To go into Bleak House (the novel) you must go into the fog, the thick fog at the begining of the book. First you see it wetting and clogging streets, rooms, windows, boats, river banks, the whole sky and the whole city of London. Then it turns into a metaphorical fog inside Chancery Lane. And it’s not only the fog, but the mud, mud and mire, a sticky, churning substance that clings onto people and carriages, dogs, horses and dresses, reason, justice and good will, soiling them, wearing them off.
So I opened the book and entered the fog, it’s visions. I listened to the voice of the omniscient narrator (which is, more or less, Dickens’ own voice). It had the power to summon all kinds of things while it kept the fog going, moving slowly, forcing the world to move slowly in its wake.
The fog hinders our ability to see, but it also makes it possible. The narrator seems to be giving an account of every thing touched by the fog. Maybe because of it we are short sighted, we have to get near to discern people and objects, but the voice guides us, lighting the darkness and sharpening the blurry apparitions.
In this way, the reader (that was me) got entangled in those tentacles of pale, dirty clouds, and moved ahead with difficulty. (It happened that my head was also a bit foggy those days.)
I hadn’t read a XIXth century novel for a while and I came from much quicker roads, so I also had to adjust to the new pace. It took some time and I took my time, just as the author had took his to write the novel (too many pages, indeed, for an evening’s read).
Besides, I love the fog.
I didn’t mind retracing my steps and staying there for a while.
Modern novels are films. Old ones are a mix of tragedy and comedy represented on the stage of the reader’s mind.
Everything took more time in those days when novels were written along large, minute chapters and published in long awaited installments.
One of their pleasures is the slow time they invite us to.
In Bleak House the parts that flow from the voice of the omniscient narrator are the slowest, with wonderful descriptions that bring to life characters and places. Long sentences full of connections frequently display humorous tones and different forms of irony, which is a peculiar way of putting things in connection. The narrative undertaken by Esther Summerson is more vivacious, written in a plainer English, but also representative of her wit and her whole personality. And the different narratives and chapters stretch minutely across encounters and scenes of social life, dialogues, roads, fields and houses.
So let yourseIf drift in the fog and you’ll be starting a delightful journey. A hot, dreary summer is waiting pages ahead, and a cruel winter, and lots of sad, cheerful, intriguing or comical situations. Bleak House and Chesney Wold, Tom’s All Alone and the Deadlocks’ house in London… A whole world of scenes and characters that act their parts in the living fog of the reader’s imagination.