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The History of English Literature by Perry Keenlyside; narrated by Derek Jacobi and Cast

• Audiobook: 0 pages

• Publisher: NAXOS Audiobooks, 2001

• ISBN: 9626342218

• Genre: Nonfiction–Literary History and Analysis

• Recommended For: Anyone looking for a quick overview of the entire history of English Literature, from Chaucer to Ishiguro, in an easy listening audiobook format.

Quick Review: Quick and easy listening to a very, very brief synopsis of the history of English literature. Highly recommended for its quick access to authors and tidbits of English history that one might have forgotten or overlooked. Is also brilliantly read by Jacobi and the rest of the cast, who read snippets from the classics expertly.

How I Got Here: I was returning a book to the library, and decided that I wanted an audiobook for the car. There wasn’t much of a selection, but then I spotted this title and decided it would be perfect for my driver’s short attention span.

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

The remarkable story of the world’s richest literary resource, the story telling, poetry, the growth of the novel and the greatest histories and essays, which have informed the language and the imagination wherever English is spoken.

My Analysis and Critique:

This audiobook was perfect for my quick drives to and from work each day! Each track focuses upon one writer from a certain time period, providing a bit of history of the author and the world around them, and then usually providing a reading of a snippet of one of their most notable works. So, usually, I could learn about three to five different authors and works on a one-way trip to my work, and not have to think/listen too hard.

Each disc is also separated into two to three different literary movements/time periods. Being a history, the text obviously moves chronologically. Thus, it is set up as thus:

Canterbury Tales

1. The Age of Chaucer (Middle Ages: Chaucer, Gower’s Sir Gawain, The Bible, and Langland’s Piers Plowman)

2. The End of Chivalry (Mid 15th Century: John Lydgate, Mallory, and Skelton to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Le Morte D’Arthur to Wyatt’s love lyrics and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer)

Queen Elizabeth; The Faerie Queene; Elizabethan Age

3. Triumphs of Oriana (Elizabethan Age: Spenser, Raleigh, and Sydney to the trio of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and the poetry and essays by Donne and Bacon)

William Congreve The Way of the World Restoration

4. Puritan’s Progress (Restoration: religious metaphysical poetry by Herbert and Vaughan; Cavalier poetry by Lovelace and Herrick; the epic works by Milton; Marvell; Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; the first English novel in Defoe’s Moll Flanders; Dryden’s poetry; and finally, Congreve’s The Way of the World)

Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift

5. The Augustan Age (Age of Enlightenment: Pope’s poetry and essays; Swift’s satirical Gulliver’s Travels; Samuel Johnson’s criticism and Dictionary; the novels of Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, and Smallett; and Gray’s “Elegy on a Country Churchyard”)

The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats

6. Romantic Revolution (poetry by Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; Shelley’s Gothic Frankenstein; Austen’s novels; and the poetry of Shelley, Byron, and Keats)

7. Faith and Doubt (The Victorian Age: Dickens; the rise of children’s literature and the detective novel; the Brontes; Arnold’s “Dover Beach”; the novels of George Eliot; poetry by Tennyson, Rosetti, and Browning; the works of Kipling)

Modernism War Literature

8. The Age of Anxiety (Turn of the century/wartime: Hardy’s novels; Houseman’s poetry; the works of Henry James (?!); Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Wells’ science fiction; controversial D.H. Lawrence; the war poetry of Wilfred Owen; the Irish writers Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, and Joyce; Woolf’s To The Lighthouse; the satire of Evelyn Waugh; Orwell and Huxley; and the poetry of Eliot and Auden)

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

9. Post-War, Post-Modern(Multitude of voices and styles, as genres mesh: Cecil Day Lewis; Keith Douglas; Dylan Thomas; Ivy Compton Burnett; Jean Rhys; Doris Lessing; Muriel Spark; Iris Murdoch; William Golding; Angus Wilson; Anthony Powell; Kingsley Amis; Philip Larkin; Ted Hughes; J.G. Ballard; Salman Rushdie; Kazuo Ishiguro; Carol Ann Duffy)

While obviously this text is just a brief skim, a tiny overview of the great expanse of British Literature, I appreciated it for its providing me with some authors and works that I need to check out in the future. I also appreciated that it flowed so nicely together that it sounded like a story–the story that is English literature.

I also relished the lessons learned on the evolution of the novel, as well as the information provided in the Post-War, Post-Modern section (I am shockingly poorly read in modern literature! This needs to be remedied!)

Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in gaining some insight on the history of English literature and listening to some classics read expertly by various voices. I’m not sure how easy this audiobook is to come by, as I just happened upon it at my library, but if you can find it, I recommend it!


Goodreads Reviews


Locke & Key, volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

• Hardcover: 158 pages

• Publisher: IDW 2008

• ISBN: 1600102379

Locke & Key, volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

• Paperback: 160 pages

• Publisher: IDW 2009

• ISBN: 1600104835

Locke & Key, volume 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

• Paperback: 152 pages

• Publisher: IDW 2010

• ISBN: 1600106951

• Genre: Graphic Novel, Horror/Fantasy

• Recommended For: lovers of horror and fantasy; anyone who enjoys graphic novels.

Quick Review: Earns an 92 %, or 4.6 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Locke & Key 1-3 Rubric

This series is addicting and showcases what Hill is best at–characterization, and the mystery and magic within the plot forces the reader to imagine all the possibilities of Keyhouse. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy and horror as this series is highly imaginative and promises to be an awesome ongoing plot.

How I Got Here: I have read Hill’s two novels–Heart-Shaped Box and Horns— and would consider myself a fan of his work, eager to observe and support him as he develops as an author. So, it was only natural that I would check out his graphic novel series. Also, Locke & Key is huge at Comic-Con every year, so I have been wondering what I have been missing. Now, I can confidently attend the annual panel showcasing the series and hopefully MEET Joe Hill this summer and not be a total dingus. Finally, my girl Amy, from Lucy’s Football, is another Hill fan and highly recommended this series back in October when I was reading Horns. That was the kicker.

The Series: Synopsis from the Publisher, IDW



Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder: Locke & Key. Written by Hill and featuring astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez (Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Beowulf), Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them…. and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…

My Synopsis:

The series kicks off with a violent attack on a family and their subsequent move from northern California to Lovecraft, Maine (love the Lovecraft allusion, of course). The mourning Locke family consists of the eldest son Tyler, middle daughter Kinsey, and the youngest son Bode, along with their very damaged and alcoholic mother. The Lockes move into Keyhouse, which has been in the deceased father’s family for centuries. Keyhouse has many mysteries, including keys which always seem to appear to the precocious youngster Bode. Lurking in Keyhouse’s wellhouse is a malevolent spirit who goes by various names, but I’ll associate him with his pseudonym Dodge. As the series unfolds, the Locke children will have to uncover the mysteries of the keys and go head-to-head with the scheming Dodge.

My Analysis and Critique:

I really enjoyed the first three books in this graphic novel series! Each book ignited my imagination as the Locke children discovered new keys which unlocked new powers and abilities for whomever turned them. This series is like the horror version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking-Glass. It has everything my imagination craved as a young reader, but also the horror and adult themes for my adult self.

The pacing of the series is very tight, with back stories slowly unraveling, characters developing evenly, while action, horror, and mystery are sprinkled throughout. Basically, this series has everything that keeps readers turning pages ravenously and coming back for more.

Now my rundown on each book:

Welcome to Lovecraft:

This book served as the exposition to the series, providing the basic setup of initial conflict with Rendell’s (the Locke patriarch) murder and the family’s subsequent struggle in dealing with the attack and the loss of Rendell.

Welcome to Lovecraft also introduces us to all of the primary characters of the series. Readers meet the Locke kids–we see Tyler in his beloved Oakland A’s hat fishing, Kinsey with her dreadlocks and eyebrow piercing looking after her little brother Bode, who is using his imagination with a self-created treasure-finder. Throughout the rest of the book, the kids change due to the violence dealt to their family, yet stay true to their core personalities. I really enjoyed the character details throughout, and these characters felt very real–Tyler’s anger, Kinsey’s insecurities, and Bode’s aloofness as a young boy. The mother copes with her rape and her husband’s murder through drink, essentially abandoning her children to look out for themselves in their new environment in Lovecraft as she drinks her pain away. Again, this seems true.

Readers also meet the rest of the major cast of Locke & Key in this book: Duncan, the kind uncle who delivers the Locke family to Lovecraft and Keyhouse; Sam, the psychotic student killer of Rendell, who isn’t finished with the Locke family yet; and Echo, the strange spirit girl living at the bottom of a well at Keyhouse.

Hill’s greatest strength in this book is his characterization, but a close second would be what may be considered a character in its own right–Keyhouse. Keyhouse is an amazing old house full of colonial history and magical keys! Bode seems to be the “keymaster”, always uncovering the keys and discovering their uses. Being a child, he is, of course, more open to the idea of magic, so this makes sense. The keys are magic–and they are so cool! In this book, there is the introduction to five keys–the Ghost key (when turned in a certain door, the user becomes a ghost), the Gender key (changes one’s gender), the Echo key (I still don’t get this one, but it has something to do with echos, and it imprisoned the girl at the bottom of the well), the Anywhere key (it takes you anywhere!) and the mysterious omega key (it’s a mystery, I don’t know what it does).

Overall, I enjoyed this book as an introduction to the rest of the series, but, as usual, I don’t like book beginnings, so this book is my least favorite. Yet, it is a very good setup for the rest of the series.

Bonus Feature at the End: an awesome piece of artwork that features the inside of Bode’s head!

Locke and Key Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill

Head Games:

Locke and Key Head Games by Joe HillHere the series really picks up with a lot of back story on various characters. We learn more about the malevolent Dodge (who is Echo in book one and now goes by the name Zach in his newest incarnation). We also learn more about who Duncan is and are introduced to another key character, Ellie, who is very much tied up with Dodge. Via Ellie’s story, we meet her son Rufus, who promises to be a very interesting character throughout the series.

The book also centers around a new key that Bode has found–one that literally opens one’s head! The head key provides the opportunity for its users to add in and take out whatever they want from their own heads! Via this plot development, we get to see some really cool artwork of what the insides of our characters’ heads look like (for example, Bode’s is full of dinosaurs and robots and playing with his family). Obviously, this works really well for further character development. The head key also provides opportunities for mischief when Dodge gets a hold of it, as he moves throughout the book, tampering with people’s heads.

I really enjoyed this book as it stirred up my imagination and filled me with wonder. Also, there are so many good mysteries started, via the back stories, that I am curious to know more about what has happened before at Keyhouse, and with Dodge. Who is Dodge? What is his purpose? How did he get to Keyhouse?

Bonus Feature at the End: an awesome extra that focuses upon the history of the keys. Readers get to check out excerpts from the diary of Benjamin Pierce Locke, who created the keys during the Revolution. I loved this extra, especially since it only stirred up more curiosity and questions for me!

Locke and Key Head Games by Joe Hill

Crown of Shadows:

Locke and Key Crown of Shadows Joe HillMy favorite of the series! The Locke kids are finally getting it together and finding strength and developing into firmly-rooted characters!

This book was darker as Dodge has discovered the Shadow key, which unlocks shadows to act at your bidding. Of course, Dodge uses it for his malicious purposes, unleashing creepy shadows on the Locke kids at Keyhouse as they are home alone. These were the best scenes of the book.

Second-best part of the book was Kinsey’s development. In this book, she earned the title of my favorite character in the series. She gets into some hijinks at the beginning of the book with some new characters, Scot and Jamal, and by the end of the book, these two quirky characters become her closest friends. I love these two boys, and I hope they become a major part of the storyline as their quirkyness will add to the plot. I’d love to see them joining forces with the Locke kids as they battle Dodge.

Finally, this book introduced some more keys that have exciting implications. As mentioned before, there is the Shadow Key, but the Locke mother (who is my least favorite character with her alcoholic self-pity) discovers a new key that fixes things. I’m not sure how this will be used, but I’m sure it will bring about some interesting plot development. In addition, Tyler found the Giant key, which was very helpful in the battle against the shadows.

Bonus Feature at the End: more keys added to Benjamin Locke’s diary! The excerpts from the history of the keys now includes the Shadow key, the Giant key, and the Mending key!

Miscellaneous Praises and Gripes:

– I still don’t get the Echo key. I don’t understand its purpose and how it works.

– I love scanning the books in the background of each of the comic’s panels. Among the books in Keyhouse, you’ll find (of course) Lovecraft, Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.

– While Tyler and Kinsey are supposed to be in high school, it doesn’t seem like a high school. It comes off as more of a college. I guess it’s a private school. However, it keeps throwing me off!

Locke and Key Crown of Shadows Joe Hill

– Along the same lines, it doesn’t seem like a high school because Scot has tattoos! What’s up with that? I don’t know of any high-school-age teens with a bunch of tats! That bugged me too. Is that an art issue? Or a characterization issue?

– Final gripe: why does the mom always have to be wearing tops with her boobs all out? Her boobs are her most defining feature (next to the ever-present wine glass/bottle). Confusing for a mother character to be treated so sexually. I guess it’s a comic book thing.

Locke and Key Crown of Shadows Joe Hill


Goodreads Reviews:

Welcome to Lovecraft

Head Games

Crown of Shadows

Using’s number generator, I have selected four book winners! Here they are!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: the winner is Arabella of The Genteel Arsenal!

And Then There Were None: the winner is Jared Q!

A Visit from the Goon Squad: the winner is Lena M!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: the winner is Ankit of Ankit the Reviewer!

The winners have two days to respond to my emails before I select new winners.

FYI, there were not many entries for these books. Thus, for future reference, if you have any interest in the books I am giving away, you should really sign up! For a few of these, there was a 1 in 4 chance! That’s pretty good odds, people!

From here on, I will probably only give away a book at a time, depending upon my monetary funds. : )

This week, I am offering up my gently-used, paperback copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Here is Goodreads’ Synopsis:

 A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

To enter this contest, simply fill out the form below with your name and contact info. This contest will run for a week, the winner will be selected at random (using a random generator) and I will announce the winner and mail the book out the following week! Please enter, as I am ready to share!

This giveaway has ended!

I haven’t checked in with the Sunday Salon in a while, so today is a good time to do so!

Well, as mentioned on Friday, I was in an apathetic funk all week. I didn’t do much of anything, including blogging. I did write a Happy Birthday post for Charles Dickens, as it would’ve been wrong not to as I spent so much time getting to know him in January. Which, by the way, I did complete all of my posts for Charles Dickens month and finished Bleak House in January. Win for me!

I have been reading in my funk, and am still reading Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw and I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. I should have both books finished this week. Yesterday, I picked up volumes 2 and 3 of Locke and Key by Joe Hill at Mysterious Galaxy Mysterious Galaxy bookstore San Diegobookstore, so I’ll be reading those this week as well.

Speaking of Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, after much debate about affiliation, I have decided to hitch my wagon to Mysterious Galaxy and IndieBound books as an affiliate. For the last month or so, I have been considering what it means to be an affiliate, and would it be like selling out or going commercial if I did so? Am I plugging in like Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival? I don’t want my blog to be a crummy commercial. After being approached by Audible and I considered Amazon, I decided that I would affiliate my blog with something that can use some attention. I realized that I could use affiliation to show my love for my favorite bookstore and help support other struggling independent bookstores. So, I applied for and was accepted as an affiliate for Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore and IndieBound. Now, if, by some off-chance, a reader clicks on one of the links that is connected to MG books or IndieBound AND decides to BUY the book via the link, I will get a small commission. However, that is unlikely, although it would be very cool. But, at least I am spreading the word about independent bookstores and Mysterious Galaxy, the coolest bookstores in Southern California (there are two- one in San Diego and one in Redondo Beach).

Another blogging thing I was considering was copyright. I see all of my friends’ blogs have little copyright symbols or some sort of copyright statement at the bottom of their page. What’s the deal with this? Do I need to do this? What do I need to do to get started on this? If anyone can give me some advice on this topic, I’d appreciate it!

Meanwhile, in my outside-of-blogging life, my husband and I have a dilemma on our hands. It looks like this:

Morgan Freeman the stray cat

This is a young gentleman who we like to call Mr. Fluffers or Morgan Freeman (he’s so cool and calm around our own hissing cats that he seems to be ready to handle any job in a crisis, much like Freeman in his presidential roles). He’s been hanging out on our porch the last few days, and the collar that he wore on Wednesday is no longer there. So, there is no contact info. One of his eyes is sorta cataract-y, and he’s awfully thin and needy, so we decided to let him into the house last night. Our little lady cats are not too happy with this decision, but what are we to do? He might get eaten by a coyote or beaten up by one of those ginormous raccoons I see fishing in the sewers. Today, I will make some posters to post around the neighborhood and put a “found cat” listing on Craig’s List. Then, today or tomorrow, I will take him into a vet or the humane society to see if he has a microchip that we can scan. Poor Morgan Freeman. Is he somebody’s lost baby? Is he abandoned? Who are you Morgan Freeman?

Other mentionables before I sign off on Sunday–

I am offering four giveaways this week! I am giving away Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and And Then There Were None. These are all in very good condition (Kavalier and Clay and And Then There Were None are brand new!) and are all very popular and/or acclaimed books. I will mail them out next week, to anywhere! So, sign up people! I don’t have that many followers on my site, and not many people have signed up, so you have a very good chance of winning! Just do it! Click on the links attached to each of the titles above to be directed to the announcement post and sign-up form. All I need is your name and contact info. That’s it! You don’t have to follow my blog and you don’t need to leave a comment. I’m just trying to share the love with other book lovers!

• I should be posting my reviews of The Drawing of the Three and Locke and Key, vol. 1 this week. Be on the lookout for those!

the Stephen King Project• Obviously, January is over, and I have not yet shared my challenges progress. I will do that now!

Charles Dickens Month in January–COMPLETE, with Bleak House read and 5 Dickens- related posts written.

End of the World Challenge: have read 2952 pages toward my goal of 3500 pages (really? only 3500 pages? that’s the end of the world? someone has to have won by now. I’ll be done with this challenge by the end of the week! oh, I just read the rules. it’s the person who reads the most pages by the end of the year that gets paid out a penny per page via giftcard, up to a limit of 3500 pages. I see…).

The Stephen King Project: have read two books towards my goal of 12 books. This will be a piece of cake!

The Dark Tower Challenge: have read the first two books of the series. I am actually holding myself back from reading The Wastelands right now. I want to have just finished Wizard and Glass when The Wind Through the Keyhole comes out in late April. I guess I’ll read a book per month!

The Award-Winning Challenge: have read two books towards this challenge, and am currently working on the third.

Back to the Classics Challenge and A Classics Challenge: have read one book towards both of these challenges, and am working on the second. I have written one post for A Classics Challenge, and will probably put my February post out later this week.

What’s in a Name Challenge: Have read one book (Bleak House) towards the challenge. 5 more to go!

Well, I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday! If you have any advice regarding copyrighting blogs, please leave a comment! Well, of course, please leave a comment about whatever you want. Also, don’t forget to sign up for one of my giveaways! I want to give you a book!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Here is the final of four giveaways here at Adventures in Borkdom, and it’s a classic mystery!

I am offering a paperback, brand-spanking new, never read, nor written-in copy of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I received two free copies of this at last year’s ALA Midwinter Conference and am ready to part with one.

This is one of my all-time favorite books, and is surely my favorite mystery! If you haven’t read it before, you’ve gotta, and if you have, don’t you need a brand new copy of your own?

Here’s Goodreads’ synopsis of the book:

The World’s Bestselling Mystery

“Ten . . .” Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U.N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .” At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .” Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die.

“Seven . . .” Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Here is my review: BOOK REVIEW: And Then There Were None 

To enter this contest, simply fill out the form below with your name and contact info. This contest will run for a week, the winner will be selected at random (using a random generator) and I will announce the winner and mail the book out the following week! Please enter, as I am ready to share!

This giveaway has ended.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Alright, here is the first of four book giveaways going on this week at Adventures in Borkdom.

I am offering a hardcover, only once-read, never written-in copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Here’s Goodreads’ synopsis of the book:

A mysterious island.
An abandoned orphanage.
A strange collection of very curious photographs.
It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

To enter this contest, simply fill out the form below with your name and contact info. This contest will run for a week, the winner will be selected at random (using a random generator) and I will announce the winner and mail the book out the following week! Please enter, as I am ready to share!

This giveaway has ended.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

• Hardcover: 1069 pages

• Publisher: Heron Books, No Publishing Date available (originally published in 1853)

• ISBN: 1300203016R3

• Genre: Classic; Victorian Novel

• Recommended For: Anyone who enjoys classic novels rich with characters, plot twists, masterful language and tone, and satire.

Quick Review: Earns a 94 %, or 4.7 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Bleak House Review Rubric

Truly canonical and a classic. What all great literature should strive for: a balance of well-constructed plot, lively and real characters, perfection in tone, language, and style, and a multitude of themes that forces the reader to ruminate.

How I Got Here: I found some beautiful hardcover copies of Bleak House (split into Part 1 and 2) at a used-bookstore, and decided that I would kick off my Classics challenges with this novel. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since November!

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

Bleak House opens in the twilight of foggy London, where fog grips the city most densely in the Court of Chancery. The obscure case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs, the romance of Esther Summerson and the secrets of her origin, the sleuthing of Detective Inspector Bucket and the fate of Jo the crossing-sweeper, these are some of the lives Dickens invokes to portray London society, rich and poor, as no other novelist has done. Bleak House, in its atmosphere, symbolism and magnificent bleak comedy, is often regarded as the best of Dickens. A ‘great Victorian novel’, it is so inventive in its competing plots and styles that it eludes interpretation.

‘Perhaps his best novel … when Dickens wrote Bleak House he had grown up’

G. K. Chesterton

‘One of the finest of all English satires’

Terry Eagleton

My Analysis and Critique:

I have written so much on Dickens this month, and as Bleak House is near-perfect as a novel, I will categorize my praise into literary elements:

Plot: Simply amazing. Dickens made use of cliffhangers, detective-style story-telling, and gave closure to all characters and storylines. Surprises abound. I thought the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case might still be going on at the end, but that too was resolved, to my (and the characters’) surprise. Part comedy, part caper, part melodrama, part romance–all good!

Characters: The most amazing characters! Not a single one (well over 50, in my self-made character list) was minor, and each had their own well-defined voice. For more on Dickens’ use of characterization, read my previous feature post.

Theme: So many ongoing and critical themes! The mess of the legal system. The social inequities of London. Misguided philanthropy. The varying types of love. So much to ruminate over in this book. I loved it!

Setting: So often praised for his plot, characters, and themes, I think Dickens’ use of setting might often be overlooked. As I mentioned in a previous post, London is, in itself, a character in this novel. Dickens explores and showcases all sorts of areas in London: Chancery Court, Tom-all-Alones, and the townhouses of the wealthy. Other scenes come to life as well- the rich countryside of Jarndyce’s Bleak House and the homeland of the Dedlocks and Boythorn, Chesney Wold. He even spends a short time in a factory town in the north. All were alive and well-illustrated in this novel.

Style: Dickens’ voice, his satire, his comedy, his disgust and joy, really make this story real, as if you are gathered around Dickens, listening to him tell it. It really makes you envious of those Victorians who lined up to listen to his public readings. He was a very gifted writer; his words are put together as well as Shakespeare’s, and they are a treasure. Like Shakespeare, I think Dickens is one I will want to read again, if simply for his phrasing and the delight I feel at his genius use of language.

One Minor Gripe: Esther. Esther takes turns with Dickens as narrator in this novel, and many readers are terribly annoyed with her. I am not as annoyed by Esther’s sweetness and naiveté as other reviewers, but I do have one issue with her. At the mid-point of the story, she has some belief that a certain man has been in love with her, but won’t love her anymore for certain circumstances (as Mr. Guppy would put it). So, tragically, she gives up this potential romance and goes on being a constant shoulder to everyone around her.

The problem is, I never saw where she got this idea of a budding romance. She certainly had a crush on him, but there was no evidence in the storyline to show that the feelings were reciprocated. We (she, and I, the reader) barely ever even saw him! Well, I saw him more than she did, when Dickens was narrating, but she wasn’t there! From what I saw, they had barely ever had any dialogue and saw each other only a few times at this point. I’m not sure if this was a flaw in Dickens’ plot or characterization. So, I blame Esther. She’s making things up in her head. That’s all there is to it!


Goodreads Reviews

My reflection on Dickens’ life: Classic Authors: They’re Just Like Us! Part One and Two

My discussion on the Court of Chancery (a major part of the story): Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!”

My reflection on Dickens’ use of characterization in Bleak House: Dickens: The Master of Characterization

My reflection on Dickens’ views on philanthropy: “Spasmodic Benevolence”: Dickens and Philanthropy