Saturday, May 26, 2012

Instalment III - Chapters 8 - 10

I haven't given up on Bleak House, I've just been lazy about actually writing on it...

The third instalment of Bleak House, sent out to subscribers in May 1852 covers chapters 8 - 10.  This being a rather slow boil of a book means that there is much continuation and not a massive amount of plot exposition.  In chapter 8 we are treated to yet more Dickensian satirical savagery, this time directed towards what he obviously saw as meddling 'do-gooder' societies.  Mr. Jarndyce has a rant against these trivial types of charitable, upper class societies.

However Dickens doesn't just tackle the subject from a humurous side.  In Mrs Pardiggle's visit to the brickmaker later in the chapter, we are shown the tragic side of poverty and the vainglorious efforts to combat it.  Mrs Pardiggle blows in, making a great fuss about the dirt and godlessness nature of their home, and pretty much misses the fact that there is a girl nursing a dead baby the entire time.  It's still pretty upsetting, actually.

This must have been upsetting but also unsettling, if not shocking, to a Victorian English readership.  The Victorians had a fairly rigid class system but would have seen itself as quite liberal in its general attitudes towards the poor - they would have taken great pride in being the enlightened nation that abolished slavery, for example. 

I think that Dickens' aim was to show upper and upper middle-class's efforts of charity for what they were, which was patronising, paternalistic and above all mostly useless.  Although it was to be a long time before a different model of social welfare was to come about (just under 100 years in the UK), Dickens, amongst others, helped to plant the ideas that there was something wrong with a system that basically relied on ineffective private charities run essentially to massage the egos of those involved.  He might not have suggested that the Government got involved, but it's really the only alternative to this type of system.

On a more basic plot level, a few other lines are emerging if still fairly maddeningly vague at the moment.  We are introduced to yet another of the 18,000 characters, the thoroughly AWESOME Mr.Lawrence Boythorn, who is also tangled up in all sorts of lawsuits.  Richard and Ada are all loved up.  Esther turns down a marriage proposal from a Mr. Guppy (I assume everyone is going to get married in the end, the Victorians wouldn't have stood for anything else. There would have been riots.  Or at least strongly-worded letters).  There's also a great cliff-hanger at the end which I had to force myself not to continue reading, when Mr. Tulkinghorn visits a opium-addled scribe for some nefarious reason, and the instalment ends with the man possibly dead (or maybe just very stoned) and the former's candle blowing out.  Scary stuff!  Can't wait to read what happens next!