-by Charles Dickens
1088 pages (1852)
quite possibly Dickens' magnum opus
Bleak House boasts all the hallmarks of brilliant Dickens - a sprawling and ambitious plot (without the sacrifice of an iota of suspense or impetus), brimming with eccentric characters and an almost gothic thriller appeal.
With wit, complexity and lack of guile, Dickens' winds through an unflattering vision of the Victorian legal system, to heartrending household drama, to an investigation of homicide. All characters are intricately drawn, hitting a compelling balance between austere emotional honesty and caricature subjects.
At the outset, we are introduced to Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, two young orphans and wards of Chancery, who learn they are potential heirs to a vast fortune. As they learn more about their prospective windfall, they quickly find out that their destiny is at the hands of a shady legal system. Notwithstanding, the two orphans, particularly the young and naïve Richard Carstone, become entangled in a colossal protracted legal battle for their fortune, known as "Jarndyce & Jarndyce".
But at the root of the story is another orphan, Esther Summerson - poor and plain, trustworthy and kind - whose unknown descent proves to be entwined with the cool and aloof Lady Dedlock, a rich noble woman of 'dubious breeding'. The story unfolds further as Esther, and the young wards of court, Ada and Richard, are sent to live with a kind-hearted and benevolent guardian, John Jarndyce. While developing a deep love for Esther, which is truly touching and yet ultimately abandoned, John Jarndyce harbors a deeply unsettled past which inevitably comes to light.
Bleak House validates the fact that pathos, social disparagement, and absurdity, and can all be contained in one wonderfully compelling chronicle.
Dickens ambitious tale has fast become a personal favourite, and is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed over and over again - and has been, for generations.
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