Lucy is an illustration of women who dream or try to become what their love interest wants them to be. This is a lesson in the story: do not become someone else in order to win the affection of another. Yes, men can do this too.
2. Attraction to another person is just that, attraction. A successful relationship requires more than attraction. This is another lesson.
3. Coming of age story. Lucy is 23, but she is inexperienced in romantic relationships. She is learning to be independent.
4. Lucy seems on the edge of hysteria at times. She needs counseling. This is the Victorian era where counseling is unavailable. Lucy is a person I have empathy for her plight, and this is the reason why I continued to read Villette.

Themes in the story: courage, love, betrayal, loneliness, perseverance, grief, death, and passion.

Villette is a character driven story and Lucy is the heroine.

The conflicts are internal.

The story is heavy in dialogue and Lucy’s thoughts.


(Review) Dracula by Bram Stoker

My paperback edition.
The 1st American edition in 1899 published by Doubleday and McClure.

Publisher and Publication Date: Norton Critical Edition. W. W. Norton & Company Ltd. 1997. First published in 1897.
Genre: Fiction. Horror.
Pages: 512.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of horror and vampires.
Rating: Very good.

Link at Amazon

Other links of interest:
Notable Biographies
Bram Stoker
Biography

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

Summary:
The Norton edition is based on the original text.
The story itself starts on page 9 and ends on page 327.
The book begins with 17 pages of content material and preface. Starting on page 331 through page 488 is historical background, critical reviews, adaptions to film, theories about the story, a chronology timeline for Stoker, and a bibliography.
The story is told in letters and journal entries by several characters.
A young man from England, Jonathan Harker, is the first person who tells their story. He became a guest of Dracula at his castle on the border of Transylvania and 2 other states. The castle is located in the Carpathian mountains.
When Jonathan reaches the town of Bistritz he stays in the Golden Krone Hotel. The landlord and wife plead with Jonathan not to go on this journey to see Dracula. Jonathan thinks their behavior is “ridiculous.”
The first several pages of the story read like a travel log. However, Jonathan is at the castle a short time when he is troubled about this strange place and Dracula.

My Thoughts:
This is the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve read Dracula. In the past, I’d been impacted by the films telling the story of Dracula. I was enticed to view Dracula as a character who was partly human; albeit taken over by a horrible curse. I viewed Dracula in an almost romantic-soiled-cursed-to be pitied creature. This time I do not have the same views. I see Dracula as a predator and murderer. There is nothing charming or romantic about him. There is nothing to be pitied. He is calculating, manipulating, a seducer, tempter, groomer of the innocent, and a stalker. He is the description of a sexual predator/abuser and murderer.

I take issue with critical reviews stating Dracula was written secretly about repressed sexual appetites, because I don’t read minds and I don’t know what Stoker was thinking when he wrote Dracula. It is fun for some people to wonder and write critical articles explaining why an author wrote a certain story-I can understand their role. The articles in the Norton edition are interesting to read what might have been the reasons for Stoker writing this story.

The women in the story are described as innocent and desirable, or fearful and desirable. Mina is the female character who shows intelligence, responsibility, courage, and loyalty. She is a character who demonstrates heroism. She is a person who is admired by the other characters.

I’m not a fan of stories in the form of letters and journal entries. It makes it difficult to become apart of the story. Dracula is different. I believe the breakup (the word I’m using to describe the entries) helps give the story an anticipation of the horror taking place. It creates an atmosphere of mystery. It creates a disunity and discord. And, some of us really like organized thought and proper behavior!

Is the story scary? Yes and no. It is disturbing. It is strange. It is shocking and grisly.

Some examples of themes in the story: marriage, courage, death, bravery, perseverance, and abuse.

Dracula is a story with both internal and external conflicts. The external conflict is Dracula, the vampire who is a predator looking for victims. The internal conflicts are not as easy to spot. Some examples of internal conflicts: moral dilemma, view a person or creature in reality (the reality of who they are), and to take the “life” of a horrible creature.

(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.

Summary:
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) Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Books. 1974. First published 1849.
Genre: Classic literature.
Pages: 622.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of the Bronte authors. Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link
The book is free on Kindle eBook

Links of interest:
Literary Ladies Guide
The Literature Network

Summary:
Reading the summary of the book at Amazon leaves one lacking in what the story is really about. Goodreads shares more information.
Shirley’s time period is during the Napoleonic Wars, Luddite riots, and economic hardship (1811-1812) in England.
Shirley is the name of one of the female characters: Shirley Keeldar.
The first four chapters show the tension and situation of the small town in Yorkshire where this story takes place.
Mr. Moore is a young man who has a business, a mill. He is unmarried and prefers to stay that way. He is an ambitious man by modernizing his home and business as money allowed. He didn’t consider that by modernizing the mill it put people out of work and without income.
The two female lead characters are Shirley and Caroline.

My Thoughts:
It took a while to become invested in the story. For me, the first few chapters crept along until chapter six.
The second paragraph of the first chapter tells me not to expect a romance. I was told to “calm my expectations.” However, I don’t feel this statement is entirely correct. It is a subdued romance, but there is romance in the story.
I immediately felt compassion for Caroline Helstone. She lives with her uncle who gives the strong impression he is indifferent to her plight as a single young woman. He has negative views on marriage that doesn’t help Caroline. She befriends a young woman named Shirley Keeldar. Shirley has money. She has a governess, Mrs. Pryor, who still lives with her.
Caroline represents women of this era, because she does not have money of her own. She doesn’t have the ability to secure an income and independence. She is dependent on an uncle.
Shirley represents women who have money and thus more freedom.
I wanted to point these things out because they influence the women’s personalities, demeanor, and future.
Themes in the story are love, ambition, romance, honesty, perseverance, and compassion.
A strong plot is the relationships between men and women, love, and marriage. But, it is also Robert’s mill and how he handles his business ambitions and dealings that is against the people in the community. Both of these are conflicts that carry the story.
I learned to love this story, not at first, but a slow love of endearment. What enticed me is the conversations by women about men.

An important note about Shirley is the actual background of the writing of the story. All three of Charlotte’s surviving siblings died when she was writing this book. She didn’t want this information told to her readers even though her publishers wanted it in the preface. She said, “I can shed no tears before the public, nor utter any groan in the public ear….” Page 17.

Branwell died 24 September 1848
Emily died 19 December 1848
Anne died 28 May 1849

Favorite Quote:
“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.”

Charlotte Bronte 1816-1855