With an Introduction and Notes by Doreen Roberts, University of Kent at Canterbury Bleak House is one of Dickens' finest achievements, establishing his reputation as a serious and mature novelist, as well as a brilliant comic writer. It is at once a complex mystery story that fully engages the reader in the work of detection, and an unforgettable indictment of an indifferent society. Its representations of a great city's underworld, and of the law's corruption and delay, draw upon the author's personal knowledge and experience. But it is his symbolic art that projects these things in a vision that embraces black comedy, cosmic farce, and tragic ruin. In a unique creative experiment, Dickens divides the narrative between his heroine, Esther Summerson, who is psychologically interesting in her own right, and an unnamed narrator whose perspective both complements and challenges hers.
Bleak House is a satirical look at the Byzantine legal system in London as it consumes the minds and talents of the greedy and nearly destroys the lives of innocents--a contemporary tale indeed. Dickens's tale takes us from the foggy dank streets of London and the maze of the Inns of Court to the peaceful countryside of England. Likewise, the characters run from murderous villains to virtuous girls, from a devoted lover to a "fallen woman," all of whom are affected by a legal suit in which there will, of course, be no winner. The first-person narrative related by the orphan Esther is particularly sweet. The articulate reading by the acclaimed British actor Paul Scofield, whose distinctive broad English accent lends just the right degree of sonority and humor to the text, brings out the color in this classic social commentary disguised as a Victorian drama. However, to abridge Dickens is, well, a Dickensian task, the results of which make for a story in which the author's convoluted plot lines and twists of fate play out in what seems to be a fast-forward format. Listeners must pay close attention in order to keep up with the multiple narratives and cast of curious characters, including the memorable Inspector Bucket and Mr. Guppy. Fortunately, the publisher provides a partial list of characters on the inside jacket. (Running time: 3 hours; 2 cassettes)