Charles Dickens's Bleak House - Dr. Laura C. Berry

Charles Dickens's Bleak House – Dr. Laura C. Berry

Bleak House is often said to be Dickens’s greatest novel; certainly it is one of his most compelling and enjoyable. We will spend four intense and rewarding weeks reading this masterpiece in its original installments, paying close attention to themes of loss, law, social class, secrecy, and inheritance. We will also explore Dickens’s astonishing use of language by way of close reading. Two critical lenses will guide us: the historical view and a psychological perspective. In addition to what I hope will be a lively discussion of the material, we will examine relevant materials from the period.

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Bleak House is one of the best novels ever written it begins with the line fog everywhere and I love that line because it's very London II fog creeps about in a Sherlock Holmes Ian way in London and also I think it describes one of the things about the novel that I love best and that is that fog moves between and among it goes through the upper classes the lower class is in the down-and-out parts of London to the very highest parts of London and that's really what the novel is about the circulation of people things disease law processes it's a wonderful novel because of its plot which is about law in part and it's wonderful because of the language the 19th century novel generally is the kind of space in which people their inner selves is explored deeply we don't do that in the modern novel anymore or not usually we like to talk about the postmodern novel but I'm really a Victorian myself I was the kind of child who sat in a chair and absorbed Jane Eyre and imagined myself to be Jane and even as a scholar now I still retain that part of me that wants to get in a chair on a rainy afternoon and just read and read and read and plotting makes that easy 19th century novels are filled with plot and people often say why so many coincidences why didn't she know that was her father why didn't she know who he was after her why wasn't she aware that she was pregnant I think the reason for coincidence in 19th century novels is that their point of view about the world the perspective the Victorians took and I have to say it's one that I share is that the world is a web a place where everything is connected where in fact you turn a corner and the crossing sweeper boy is your long-lost son or your mother is the servant girl or in fact the high lady did commit the crime I'm an associate professor of English here at the University of Arizona and I also have the great pleasure of working at the Honors College with Dean Patricia mccorkadale associate dean in the Honors College as well I've been teaching and studying Victorian novels since I was about nine years old and preparing for them long before that even before I learned to read I'm a close observer of people and that makes me a good reader of novels I loved the ins and outs and the trauma the difficulty the joy and the ecstasy of people's lives that you find in 19th century novels this is my first time teaching for the humanities seminar program I can't tell you how excited I am to do it I look forward to meeting each and every one of you and introducing you to the world of Dickens and also for those of you who have a lot of experience with Dickens providing background information context to make that experience as enjoyable as possible there's nothing more fun than teaching Dickens I can say nothing I look forward to meeting him you


  1. As much as anything else, it is a novel about all the ways in which people and things can become trapped. People are trapped by the endless machinations of Chancery; they are trapped within the stifling fog of its processes and their own ignorance. They are trapped by greed and expectation, by righteousness, by inheritance, by anger, by frustration. They are trapped by poverty, trapped equally by social status and wealth; trapped by convention; trapped by lies; trapped by religion; trapped by their own birth; trapped by history — trapped by by inheritance in all its forms. Trapped by childhood, by confinement, by powerlessness… Miss Flite's birds (representing human emotions and hope) are trapped in cages like Miss Flite has been trapped by Chancery. A small boy gets his head trapped between railings. Dickens could not be clearer. People are trapped by encroaching circumstances, by the gathering plot, by the evil machinations of others, by foolish dalliances, by their obsolete love letters…. People are trapped by the predation of the law, by an indefatigable detective, and finally they are trapped by themselves. And then the reader is trapped within the fiction, within the plot, within the language… Enjoy being trapped! And then think of the ways in which it is part realism and part fairy-tale. Dickens's love of 'The Arabian Nights' is a strong thematic and atmospheric presence throughout. 'Bleak House' is a 'magical-realist' novel a century before magical-realism was supposed to exist. And look for the mysterious parts, which Dickens clearly wants to emphasise: what is going on with Esther and that doll? What is going on with the dead baby and the halo in the house of the brickmakers? What is the 'ghost walk' all about? Dickens tells us in the introduction that his mind is halfway between realism and the paranormal by defending 'spontaneous combustion.' His character names are metaphors and processes; we are decidedly not in the realm of realism, however realistic his details about the city.

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