I’m going to start on a personal basis in this post, leading up to that giant of 19th century literature, Charles Dickens. I read my first full Dickens novel at about the age of 12, when I was cast as Oliver in the production of Lionel Bart’s eponymous musical at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. Feeling I should know something about the source, I read Oliver Twist, and shortly afterwards was considering myself, asking who will buy and wondering where on earth love had got to.
Not actually me, thankfully, but you get the picture.
I’ve always found the spines of Dickens’ novels intimidating. You look at them on the shelf and think ‘Wow, those are BIG books!’ But equally, I have always found taking them off the shelf, opening and reading them, a delight. He could really write, with great characters, verve, humour and great pathos too. There is also a real concern with social conditions which led to debt and poverty, partly borne out of his own childhood experiences. I can go back and reread Great Expectations at any point, and it is always enthralling and offers new enjoyment. And who cannot shed a tear at Pip’s slow emergence from his illness under Joe’s care towards the end of the novel?
Bleak House is one of those mighty novels, as well as a fascinating and fantastic one. Dickens wrote some of the book in St Albans and some claim that a large 18th century house on Folly Lane, known as Bleak House, is the site that Dickens had in mind but there is no concrete evidence to link this building with the novel. Dickens stayed at a house in Broadstairs for a month each summer throughout the 1940s. It is also now also known as Bleak House, but at the time was called Fort House, so there is no evidence that Dickens used this building either as his basis for the house in his novel. The BBC produced a brilliant adaptation of this novel in 2015, with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dredlock. It’s on YouTube for purchase:
And why not pop down to the Dickens Museum if you get to London?
This all leads up to the release into cinemas of Amando Iannucci’s adaptation of another of Dickens’ great novels, David Copperfield, his most autobiographical work. In its casting and conception, the film challenges convention, but recognises that Dickens’ social concerns are still all too relevant in London.
Why not give it a go? Then read the novel?