As a precocious young thing at the beginning of my reading career, on visits to the library I was usually to be found ogling all the old books – you know, the leather bound volumes on the top shelf with titles you can barely read and authors who died centuries ago. Predictably, Dickens was one of those nigh indecipherable names that I couldn’t keep away from. Despite it being above my reading level, I struggled through The Old Curiosity Shop as a preteen, a labor of love for all things old and important looking. Although the details of the story are lost to me now, what I do remember about that book is the illustrations: beautiful, ink illustrations that I quite possibly spent more time looking at than I did actually reading the text. Remembering my first run in with Charles Dickens, as I began to read Bleak House I just had to ask a question – and that is, where are the illustrations?
They are here:
To me, one of the most striking things about Dickens’ world is the darkness. The dim, sooty air that seems to permeate the heart of all his stories – that is what I think of when I think of Dickens, and this illustrator has captured that beautifully. The cascade of characters and the wealth of detail in a Dickens novel can often be overwhelming – indeed, it is difficult to keep track of everyone and everything – but I find the illustrations to have a grounding effect. The visual representation confirms what I have been reading, it reinforces my imagination, and it feels like part of the experience of reading the story.
On another note, I’m glad the BBC Bleak House miniseries was mentioned, and I want to add that I really loved it – definitely worth watching. And it’s on Netflix Watch Instantly. Booyah.