‘Bleak House’ Comes To The End

Last night I finished reading my Folio Society edition of ‘Bleak House’ By Charles Dickens.

First published in instalments from March 1852 to August 1853, this is a superb novel from a writer at the peak of his powers. As is my wont I will not provide details of the story which other readers may wish to discover for themselves, save to say that, through the interminable case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, it is a scathing attack on the Court of Chancery, but so much more besides. The scope and complexity of the author’s work reflects that of the legal system itself.

A host of brilliantly depicted characters thread their ways through the narrative in a more thoroughly composed manner than in any of his previous works. There is an abundance of Dickens’s wit and humour and both bucolic and sordid urban descriptions.

There is romance and mystery awaiting resolution at the end of the book, when, as usual, the concluding situations of the panoply of protagonists and supporting characters are strung together like neatly tied bundles of Chancery papers.

There are also desperately tragic lives hopelessly ruined by conditions of the day.

Christopher Hibbert’s introduction is as knowledgeable and informative as usual.

Before lunch I scanned the last four illustrations by the truly inimitable Charles Keeping.

In ‘ ‘I beg to lay the ouse, the business, and myself before Miss Summerson’ ‘ Keeping has suggested the gulf between the speaker and his audience both by the use of the space in the double spread, and by the expressions on the faces.

‘Even the clerks were laughing’ has its own story to tell.

‘The mausoleum in the park’ is suitably forbidding;

and ‘Bleak House’ Mark 2 quite the opposite.

Following Flo’s lead of transferring barrow loads of compost to the Rose Garden yesterday,

Jackie, who had cleaned out the water fountain, and I continued tidying the

said Garden, now featuring plentiful forget-me-nots and bluebells.

Later, Flo spread more compost on the Pond Bed.

(Yvonne, you need read no further)

This evening we dined on Jackie’s perfectly cooked roast lamb dinner; complete with crisp Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing, and roast potatoes, including the sweet variety; crunchy carrots, firm broccoli, and tender cabbage; all with meaty gravy. Rice pudding laced with strawberry jam was to follow. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank Patrick Chodot Fleurie 2019.

A Touch Of The Sun

This morning I finished reading my Folio Society edition of ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens.

I will adhere to my normal practice of not giving away the story, despite its great reputation. The book is very well crafted, displaying a number of developing relationships in a young man’s transition from humble origins to gentrification. There is plenty of humour in this otherwise tragic, yet romantic, tale. Two major characters are unforgettable, and “What larks” is a phrase still enjoyed. Dickens’s descriptive powers of place and scene are at their height. Much of the action is carried along at a fast pace; its dramatic opening and penultimate sequences are gripping.

Christopher Hibbert’s erudite introduction puts the novel into the context of the author’s life and work.

I scanned the last seven of Charles Keeping’s emotional, detailed, illustrations which demonstrate his mastery of line.

In ‘She withdrew her hands from the dish and fell back a step or two’ the artist faithfully portrays these hands as the author describes them.

‘I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire blazing all about her’

‘Mr Jaggers stood before the fire. Wemmick leaned back in his chair, staring at me’

‘I saw in his hand a stone hammer with a long heavy handle’

‘We went ahead among many skiff and wherries, briskly’

‘I laid my hand on his breast, and he put both his hands upon it’

‘What I had never felt before was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand’

Late in the afternoon the lingering pall draped over our land gave way to a sunny period, so we drove into the forest to enjoy it. Given the hour, we could take just one option before the light failed.

We settled on Highwood Lane in the north.

Ripples and reflections supplemented the stream running alongside;

smoke spiralled into the atmosphere redolent of burning leaves;

working horses some in rugs, were fed or rested.

I wandered about the woodland, so different from yesterday’s murky scenes. A touch of the sun makes all the difference.

This evening we dined on Mr Chan’s excellent Hordle Chinese Take Away fare, with which Jackie finished the Chenin Blanc and I drank more of the Shiraz.


One of our regular Christmas decorations is positioned under the glass of an African display table I bought in Finsbury Park in the late 1970s. It features our granddaughter Florence as Mary alongside Joseph in a Primary School Nativity Play.

I spent the afternoon completing my reading of my 1984 Folio Society Edition of Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son. Despite the emotional and practical difficulties in the author’s getting to grips with this work described by Christopher Hibbert in his excellent introduction, Dickens has produced what I have found his most engaging novel. I agree with Thackeray’s observation that “It is unsurpassed. It is stupendous”. All the writer’s descriptive skills; his humour; his flowing prose; his compassion; and his forward looking, come into play with a consummate construction not always apparent in other works. I was most impressed by the way in which he draws a large cast of characters together in the last few paragraphs as he brings the book to a complete conclusion. The lives are largely not happy ones, but they have credible participants, of which Florence is a key member. As usual I will refrain from giving any more detail in case any readers are tempted to tackle the tome.

Charles Keeping’s final septet of illustrations speak for themselves.

‘ ‘Sol Gills ahoy’ ‘

‘A burying-ground, where the few tombs and tombstones are almost black’

‘Nothing lay there, any longer, but the ruin of the mortal house’

‘He wept, alone’

‘Down among the mast, oar, and block makers’

‘Edith sunk down to her knees, and caught her round the neck’

‘The Wooden Midshipman’

This evening we dined on Jackie’s succulent beef in red wine; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots and broccoli; firm Brussels sprouts; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Merlot.

Woodland And Moorland

This morning I finished reading ‘Our Mutual Friend’ by Charles Dickens, and scanned the last three of Charles Keeping’s superb illustrations to my Folio Society edition of 1982.

‘Riderhood went over backward, Bradley Headstone upon him’

‘They both laughed, till they were tired’

‘A canopy of wet blanket seems to descend upon the company’

Christopher Hibbert’s introduction is useful and insightful.

I have to say that I found this novel at times quite heavy going. Hibbert opines that the author found the work difficult to write.

Dickens deals with the contrast between the false lives of the nouveau riche and the hardship and poverty of those living from hand to mouth. It is perhaps his distaste for the former group that makes their sequences boring to me.

The sets of parallel pairings of characters I found somewhat confusing – perhaps because I took so long to read the book. This possibly only became clear during the author’s typical summing up of how the protagonists lives panned out.

Dickens’s pacing, descriptive prose, and dry wit is still in evidence despite his struggle to complete the book.

Sensing that the River Thames itself is an important character sent me back to Peter Ackroyd’s history “Thames: Sacred River”. This former Literary Editor of The Times deals at length with our famous Victorian novelist’s drawing on the capital’s waterway, none more extensive than in ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

After lunch we sent a Birthday Card on it way from Everton Post Office, and continued briefly on a forest drive.

Burnt gorse and browned bracken straddled Holmsley Passage up which a group of women walked, passing pasturing ponies.

Among the woodland and the moorland alongside Bisterne Close grazed or dozed more ponies,

one of which enjoyed a good scratch against a convenient tree.

A log stack had been built to provide winter quarters for various forest fauna.

This evening we dined on Red Chilli’s excellent takeaway. Jackie enjoyed a Paneer Chicken starter with Saag Chicken to follow; my main choice was Tiger Prawn Dhansak. We shared Special Fried Rice and a Plain Naan. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Fleurie.

David Copperfield Is Born

On a most oppressively humid morning we continued with garden maintenance. Jackie weeded, planted, trimmed and composted while I dead-headed roses,

dug out two self seeded elder trees, and bagged up some of the refuse.

Steady rain set in after lunch. During a lull I dug out some brambles from the back drive borders, until a direct drenching downpour sent me dashing inside. A later let up enabled me to finish my task and grab a couple of pictures.

During the rest of the afternoon I began rereading:

The title page is accompanied by ‘I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I have often seen him lie at school. (p.727)’ offering an example of Mr Keeping’s imaginative perspectives.

As before, I will not add my own observations on this very well known classic, but will post Charles Keeping’s inimitable illustrations as I make my way along this novel of which Charles Dickens wrote in his preface to the 1869 edition: ‘Of all my books, I like this the best,’

‘ ‘Why, bless my heart!’ exclaimed Miss Betsey. ‘You are a very Baby!’ ‘

‘Mr Murdstone and I were soon off, and trotting along on the green turf’ – another vehicle for Keeping’s perspective skill.

‘We stopped to exchange an innocent kiss’ – keeping a safe distance.

Jackie had spent the afternoon at a very well catered for baby shower. She therefore had no need of a meal this evening, yet, for me she

reprised yesterday’s delicious marinaded chicken meal.

The Rebellion

Having now completed my reading of Charles Dickens’s “Nicholas Nickleby”, I scanned the last four of the dramatic and insightful Charles Keeping’s illustrations from my Folio Society edition of 1986.

‘They pressed forward to see’

‘ ‘Come,’ said Tim, ‘let’s be a comfortable couple’

‘The rebellion had just broken out’

‘One grey-haired, quiet, harmless gentleman’

Christopher Hibbert’s informative introduction puts this book – one of his earliest – in the context of the author’s life and times. Despite the campaign against the sadistic, exploitative, Yorkshire schools there is much of Dickens’s witty humour in this story of tragedy, romance, and mystery. It is so well known as to need no further comment from me.

Throughout this series Keeping’s drawings speak for themselves.

This afternoon, in order to make inroads into the weeds piercing the Rose Garden Brick Paths, I tore myself away from the Test Match commentary until after the tea break.

Here are two images from before my efforts;

and two scraped out and swept.

Jackie continued with much tidying and planting.

This evening we dined on pork chops coated with almonds; crisp roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding; crunchy carrots; firm cauliflower and broccoli, with tasty gravy. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank Collin-Bourisset Fleurie 2019.

A Tall Lean Boy

Today the air was cold and the light dull.

This morning Jackie and I each reached a corner of the bench while weeding the Shady Path. There is just the middle stretch to be completed. A yellow tree peony and a plethora of Welsh poppies can be seen in the surrounding beds.

The clematis Montana weaves about the lilac on the Back Drive.

When literary blogger josbees recommended that I reread chapter 2 of Nicholas Nickleby I had imagined that I would not read the whole book again, but would work my way through scanning Charles Keeping’s illustrations for my readers. In fact I was wrong. As the characters came flooding back to me after more than half a century, this Dickens novel is now one of the few I am happy to read again.

The frontispiece illustration is to ‘A tall lean boy, with a lantern in his hand, issued forth.’

‘Motioning them all out of the room, Mr Nickleby sunk exhausted on his pillow’ demonstrates Mr Keeping’s penchant for sandwiching a section of text into his drawing.

‘The clerk presented himself in Mr Nickleby’s room’ contains the artist’s skill at portraiture. The proximity of the houses seen through the window demonstrates the congested nature of the environment.

‘ ‘Mrs Nickleby,’ said the girl, throwing open the door, ‘here’s Mr Nickleby’ ‘ demonstrates Keeping’s adherence to the text. The young lady has hastily attempted to clean her dirty face with an even dirtier apron.

‘ ‘I have been thinking, Mr Squeers, of placing my two boys at your school’ ‘

‘A minute’s bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying of the vehicle to one side’ exemplifies the artist’s mastery of receding perspective by bursting the foreground range of portraits out of the frame.

Early this evening a friend of Jake, who I photographed Sunset Dancing last December, called to collect a print I had made for him. Jake now lives in The Netherlands, and earns a living skydiving.

Later, we dined on roast chicken thighs and roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans, with meaty gravy. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Recital.

A Curate’s Egg

I spent much of the day completing my reading of my Folio Society edition of Charles Dickens’s ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’. Much dogged determination and the illustrations of Charles Keeping were required to see me through it.

Christopher Hibbert’s informative introduction was helpful, and indicated that the author was pleased with his work.

The book was written in Dickens’s usual literary style with customary humour and descriptive powers. Somehow or other it failed to engage me, and the first section of almost two hundred pages was frankly boring. Perhaps it was that the characters introduced during this period were unlikeable, even though they were well delineated. Maybe it was the focus on scams and deception at home and abroad that was not to my liking. Although the trip to America and the unwholesome descriptions of the land and its representatives was more engaging, they were not at all flattering. Indeed they must have prompted Dickens, some quarter of a century later, to write a postscript which he insisted should be included with any future publication, as adhered to by The Folio Society, which can only be regarded as an apology, or at least a declaration of a change of heart. It seemed to me that, despite the lively narrative that interval added nothing to the story.

The creation of Mrs Gamp is comic genius, and the schemingly, smarmy, dishonest Mr Pecksniff is memorable, but it was difficult for me to raise much interest in the large number of others who were nevertheless tidily wrapped up in the final few chapters.

‘He sat quite still and silent’

‘Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation’

‘A figure came upon the landing, and stopped and gazed at him’ shows Keeping’s mastery of perspective.

‘He sank down in a heap against the wall, and never hoped again from that moment’

‘Mr Tapley stuck him up on the floor, with his back against the opposite wall’

‘ ‘Dear Ruth! Sweet Ruth!’ ‘ – now it can be acknowledged.

‘Miss Pecksniff dashed in so suddenly, that she was placed in an embarrassing position’ displays the artist’s idea of the lady’s mortification. Dickens was not so graphic.

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!” “True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895. A “curate’s egg” describes something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good. (From Wikipedia).

This evening we dined on more of Jackie’s sausages and mushrooms casserole ; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Malbec.

The Old Curiosity Shop

Early this morning I finished reading ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens, and scanned the last three of Charles Keeping’s illustrations to my Folio Society edition of 1987.

This book bears all the qualities of Mr Dickens’s story-telling. We have mystery, suspense, moving prose, humour, and more than a touch of sarcasm. There is a wealth of characters intricately knitted together. As is typical the personages are uncomplicated; they are either sinners or saints.

The prose flows at quite a rate; the descriptions of a range of locations from city to countryside are often lyrical, and at times unattractive. Dialogue expands characterisation, while refraining from irritating attempts at the vernacular such as sometimes employed elsewhere. Cameo introductions of various contemporary environments and individuals are informative. I find it is quite helpful that the author reminds us of characters we may have forgotten about.

Christopher Hibbert’s knowledgeable and informative introduction expresses the commonly held view that in this work Dickens is attempting to write out his grief at the death of his idealised and adored young sister-in-law.

Normally when I review a book I try not to reveal anything of the story. This has been largely adhered to despite my decision to feature every one of the artist’s exemplary illustrations. Mr Keeping’s final image does indicate the ending, but hopefully there is still much to discover for new readers.

‘The water toyed and sported with its ghastly freight’ is suitably grim.

The young gentleman in ‘Bidding the travellers farewell’ is recognisable from previous portraits, notably in the dock. It is clear that the young lady does not want him to leave.

‘She was dead, and past all help, or need of it’

For a number of years around the end of the last millennium, I performed a consultancy role at Portugal Prints, the Westminster Association of Mental Health project then situated in Portugal Street, WC2. This was around the corner from Portsmouth Street where stood the 16th century building which had inspired Charles Dickens as a starting point for this novel. I never actually entered the establishment in that incarnation because it was never open when I walked past and I probably couldn’t have fitted into it. Google now tells us that it is a high-end shoe shop.

A parcel arrived from Becky and Ian this morning. It contained a splendid Mother’s Day bouquet with small packet of fudge chocolates. Becky made the vase for Jessica and me when she was an art student at Newark in the early 1990s. The book is one of Becky’s presents to me for Christmas 2020. It lives on the coffee table. Jackie produced this photograph.

Just as I settled down to watch Six Nations rugby this afternoon, we suffered a power cut which meant I missed the first half of the game between Italy and Wales. Jackie decided to go shopping. There was some difficulty for her leaving the house, because

temporary traffic lights were in place to enable the electrical engineers to fix the problem of a line tangled in the conifers central to her picture.

The second rugby match was between England and France. While I watched that

the Assistant Photographer focussed on the sunset which signalled that the gale is over.

This evening we dined on oven haddock and chips, small peas, pickled onions, and gherkins with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Malbec.

Wet Roads

Rain beating a clamorous tattoo on the Modus roof; repetitive rapping from a thumping car radio; abrupt slamming of doors; crashing gears of handbrake ratchets; muffled muttering of masked voices; clicking stilettos clopping through puddles – all combined to distract me from the last chapters of ‘Little Dorrit’ as I waited in the car while Jackie shopped in Tesco this morning. Fortunately the rain had stopped when she brought her trolley load for me to unload into the boot.

Heavy rain soon set in again, and I finished reading my Folio Society edition of Charles Dickens’s ‘Little Dorrit’.

For fear of spoiling the story I will not add my own detailed review of this tale which has been printed in many editions and filmed for a BBC series in 2008 to the many that may be found on the internet.

I will simply quote the first paragraph of www.brittanica.com’s article:

Little Dorrit,  novel by Charles Dickens, published serially from 1855 to 1857 and in book form in 1857. The novel attacks the injustices of the contemporary English legal system, particularly the institution of debtors’ prison.’ and add that it is a love story with added mystery.

The writer’s flowing prose with sometimes poetic descriptive passages and witty humour mostly captivates, although some of the more boring characters had my interest flagging occasionally.

Christopher Hibbert’s introduction is as helpful as always.

Charles Keeping’s inimitable illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to this novelist’s masterpiece. Regular readers will know that I have posted these as I have worked my way through the book. Although some narrative may be gleaned from these pages I have done by best not to reveal too much.

Here are the last three:

‘A big-headed lumbering personage stood staring at him’ as the brim of his hat had been tossed over the body of text.

In ‘Tattycoram fell on her knees and beat her hands upon the box’ the artist has captured the beating motion.

In ‘Changeless and Barren’, his final illustration, Keeping has managed to symbolise that the work is drawing to a close.

The rain returned before we arrived home and continued pelting for the next few hours. Rather like yesterday, it ceased by late afternoon. Unlike yesterday the sun remained lurking behind the thick cloud cover. We took a drive anyway.

As we approached Keyhaven the sails of a trio of enticing kite-surfers could be seen.

By the time we arrived they were packing up.

Saltgrass Lane runs alongside the tidal flats. At high tide it is often closed.

As we arrived, waves were lapping over the rocks and rapidly covering the tarmac. I was splashed by passing vehicles as I photographed the scene.

Figures were silhouetted on the spit; birds made their own contribution.

We continued along the lane back to Milford on Sea. Had we returned via Keyhaven we would probably have been locked out.

Other lanes, like Undershore, were washed by rainwater from overflowing fields and ditches. Jackie parked on this thoroughfare and I wandered along it for a while.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s stupendous chicken and vegetable stewp and fresh bread with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Garnacha, which involved opening another bottle.