I’m afraid Bleak House may have ruined the rest of Dickens’ works for me. I adored Bleak House, and it quickly rose to take a place in my top 10 all time favorite books. (Don’t ask me to actually name the 10, but I’m sure it would make it!) While I’ve enjoyed all of Dickens’ other works, I’ve noticed that since reading BH, I seem to struggle more with any new ones.
I’ve read and loved Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield. I enjoyed Nicholas Nickleby and the other Christmas stories that are often packaged with A Christmas Carol. But, since reading Bleak House, I’ve started and stopped both Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. Oliver Twist felt too much like getting a beat over the head about poverty (all of his books have this aspect, but in this one I just wasn’t able to get past this and into the story). A Tale of Two Cities was like reading something by an entirely different author. This should show how skilled he was at writing, but it was just weird for me and wasn’t what I was expecting. I think after adjusting my expectations I should be able to go back and finish both, which is good because I plan to do so in the coming year!
With Little Dorrit, although I did finish it, nothing in the story really grabbed me. The characters didn’t seem to pop off the pages like Dickensian characters usually do. Little Dorrit should inspire more empathy than she did. Yes, I felt sorry for her and wanted her life to be better, but she was just so good it wasn’t believable or interesting. I suppose I like my characters with a bit more fire in them. And the way she worshiped her father just bugged me; he was a likeable guy despite his shortcomings but her attachment to him was borderline creepy.
Dickens isn’t known for creating well-developed female characters, which may be part of the problem with this work. It’s centered around a female, and she’s not nearly as interesting as Esther in BH and can’t carry the work alone. Also, Esther had a cast of amazing surrounding characters, people I can call to memory so clearly that it’s as if I’ve met them in person. I just finished Little Dorrit and struggled to remember some of even the major characters’ names. Most of the side stories were uninteresting and just seemed like filler, a way to get more issues published when this was published in serial form. I was glad the copy I read had a character list at the beginning because I had to keep referring to it because all the characters were so bland. BH is a sprawling novel with a large cast of characters and I never had to do that!
Perhaps it’s not fair to compare Bleak House and Little Dorrit, but Bleak House did appear first. I imagine readers in Victorian England did the same thing. Perhaps part of the problem was that although this is one of his later works, it’s like Dickens went back to his earlier writing style and was just using his characters to prop up a theme dealing with debtors’ prisons. I’m not sure if Dickens even cared for his characters, he just wanted people to see how bad the debtors’ prisons were and do something about them. While I agree with him, and I also don’t always have to care about the characters to enjoy a work, the combination of lack of character development and preaching in such a long work just makes for a less than stellar read.
If you intend to read all of Dickens works, I might recommend saving Bleak House for the end. I think I would enjoy his other works more if I wasn’t comparing them to BH. If you’re just looking to read a Dickens novel or two, then I’d recommend going with Bleak House and either Great Expectations or David Copperfield. Although you should also read A Christmas Carol at least once. It’s short! I’ll be giving Oliver Twist another shot in February in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, so hopefully that will go better this time!