Friday, April 13, 2012

Part II: Chapters 4-7

So, I finally got around to reading and more importantly posting about the next part of Bleak House. First of all , a note on the 'meta' experience (by that I mean the actual process of reading the novel as it was originally published).  It has to be said that the amount in each part is surprisingly short, almost frustratingly so.  I was thinking a little bit about the reasons for this, and I have a couple of theories. 

While Dickens was quite prolific, the actual process of writing a novel at this time was orders of magnitude more time-consuming and technically difficult than it is today.  Firstly, the whole 'issue' would have been written out manuscript (a fancy word for by hand) by Dickens, involving lots of rewriting, crossing out, and the hand of an editor.  Then it had to be typeset, which involved painstakingly setting rows and rows of tiny letters into a wooden frame for a printing press.  Then it had to be printed (pretty much manually, page by page) and bound, then sent to subscribers all around Britain.  Even though Dickens by the time of Bleak House had access to the best publishing and printing technology money could but, it was still a very long process and perhaps this is why each issue is only 40 or 50 pages.

My second idea is a little more far-fetched.  I wonder if it has to do with literacy ability in the 19th Century?  While it's true that many households of the increasingly-sized middle class were literate thanks to a reasonably recent primary school system, I am curious as to the quality or ability of the readers of Bleak House.  Even in middle class homes, many students would have stopped their education at the beginning of their teens, and I would hazard a guess that the speed and accuracy of reading, even among those who could be said to be fully literate, must have been much lower than it was today.  Is it possible that 40 or 50 pages would have felt more like 100 or 150?  Do we have a way of quantifying literacy quality?

So, the chapters themselves.  Well, we were introduced to the eponymous Bleak House.   I have to say that for such a foreboding name, the place sounds actually quite nice.  We were introduced to two new characters, Mr. Jarndyce, the owner of the house and who seems like a fairly decent chap, if a little dull, and the much more interesting, if slightly creepy Harold Skimpole.  Other than that not a whole lot happened... 

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