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The things catching my eye so far in Bleak House

1. Fog/ smoke/ wind… All very ominous. The latter especially hightens the supernatural aspect, which I like (realism, shmealism).
2. Labyrinths. Both the Court and the House have a labyrinthine quality. Even the lawsuit and Law itself seems like labyrinths, every turn takes you deeper in. Although, anything deal with the legal system takes one a tinge of Kafka in my mind.
3. Supernatural allusions. Satan/ Lucifer/ The Enemy. Witches/ Creepy cats. At least one allusion to vampires. And of course, ghosts/ banshees are all over the place. Maybe only figuratively, but I hope not. Take that realism!!
4. More clear cut distinctions between upper, middle, and lower classes. ( More clear cut in descriptive qualities). I understand that this one had an impact on ole Ruskin.
5. Opium and Captain Nemo returned from the depths…only to die again. Ok, it’s not that Nemo but still. Interesting the Nemo/ Nimrod confusion. I hope this won’t be creepily taken any further.
6. Birds. More rooks. Mr Boythorn and the canary. Miss Flite and her fine menagerie of birds.

Yeesh, there is a ton of stuff going on in this one. Also, Lady Dedlock and her chronic boredom. I’m intrigued by her sneaking about and possible connection to Nemo. Altogether, I can see this will be tough in keeping track of all the characters. But clearly Dickens is setting us up for a finely woven web of mystery. I am honestly hoping the “supernatural”/ non-realist elements deepen. I can see why Chesterton loved this novel so much; its influence is writ large across “The Man Who Was Thursday” and “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”. To end, I love that Dickens can be so “non- realist” and still be so sharp in his social criticism. In fact, I would say that this characteristic only sharpens his criticism. I can’t wait to see where he takes us.

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Some OMF Thoughts

Where I’m at

So, I am finally beginning to feel like everything is coming together. Coming together in the sense that the novel is finally beginning to move in, what seems to be, a forward direction. The Harmon / Rokesmith connection is finally out there, which I think has a lot to do with the shift in my perception. Although, I was kind of surprised that this was revealed when it was. Either way, I am finding the going much easier. I don’t feel so lost, and I have found the story much easier to get back into over these past two weeks. So I guess, I am (at long last) invested and anxious to see what will happen next.

Who and what I love

For one, I really love Mr. Riah. I hate all the antisemitic jokes made at his expense, but I love the way he fulfills his Moses-like role. Riah being “one of the Patriarchs” with his “staff in hand” has led Lizzie to freedom, as it were (429,421). He is also a mediator/text-bearer like Moses: he bears Fledgeby’s accounts and Lizzie’s note to Miss Potterson.  He most definitely fits an archetypal mold and brings Joseph Campbell to mind once more.

I also love Mr. Boffin’s new bibliophilia…. a bibliophilia based solely around the biographies of misers. This is hilarious. I love that he even goes book hunting on a regular basis, one of my favorite pass-times. More texts in the text!

Who and what I hate

Although I really enjoyed Mr. Boffin’s bibliophilia, the man has crept his way onto my “hate” list. I cannot stand the way he talks to Rokesmith. What is worse, Boffin thinks he is being helpful via tough love (or something), and Mrs. Boffin keeps making excuses for him. “Oh, but he really is so very wonderful.” Of course, of course. I know that this sudden change in Mr. Boffin’s attitude is intended to be humorous, but I am having a hard time finding it funny. The irony here almost makes it worse… I am really hoping to see Mr. Boffin eat crow when he learns to whom he has been so condescending

A Brief Tale of Two Cities Thought

Far and away, Madame Defarge is my favorite thing about this novel. I think she is one of the strongest characters we’ve seen so far. She looms like a shadow. She’s a rock. Or a shadowy rock… or the shadow of a rock. A monolith, yeah. Anyway, her and her knitting have seized my imagination. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but her knitting is yet another text within the text. I’m also thinking of the tale… maybe it’s in Ovid or Marie de France, I can’t remember… where the heroine is raped by her brother in-law, who also cuts out her tongue, yet she is albe to weave her tragic story into a tapestry. I like the classical and stereotypical female pass-time being turned into a means of power… a power that ultimately seals the fates of others (mainly men).

The theme of texts within texts is high in the running for first research topic. As I also really like the idea of texts that are lists (fictional lists of fictional things). I’m getting all kinds of Borgesian vibes (my favorite kind of vibe) from Dickens these days. This is more than likely me reading into Dickens what I want to read, but I think that’s half the fun of reading.

William Morris

So I figured out how to insert pictures. Yay.

Swinburne

Charles Algernon Swinburne has the best hair ever.

Dickens at 200

So my favorite paper, The Guardian (UK), has a nice selection of pieces on Dickens’ 200th birthday: right here. The article that I found to be most interesting is this one by Jenny Diski. I like that Ms Diski takes a different approach and says “enough already” to the Dickens celebration. She makes the point that these sort of celebrations only serve to form an industry that “predigests” Dickens’ novels for us consumers. She states that novels must be created between the novelist and the reader, the influence of all hoopla be damned. I have to say that I agree, to a great degree. I am not really sure what an author’s bicentennial really means. It’s like going to a house that an author once lived in that has been turned into a museum. It is but dross. Books are fetish objects, yes. But fetishizing an author is rarely more than a distraction from what matters most. The best of a writer is in his work, perhaps we should keep the focus there. I can concur.

 

ATOTC, Book the Second, The Golden Thread (and other thoughts)

The Golden Thread

I’m liking the contrast between Miss Manette and Madame Defarge as the two Fate-like figures. On the one hand, Miss Manette serves to connect her father to the “Past” and “Present beyond his misery” (86). On the other hand, Defarge knits her victims’ deaths; she spins the stars that seal the fates and fortunes of the peasantry’s oppressors. One is Grace, the other Justice. I like that Madame Defarge cuts men down not by cutting their thread but by creating it, and that Lucie does not hold the golden thread but is the thread itself. She is woven into “the peaceful tissue of the life of her home” (232).

Madame Defarge certainly fits the bill of the classical Fates as portrayed in “Hercules”. She has witch-y air about her, though not in an evil way. She just comes across as one of the more dangerous and powerful children of the Revolution. And didn’t the Fates share an eyeball in the Disney film? I can see Madame Defarge popping her eyeball out and sharing it with her friend “The Vengeance”.

Recalled to Life

But to get back to Lucie. The young Miss Manette is the Golden Thread (the thread of light that stands in contrast to much of the novel’s darkness) of the recalled to life theme as well (I think). On the darker side, we have the Revolutionaries violently taking the Bastille and recalling its prisoners to life. And then we have the elder Jerry turning resurrection man (yes! resurrection men!), and the younger Jerry wishing to become a resurrection man himself one day. Yet, as we have already seen with Msr Manette, Lucie has the power to “recall to life” in a more lovely way. Even Mr Carton, who cannot have her, is recalled to life by “her beauty springing up anew” [springing up anew/ recalled to life…on and on] (156).

Victorian Dichotomies / Historical Novel

I wanna say that this more “Victorian dichotomy”, but I guess it isn’t Victorian. This is something I keep forgetting, at least when the novel is not dealing with actual historical events. I just keep imagining a Victorian setting. But anyway… one more contrast between Lucie and Madame Defarge: the footsteps. Lucie is a passive character, in this regard, as she sits by “listening to the echoing footsteps of years” (209). Madame Defarge is an active participant in these marching, charging footsteps (‘cos Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets).

I’m glad that I can’t remember anything from reading this one in high school, because I am actually getting excited to see where this is going.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Signet Classics, 1980.