Bleak House :: Final Review

Welcome to the Bleak House read-a-long! We’re reading this book through March, April, and May. You can see the reading schedule and guidelines on the Starting Post Page.

Week Thirteen: Read to The End

Discussion:

It’s always a bit sad to finish these longer Read-a-Longs. Finishing a story that has played a role in your life for three months is a little like saying goodbye to a friend (or friends). Turning the last page of Bleak House was a bittersweet thing for me. While relieved to have finished this tome, I have gotten very used to visiting with these characters and am sad to see them go.

It’s difficult to summarize a book of not only this length, but also with varying plots and an abundance of characters. It will have to suffice to say that I am pleased to have read it – and pleased that it was my first Dickens (not only because of the chart a few weeks back saying it is the most Dickensian of his novels, but also because it is exactly what I thought one of his novels would be like).

I think the ending may have been my favorite reading of all. Dickens sure does know how to wrap up a story. Thanks to those of you who set me straight last week – I missed the fact that Sir Leicester had a stroke. If I hadn’t had that pointed out to me, this week’s reading wouldn’t have been as touching as it was (extra points for reading with other people). Though it was sad to see Richard go (actually, it didn’t really feel very sad except for the very ending in which he says goodbye to Jarndyce), many had already predicted it would happen. I’m a bit surprised at how tidily much of the loose ends tied up. The not so great characters got theirs. The great characters ended well (except for Jo, of course, but that was weeks ago). I had somewhat guessed that Jarndyce would surprise Esther by connecting her with Woodcourt – but I still enjoyed the way it was done. And I enjoy the neat as a bow way that Dickens then pushed Jarndyce into the father role for them all (and gave Esther the support of a family and a happy marriage, with two little girls!). I even enjoyed the revenge gotten on Mr. Guppy. (Oh, Mr. Guppy, what were you thinking??)

Perhaps my favorite ending was that of Sir Leicester and Mr. Boythorn – if only because it seemed the cleverest. What a subtle and wonderful way to show that sometimes those relationships that bother us so much in real life are a necessary tie to another person that we actually need. And to come full circle with these two men (who had both suffered by the loss of sisters, none-the-less!) was very satisfying.

The only part I wonder about is why Dickens chose to end it the way he did… as if Esther was in the middle of her sentence. Any thoughts on that?

So, my friends, what didi you think? Thank you so much for reading along with me! I had a fantastic time discussing this book with you all – congratulations for making it through! Those of you reading On the Road, sign ups will be up on Monday. Enjoy this week of no reading, and I’ll see you at the beginning of June.

I figured we could answer these questions one last time for the book overall…

  • Favorite character of the book? Mr. Jarndyce. After reading the book in it’s entirety I can honestly say I love him best. What a good, good man.
  • Least favorite character of the book? Mr. Skimpole, far and away the worst.
  • Most confusing part of the book? I’d have to say Sir Leicester’s stroke – I don’t know how, but I fully managed to miss that he had had one.
  • Best passage of the book? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t pick. But from this last week – “As little does he think how near together he and his antagonist have suffered, in the fortunes of two sisters; and his antagonist, who knows it now, is not the man to tell him. So the quarrel goes on to the satisfaction of both.”
  • Nomination for overall ‘Hypocrite of the Week Award’? I’m actually going to say Volumina. She was always trying to be something she wasn’t (and important person).

Who’s Reading Along:

** Please don’t forget to come to this blog each Friday and share your thoughts in the comments section of the weekly Bleak House discussion (see below for more information).**

Patty@taleofthreecities
JacquelineM (@jackiemania)
Jeremy
Leah Mosher
Lisa
Ashley J.
Ashley
thetruebookaddict
Susan B.
Meg @ A Bookish Affair
Roberta
JoonAnn
Scribacchina
Hannah

Friendly Reminders:

  • If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know in the comments section. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. 
  • Comments from the previous week’s reading will be closing Thursday afternoon (before the next discussion takes place on Friday). If you would like to be part of the discussion, please remember to comment before then. 
  • Each week, on Friday, share your thoughts about the previous week’s reading. If you are stuck on what to comment about, you can respond to my post or others’ comments. Regardless, you MUST check in each week (two weeks without a response and you will be taken off of the list — see below for details on why). You may have only one “off week” (which may not be the last week of reading for obvious reasons) and still be kept on the list, but you must let me know in the comment section by saying something like, “I’m catching up,” or “I’m still reading.” ***for all week’s discussions please refrain from posting ahead, even if you have read ahead, as to not spoil the book for others***
  • If you are a blogger you may post a link to your blog if you are posting about each of the each week’s reading. If I, or other readers, have extra time we will gladly try to visit your blog; however, you must make sure to share your thoughts here on this blogand be part of the main conversation or your comment will not be counted.
  • If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list (*NEW GUIDELINE*, in order to get back onthe list, you need to a.) Have missed no more than two weeks of discussion, b.) Let me know you would like to be on the list again, and c.) consistently be part of the discussion for the next two weeks after requesting to be put back on the list.). This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized (and helps me remember who’s completed what read-a-long…there (ahem) might be something fun for different levels of participants at the end of the year! Thanks!


32 thoughts on “Bleak House :: Final Review

  1. First off, thank you so much Wallace for this wonderful read-a-long–you and everyone kept me focused and kept me reading this large book.  This was my first Dickens read, too.  I really loved this book and feel like his other novels will  be less daunting after tackling this one. 
    Okay, now to the questions.
    Favorite character of the book? Mr. Jarndyce for me, too. What a wonderful man!  When I was reading all that he had done for Esther it was like watching a sunrise with it finally bursting forth when he said, “This is Bleak House.  This day I give this house it’s little mistress; and before God, it is the brightest day in all my life!”
    Least favorite character of the book? Mr. Tulkinghorn , he was cruel and heartless
    Most confusing part of the book? When it came to Mr. Skimpole I felt like I was plucking a daisy about him all through this book–he’s a child,  he’s not a child…
    Best passage of the book? The one where Mr. Jarndyce tells Esther all that he’s done for her.
    Nomination for overall ‘Hypocrite of the Week Award’? Mr. Skimpole, because  he betrayed  Mr. Jarndyce by disregarding his entreaties towards Richard .

    Thanks again everyone, I enjoyed reading with you. :-)

  2. Woohoo! We made it. This was a huge book and I’m not sure I could have hung on through it all had it not been for the read-a-long. This is definitely the largest book that I’ve tackled for a read-a-long and it made it so much better. Knowing that we had deadlines to post our opinions definitely added a little fuel to my fire when it came to reading this one. Thank you so much for setting this all up, Wallace!

    For the most part, I liked how Dickens ended the book. You get a good flavor for what happened to the different characters in the last chapter, which ties everything up very nicely. I think that this was probably my favorite passage of the reading for this week. I like that Dickens just didn’t forget about the rest of the characters. There’s so many characters that it was sort of nice to have that recap.

    My favorite characters are Mr. Jarndyce and Esther. They’re both really good people with really good hearts. You have to love that.

    My least favorite character is Mr. Skimpole. He’s so slimy.

    I kind of wish that Dickens had just let Esther finish her sentence though. What does it mean? What would she have said? Was this Dickens way of showing us that the characters lives continued past where the book ends? I’m going to go with that idea…

  3. About the ending sentence…I was thinking that the word itself “supposing”, is letting us know that Esther finally thinks she is beautiful, without coming out and just saying so.

  4. Dickens tied up all the major plotlines, and we learn where the major characters are after Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce is settled or whatever you call what happened. At least, the case is over. No one receives an inheritance, but the court and lawyers make a decent living for decades. Dickens did give us some happy endings although the poor remain poor, the court remains corrupt, and grief just remains for some characters.

    I was glad to see Skimpole (worst character) finally make his exit from the family Jarndyce. What gall to call John Jarndyce “selfish.” And the happiness in the Rouncewell family (including Phil) is a joy to read about. What I think is strange is the Jarndyce-Esther thing! Does anyone else think it’s weird for the potential bridegroom to set a wedding date then “give” the bride to someone else after setting up a home for the couple??? And now he’s going to be the father-guardian again! I think I need Dr. Drew to give some perspective on this. Anyway, I am glad that Esther and Allan get together because they are very much alike and, seven years down the road, build a beautiful family that includes two daughters, Jarndyce, Ada, and baby Richard. It’s sad that Richard isn’t around, but his death was foreshadowed. I expected it. I don’t really understand what kills people who become obsessed with the Jarndyce case, but it had happened to others, some through suicide. This would be my most confusing part of the novel.

    John Jarndyce is my favorite character in the novel. He is consistently kind and caring…even by the act I consider weird.

    Although we didn’t read any more about Jenny and Liz, we can assume they are still living in poverty. Dickens didn’t solve this problem in the novel, but he certainly brought it to light through Jo, Charley, and others. At least Charley and siblings are given chances for better lives.

    Personally, I see some “women’s issues” in the novel, but I don’t know enough about Dickens to determine his take on this. He may have been ahead of his times by letting Caddy take over the family dancing business. I’m guessing that this was just the way things were at that time, and women of a certain age were grateful to have a place to live. It just bothers me that Jarndyce set up everything before even discussing WHO Esther will marry with her, even though he understands the love between Esther and Allan.

    Thank you, Wallace, for hosting this read-a-long. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would not have read this book without your encouragement. I won’t be joining you for the next book, but I hope to be back in August. Actually, I just retired today (educator), and I have too much swirling around me at the moment. I also am happy to have met some wonderful people who find books and reading fun as well as educational. Thank you, one and all.

  5. I read the end of Bleak House again to prepare for this post, and filled with tears. It has become one of my favorite endings in Literature! It’s beautiful and hopeful. Esther triumphs over society and her upbringing in many ways. She still is Esther (hence ending the book mid-sentence. How modern and chancy is that, Mr. Charles Dickens?!?!) but to think – the mentally abused, motherless child has attained a level of security and happiness we all would love to attain. It was a journey. The Esther of the beginning of our book has evolved, no? To think that the woman who unquestioningly gave Skimpole money in the early pages became a woman who went to Skimpole’s house to give him the what’s what about leaving Richard alone!

    Another important way that she has triumphed is that she did not make the same mistake as her mother. No, not loving someone and having a child out of wedlock, but marrying someone older and safer, a father figure, not a partner and romantic love. Esther didn’t think she was worthy of romantic love. Sure she had help (would she ever have taken matters into her own hands and disappointed Mr. Jarndyce? I don’t think so). Remember this is the Victorian era – Dickens has this happen through the male characters – but it is because she “deserves” it – she has taken her painful beginnings and willed herself to still be a kind and caring person.

    Another way she triumphs over society is that in a world obsessed with the superficial and beautiful (Lady Dedlock and her set) she, who has been scarred through illness (from doing a selfless deed) is the person who winds up most content. Esther’s physical appearance is something definitely obscured by Dickens. If we had to each draw a picture of what Esther looks like, I bet they would all be different. But Woodcourt’s words at the end make me think that Esther is considered very beautiful by those who love her, no matter what her face actually looks like.

    I am so happy to have been a part of this read-a-long. Thank you Wallace! I hope to be able to interact with many of you in the future ones :)

    My favorite passage, The End:

    A night or two ago, after bustling about preparing for my darling and my guardian and little Richard, who are coming tomorrow, I was sitting out in the porch of all places, that dearly memorable porch, when Allan came home. So he said, ‘My precious little woman, what are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘The moon is shining so brightly, Allan, and the night is so delicious, that I have been sitting here, thinking.’

    ‘What have you been thinking about, my dear?’ said Allan then.

    ‘How curious you are!’ said I. ‘I am almost ashamed to tell you, but I will. I have been thinking about my old looks — such as they were.’

    ‘And what have you been thinking about them, my busy bee?’ said Allan.

    ‘I have been thinking, that I thought it was impossible that you could have loved me any better, even if I had retained them.’

    ‘—Such as they were?’ said Allan, laughing.

    ‘Such as they were, of course.’

    ‘My dear Dame Durden,’ said Allan, drawing my arm through his, ‘do you ever look in the glass?’

    ‘You know I do; you see me do it.’

    ‘And don’t you know that you are prettier than you ever were?’

    ‘I did not know that; I am not certain that I know it now. But I know that my dearest little pets are very pretty, and that my darling is very beautiful, and that my husband is very handsome, and that my guardian has the brightest and most benevolent face that ever was seen; and that they can very well do without much beauty in me — even supposing—.

    • I agree wholeheartedly about Esther having grown. And ending the book mid-sentence is very clever. I think just the fact that there is a bit of the story left off the page gives it the hopeful feeling that it seems we have all appreciated.

  6. Maybe favorite isn’t the right word, but I have a tie between my two most memorable characters of the book: Mr. Smallweed and Miss Flite. “Shake me up, Judy!” “Brimstone black-beetle!” and Miss Flite’s birds are forever etched into my memory as Pure Dickens.

  7. I was really impressed with how Dickens was able to quickly tie everything up, even for a book that was serialized such as this one is. My favorite character, as many others have chosen, Mr. Jarndyce. He truly loves Esther, just not in the way I fully realized nor expected until this week’s final reading.

    My least favorite, Richard, although, Skimpole comes a close second. So much potential wasted, and then to see nothing but failure and doom. While it was great to see a reconciliation at the end, it was simply disappointing to see such wasted opportunity.

    I’ve come to see Esther as one of the strongest characters I’ve encountered thus far in classical literature. Such evolution to be a mature and wise woman. It was great to see her find true happiness at the very end. It was also nice to see that her and Mr. Jarndyce were still as close as ever.

    I’ve truly enjoyed this read-along with everyone, I’ve gotten so much out of the discussion with everyone!

    • I agree with you about the wasted potential of Richard! Skimpole is easily the most detested character, but Richard is the most disappointing. What a life he could have made for him and Ada!

  8. Before anything else, many thanks to Wallace who managed to keep me reading this novel. In all honesty, were it not for this read-a-long, I would have dropped Bleak House long ago!

    So, this is the end of a very complicated story based on a very lengthy legal case as a background. It’s amazing how quickly the Jarndyce & Jarndyce is resolved, having lasted so many generations, isn’t it? A will is found, case closed, estate is up to the legal fees, but at least all are happy – bar Richard, whose life ends as soon as the case itself…

    Even though I enjoyed Dickens’ writing style, his ability to use language to convey specific details tbringing elements of the story to life, at times this grew tiresome for me and repetitive, making me lose interest towards the middle of the book. But sure enough, Dickens proved his genius and little by little got me interested again in all the characters’ fortunes.

    My favourite character throughout the story is indeed Jarndyce, although his change from guardian to future husband to guardian again left me slightly confused – I suppose marital situations were different in those days!

    Least favourite is Richard, not because he’s a bad character, but because he’s such a wasted potential. I fully agree with Jeremy, his inability to see anything but gloom, finally cost him his life – a life spent chasing shadows.

    I found Skimpole’s publishing a book about his life confusing – he’s supposed to have been a celebrity?? when did this happen?

    Favourite part in the end is the relationship between Leicester and Boythorn – grumpy old men, but friends for ever. I found their connection very touching indeed!

    A new Bleak House is now in place, populated by Esther and Woodcourt and the next trio of characters (continuing in the fashion of Ada, Richard and Esther), full of life and laughter… I believe that Esther ends her story in the middle of a sentence because life is now restored in the world, and enjoying it is first priority rather than writing her thoughts down…

  9. And we’re done! Thankfully!
    Really, a big thank you to all of you, I’d never have finished the book without your help!
    This week I’m not really in line with most of you: I wasn’t completely happy with the end, I wasn’t touched or moved by it, especially not by the denouement of the Jarndyce/Esther situation. I was a bit let down with everything turning out perfectly all right all of a sudden.
    Anyway… best character of the whole book are the Bagnets. I just adore them.
    Least favorite: Esther.
    Most confusing part: why would Guppy renew his proposal?
    Best passage: I love that you, Wallace, pointed out the way things work out for Boythorn and Sir Dedlock, that was good.
    I don’t have much more to add, but if you want to read me gushing about how wonderful you were in the readalong, and to read another one of my crazy theories, I’ve put up a post this week.

    • Hmm – now, after reading your thoughts on Jarndyce on your blog, I might just have to rethink my ideas about him. And here I thought it was just a wonderfully nice old man!

  10. Hurray, we made it! Thanks, Wallace, for pushing us along and thanks to all of the rest of you for making this discussion so much fun!

    I did end up loving Jarndyce, but I don’t know that he was my favorite. That part about the winds kind of bugged me. But what a wonderful man. He was willing to give up his own happiness to give Esther true happiness. What wonderful sacrifice!

    Esther, Bucket, the Bagnets – all of these characters surprised me and were such good people who did whatever they could to make other people’s lives better.

    Like so many of you, Skimpole was my least favorite character. His refusal to acknowledge his true character and then in the end to turn on Jarndyce was so frustrating.

    Thanks to the readalong, I don’t know that I had a most confusing part. Any time there was any doubt in my mind, you all came along and straightened me out!

    Even though Dickens did tie in all of the characters we met in the first 300 pages, in the end, I still felt like we could well have gotten by with fewer of them. And as much as I appreciated Dickens’ ability to paint a picture, I could have done with fewer of those drawn out passages as well. It was all just so much to work through. I had really wanted to read “Little Dorrit” this year but I’m concerned about starting another long Dickens’ novel after this one.

    I’m never big on neat and tidy endings and I did feel like to it was all just a bit too “happily ever after.” On the other hand, I’m not sure that after reading this many pages I would have been happy with an ambiguous ending or one that left any characters hanging.

  11. I can’t believe this is the last week! There was a time when I thought we’d never finish, but now I’m (kind of) sad to see it end. Many thanks to you, Wallace, for hosting & choosing a book that I don’t know if I would have tackled on my own! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first read-along, and I know it won’t be my last.

    That being said, I have mixed feelings about the end of the book. On the one hand, I love how Esther has grown and matured as a character. She’s come a long way from the very beginning, and I really enjoyed getting to read her story. I was sad to see Richard go, but I almost thought it was better that he died than live on to become someone like Mr. Skimpole. I was so glad that Esther ended up with Mr. Woodcourt. I would have been very disappointed to see her with Jarndyce, even if he is kind and thoughtful.

    While I enjoyed many of Dickens’ characters, I still think he could have cut out a few and the book would still be wonderful. He tied things up nicely in the end, but I still think there were a few “unnecessary strings” when it all comes down to it. But maybe that’s just me – I was losing patience towards the end haha!

    My favorite character overall was probably Esther or Mr. Woodcourt. I really loved him! Oh, and George! He was wonderful as well.

    My least favorite was definitely Mr. Skimpole. He’s terrible! One of the worst kinds of “villain” if you ask me.

    In the end, I don’t think I had anything that was still confusing. All of the things that were confusing during the reading ended up being answered in the comments each week. That was definitely my favorite aspect of the read-along! I loved the whole discussion aspect.

    This was only my second Dickens, but I look forward to reading more of him in the future. I’ve already read (and adored) A Tale of Two Cities, and I look forward to discovering more of his work. I will, however, be taking a break this summer for some lighter reading! I don’t know if I can concentrate on an author like Dickens when it’s so hot outside :)

  12. I can’t believe I read the whole thing! Thanks Wallace and everyone involved for this
    fun experience. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and the size alone
    was daunting.
    Having watched the mini-series I usually knew what was going to happen so couldn’t comment on some things – deaths, etc.
    One things I enjoyed in the book’s ending was the treatment of Mr. Skimpole. I was very
    pleased when I read “as it happened I never saw Mr. S again.” In the mini-series there
    is a totally different outcome (one I did not like) but won’t spoil it for anyone who wants
    to watch it.
    I hope you will receive this. Our computer died this weekend so thank heaven for
    libraries!
    Also Wallace FYI if you subscribe to Turner Classic Movies, they are showing the
    original “The Group” from 1966 on June 11th at 8 PM.

  13. Thank you, Wallace, for another great read-a-long! So glad to have tackled this beast with a great group of readers!

    I think my favorite character is Mr. Woodcourt and my least favorite is Richard. I agree with Jeremy that his wasted potential is more of a tragedy than the expected tricks of Skimpole. And Mr. Woodcourt is the only secondary character who doesn’t try to play games. I appreciate that, especially in the last reading, he isn’t afraid of being vulnerable in front of Esther.

    I was also confused about why Guppy tried to renew his proposal. Was he actually in love with her, or was it another of her tricks? I was so preoccupied with willing Esther and Mr. Woodcourt together that I think I may have skimmed that part.

    I don’t have a hypocrite of the week. I agree that Volumnia was trying to act like she was important, but she came off as just a silly girl. She didn’t seem to be of real importance. In fact, she’s one of the characters who probably didn’t impact the story at all and, upon an edit or two, could have easily been removed.

    Thank you, everyone, for this great experience! I probably wouldn’t have stuck through if not for the read-a-long, so I really appreciate all the support that it brought!

    • I was also super confused about Guppy renewing his proposal. I just couldn’t understand why Dickens included that scene in the book. It didn’t seem necessary to the plot at all!

  14. Congrats on finishing, everyone! And thank you, Wallace, for hosting. Bleak House is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but I’m really glad I read it and had the schedule to keep me on track (even though my posts are usually woefully late). Although I liked some parts more than others, sometimes nearly gave up and sometimes couldn’t put the book down, I am so happy I participated in this read-along and made it through to the end! I liked Bleak House more than I was expecting and am excited to have finished my first Dickens — and quite a chunkster! Reading along with this group was really wonderful; I got so much more out of the book than I would have reading on my own, and it was really nice to know I wasn’t the only one confused at certain parts!

    My favorite character was Mr. Jarndyce. Throughout the book, he was just such a kind, benevolent man who was constantly working to help those he cared for. He was so kind, especially to Esther, in taking her in, asking her to be mistress of Bleak House, and then letting her go to the man she truly loved! I did gag a little bit about him naming the house he gave to Mr. Woodcourt Bleak House so that she would still be mistress of Bleak House, though. That felt super cheesy to me. I did like the rest of the wrapping up Dickens did, though! It was nice that everyone got a happy ending (except Richard, but he serves as an example of the danger of obsession over a useless cause).

    My least favorite character was Mr. Skimpole. He was just such complete scum, acting as though he was a useless child with no understanding of worldly matters, yet always scheming after other peoples’ money. And the way he corrupted poor Richard! He entertained me at first, but proceeded to make me angry for most of the book.

  15. I do trust all of the ideas you’ve introduced in your post.
    They’re very convincing and will certainly work.Still, the posts are very quick for novices.
    May just you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time?

    Thanks for the post.

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