Bleak House (Anglais) Broché – 8 mai 2008
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London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus,forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn-hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes-gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and 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 on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales
of barges and small boats. 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 fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time-as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest, near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation: Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.
On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here-as here he is-with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On such an afternoon, some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar ought to be-as here they are-mistily engaged in one of the ten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horse-hair warded heads against walls of words, and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might. On such an afternoon, the various solicitors in the cause, some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a fortune by it, ought to be-as are they not?-ranged in a line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for Truth at the bottom of it), between the registrar's red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them. Well may the court be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the fog hang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may the stained glass windows lose their color, and admit no light of day into the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peep in through the glass panes in the door, be deterred from entrance by its owlish aspect, and by the drawl languidly echoing to the roof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks into the lantern that has no light in it, and where the attendant wigs are all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery; which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire; which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse, and its dead in every churchyard; which has its ruined suitor, with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress, borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance; which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honorable man among its practitioners who would not give-who does not often give-the warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here!"
Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murky afternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause, two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well of solicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below the Judge, in wig and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy-purses, or whatever they may be, in legal court suits. These are all yawning; for no crumb of amusement ever falls from Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezed dry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters of the court, and the reporters of the newspapers, invariably decamp with the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on. Their places are a blank. Standing on a seat at the side of the hall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary, is a little mad old woman in a squeezed bonnet, who is always in court, from its sitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensible judgment to be given in her favor. Some say she really is, or was, a party to a suit; but no one knows for certain, because no one cares. She carries some small litter in a reti-cule which she calls her documents; principally consisting of paper matches and dry lavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody, for the half-dozenth time, to make a personal application "to purge himself of his contempt;" which, being a solitary surviving executor who has fallen into a state of conglomeration about accounts of which it is not pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at all likely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects in life are ended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears from Shropshire, and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor at the close of the day's business, and who can by no means be made to understand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existence after making it desolate for a quarter of a century, plants himself in a good place and keeps an eye on the Judge, ready to call out "My lord!" in a voice of sonorous complaint, on the instant of his rising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor by sight, linger, on the chance of his furnishing some fun, and enlivening the dismal weather a little.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery-lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers, in select port-wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers the eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers;"-a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and purses.
How many people out of the suit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt, would be a very wide question. From the master, upon whose impaling files reams of dusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into many shapes; down to the copying clerk in the Six Clerks' Office, who has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery-folio-pages under that eternal heading; no man's nature has been made the better by it. In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the wretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr. Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise, was particularly engaged and had appointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and shuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver in the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it, but has acquired too a distrust of his own mother, and a contempt for his own kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise, have lapsed into a habit of vaguely promising themselves that they will look into that outstanding little matter, and see what can be done for Drizzle-who was not well used-when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of the office. Shirking and sharking, in all their many varieties, have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil, have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong, it was, in some off-hand manner, never meant to go right.
Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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Une fois qu'on sait à quel type de littérature on a affaire, on peut se plonger dans le roman et apprécier tout ce qu'il a d'admirable: une histoire d'envergure faisant intervenir toute une galerie de personnages mémorables, et évoquant toute une époque, sa grandeur, sa misère, son ridicule. Et, bien sûr, Dickens écrit merveilleusement bien. il est autant à l'aise pour créer une atmosphère que dans l'humour, l'émotion, la dénonciation.
XIXème siècle oblige, il faut reconnaître que certains aspects du roman agacent un peu le lecteur d'aujourd'hui. Dans mon cas, ce fut le personnage d'Esther, pourtant central au roman, qui m'a ennuyé de par son angélisme exacerbé, le consensus autour de sa personnalité, ses attendrissements béats pour son amie, etc... Mais cela n'enlève rien à l'excellence de l'ensemble.
Donc difficile d'évaluer le produit !
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Dickens was already a household name when he wrote it. He'd already cast his net far and wide over an increasingly eager audience (Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby had all garnered great praise for him, and Martin Chuzzlewit's extensive American episode - after his trip there in 1842 - had helped his popularity no end in the US). He was world famous. He had also just begun editing the weekly journal Household Words, a publication he hoped would help highlight the social injustices of the age. Bleak House is confident and furiously angry in many respects addressing, as it does, much of the same agenda that Household Words railed against week in week out.
The plot centres on the interminable case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, a years-old law suit creaking its way through Chancery (a reference to two cases: Day v Croft, a suit begun in 1838 and still being heard in 1854; and Jennings v Jennings, begun in 1798 and finally settled in, wait for it, 1878, although, as Dickens says in his Preface, 'if I wanted [more]...I could rain them on these pages, to the shame of a parsimonious public').
"Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grand-mothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee house in Chancery Lane, but Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless."
Circling this legal colossus is a cast as memorable as any that Dickens assembled before or after. The demure and impassive Esther Summerson, a resilient young woman carefully uncovering her past; Lord and Lady Dedlock, landed gentry living in a shadow-filled mansion in rural Lincolnshire; the threatening and ultra-clever lawyer, Tulkinghorn; Jo, a wretched street boy; and a whole swathe of legal junkies, obsessed acolytes flitting around the Courts of Chancery and Lincoln's Inn Fields. Every one always mentions the characters in Dickens - ah! the characters! they say - but then, they're remarkable, and wonderfully realised. But, as the case drags on, things fall apart and the centre - definitely - cannot hold.
When an affidavit is discovered amid the J v J papers, written in a sinister and familiar hand, Tulkinghorn's investigations kick off a series of events that lead down a mazey, dark path towards an unexpected conclusion. The plot becomes ever more labyrinthine and to help us shed some much needed light on the matter we get Inspector Bucket (great name) one of the earliest detectives in fiction.
All is division in Bleak House. The Dedlocks and the suit's lawyers on one side, everybody else on the other. When the two sides meet (weighty social irony in use here) the sparks light up the dark corners of the filthy London streets and someone invariably comes off worse. This is where the anger creeps in. Creeps in? Nah, floods in. This is where Dickens's agenda falls into place like a guillotine and you wonder how he ever managed to get on the side of the Toffs six years later for A Tale of Two Cities:
"Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us, every day."
There's humour though, in fact there are plenty of real laugh out loud moments. The moment when Lord Dedlock discovers that someone has the audacity to stand against him in the election and that he's - egad! - an 'industrialist', is a splendid attack on the baronet's smug pomposity.
Narrative hops around from player to player, resting most often on a first-person account by Esther, who is the conscience of the story, but beyond her everybody gets a focus and story line, and the extended sequence of tying it all together, starting with the solving of the murder about 150 pages out, heralds a very satisfying series of dénouements.
So, is it one of the best books ever written? I'm not at liberty to say, of course, that's a question I'll have to come back to in my dotage. Certainly, I can't think of anything to put in the negative column. Dickens is fastidious in his plotting, there's nothing he leaves unsaid. There's no filler here (an amazing thing to say you might think, but it's true), no dull chapters, no extensive flowery prose, no muttered 'get on with it' moments. He fulfils his obligations to his social concerns, he creates sympathy and antipathy where he requires it. The villain, Chancery, gets a roasting ... yet he has a surprise for everyone at the last.
But, I am smitten with it, yes. I do think it's going to stay with me forever and - get this - I'm already looking forward to the re-read. I was blown away.
Of course, this book is about a lot more than just the law. One of the most amusing subplots involves various women involved in charity. As the character Mr. Jarndyce says, there are two kinds of people who do charitable work. Some accomplish a great deal, and make very little noise, and some make a great deal of noise, and accomplish nothing. Of course, most of the ones in this book are of the second catagory. The most memorable by far is Mrs. Jellybee, who obsesses over a colony in Africa while her own family falls apart around her. It's exactly like people today, who want to save the whales or free Tibet while people in their own neighborhoods starve.
The characters in this book are excellent, and far more realistic than in most of Dickens's works. Mr. Jarndyce is the heroic father figure, but he is a real one, who tried to be kind and guide his family but can only watch helplessly while his nephew slowly destroys himself trying to overcome the court, which of course is impossible.
Many people have had trouble with the character of Esther Summerson, and her relentless goodness and self-effacement. I think she is a fantastic character, and is Dickens's way of reinforcing the message of the book, that you need to find happiness in your own life, and things like lawsuits do nothing but destroy happiness and should be avoided. No one changes the world in this book. They just help those that they can and try to go on with their own lives. That's why this book shows a more mature view of Dickens. This is great reading for anyone, especially anyone involved in the law. Five Stars for this book!!
The characters range from the heights of aristocracy - Sir Leicester Dedlock who is never bored, as he can always "contemplate his own greatness" - to the illiterate boy Jo, who has always lived on the streets, and who knows "nothink". We are invited to find connections between them, as everything is connected to everything else. The tone is dark, menacing, and tragic. There is no shortage of humour or exuberance: Skimpole and Chadband, for instance, are among Dickens' finest comic creations. But they do not lighten the darkness: quite the contrary. And neither can human goodness set things right: Esther's orderliness cannot impose order on the larger scheme of things, and neither can Jarndyce's benevolence prevent tragedy.
The scope of this novel is huge, but each new set of characters seems to introduce us to yet another circle of Inferno. The quality of the prose is astonishing, and the structure and organization of such masses of material masterly. And the novel also has a certain poetry to it, as in Richard Carstone's dying words: "I shall begin the world." Certainly, Dickens has created a world here that is a grotesque but nonetheless recognizable distortion of our own, and has animated it with his unique vitality and imaginative power. It is, without doubt, one of the world's greatest novels.