Posted by: labbott12 | September 15, 2010

Setting the Scene of Dickens’ “Bleak House”

As a student who identifies as a very visual learner, I am finding Dickens’ Bleak House a rich and enticingly visual read. I’m a lover of Masterpiece Theatre and often find my way into a novel as thick as Bleak House with a little help from the Netflix gods. However, after plunging into the novel’s pages, I found that I remembered the adaptation from when it was originally aired on PBS a few years back. The film was stunningly beautiful in its cinematography and art design; from the opening scene of Lady Dedlock looking out the window on the eternally gray skies to the musty office of Kenge and Carboy, the film’s atmosphere was thick and tangible. From Dickens’ first page, the visual and atmospheric nature of the novel is introduced with the fantastic passage that reads,

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits anf meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside  pollutions of a great (and dirty) city…Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of a fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.”(17)

As a sixth-grader about to open up her first Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, I was terrified of the length, density of the small type, and overall hype about the novel being categorized as a “classic”. What I quickly discovered was that Dickens was the kind of writer who could create an entire world of image and atmosphere in your mind’s eye, and reading his novels was like stepping onto the set of a Masterpiece Theatre film…I fell in love. While reading Bleak House, I remember why it is I love Dickens’ words and how he masterfully groups them on the page. With this passage about the fog, the reader sees the fog creeping over the city and into the lungs of its inhabitants. As the fog covers the city in Dickens’ first page, a sort of cloak beckons the reader into this world of characters she is about to encounter and sets the stage as if a fog machine were switched on, for an eerie and bizarre world of characters and happenings to be uncovered.

Dickens takes the care to introduce each character and set each scene with the most visual of descriptions that the Netflix gods seem obsolete at times…yet, who can really resist a cozy night of Masterpiece Theatre and tea 🙂


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