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Bleak House (Signet Classics) [Paperback]

By Charles Dickens (Author)
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Item Number 424142  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   960
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 6.8" Width: 4.2" Height: 1.7"
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2003
Publisher   Penguin Group USA
ISBN  0451528697  
EAN  9780451528698  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Bleak House opens in a London shrouded by an all-pervading fog-a fog that swirls around the Court of Chancery, where lawyers are enriching themselves in endless litigation over a dwindling inheritance. Considered one of Dickens's greatest works, Bleak House scathingly portrays his belief: "The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself." His genius for characterization, dramatic construction, social satire, and poetic evocation is memorably evidenced in this work as in no other. Peopled with characters both comic and tragic-including one of literature's first detectives and a case of spontaneous human combustion-in settings ranging from the mansion of a fear-haunted noblewoman to the squalor of the London slums, this superb narrative was hailed by Edmund Wilson as a "masterpiece."

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More About Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation, but also the horror of the infamous debtors' prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and "slave" factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years' formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney's clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.

David Pascoe is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. He has also edited Thackeray's The Newcomers for Penguin Classics.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and died in 1870.

Charles Dickens has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Collins Classics
  2. Dover Holiday Coloring Book
  3. Ignatius Critical Editions
  4. Penguin Classics

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Not Dickens' Best but Worthwhile  Apr 5, 2010
Bleak House is universally considered one of Charles Dickens' greatest novels, and many think it his best. However, though it undeniably has great merit, I do not think it is in his top tier for reasons I will soon explain. Even so, it is highly recommended for fans of Dickens and Victorian literature generally; most will disagree with my assessment, and even those who do not will find much to enjoy and appreciate.

I will start with the strengths. Many of Dickens' usual ones are here, not least near-unparalleled talent for memorable characterization. This has one of the largest and most diverse casts from an author known for them; no characters are among his most famous, but all are vividly drawn, and some are unforgettable, while the sheer number is impressive. They range from tragic to comic, bringing pathos about as often as tears. Perhaps the most notable is Inspector Bucket, one of literature's first detectives and perhaps the first to feature prominently in a novel; he has many of the characteristics later associated with his kind, showing Dickens' range and influence. Harold Skimpole is one of Dickens' most subtly great creations - one of literature's worst villains but not in the way most would expect. Mrs. Jellyby is among his many excellent comic characters, though also a piercing satirical archetype. Also very noteworthy is John Jarndyce, one of the most good-hearted and truly noble souls in print. Finally, critics have come to find Esther herself more and more nuanced, even recently focusing on homosexual undercurrents. Dickens definitely did not intend this last, and it almost certainly arises mostly or only from a (perhaps willful) misunderstanding of Victorian gender relations, but Freudian possibilities are endless and fascinating. Many have also become interested in the real people on whom several characters are based, often surprisingly closely.

The basic story is interesting, full of trademark suspense and twists. More intriguing is how Dickens tells it. He is not known for complex structures, but Bleak's very modern construction was far ahead of its time. Dickens balances a third-person, present tense narrator without access to characters' thoughts with a first-person, past tense female one. The threads rarely interlock directly, but we can only admire how deftly Dickens has them coalesce into a grand overall tale. Bleak has an incredible number of subplots and characters, but he successfully draws them tightly together. Esther's status as Dickens' only female narrator is of great note. It is always hard for a man to pull this off convincingly, but contemporaries seemed to think Dickens did a bravura job - a further tribute to his verisimilitude. Now, though, very few would think she at all resembles any woman they know. The curious gap tells us much about Victorian views of women. Esther is a supremely interesting example of the ideal Victorian woman: meek, self-effacing, and modest yet beautiful and charming. Or is she? She is intelligent, educated, well-spoken, and in many ways capable - certainly no Victorian stereotype. Though no proto-feminist, Dickens was one of his era's great liberals, and Esther walks the fine line between social ideal and something more progressive; the homosexual subtext of course comes into play here again. It is easy to be offended by now, but she is quite complex in historical terms, giving almost endless ground for speculation. Also of historical note is an instance of spontaneous human combustion in an era when the exhibition of such things was becoming ever more frowned on in favor of scientific explanation. Dickens was offended when criticized for it, defending it vigorously; the subject still gets little mainstream shrift, but this is essential for anyone curious about the still not fully explained phenomenon.

The real highlight for most critics, though, is Bleak's viciously satirical condemnation of the British Chancery Court system and, more generally, of all courts, the law itself, and lawyers. Dickens had significant knowledge of the subject from years as a court reporter plus his own ongoing legal trouble; he saw the flaws clearly and sympathized with the many they harmed. Bleak's complaints - unbearable slowness, absurd impracticality, obsessive focus on minutia, grossly misjudged priorities, lack of concern for regular people, etc. - are at least as old as Aristophanes but have rarely, if ever, been dramatized so clearly or persuasively. The novel in fact came out just as reform momentum was at its height, greatly popularizing the issue and apparently even having real influence. It is to Dickens' credit that he does all this without sacrificing the story; his points are obvious, but he is never heavy-handed. Unlike so much sociopolitically meaningful art, Bleak also manages to entertain.

So what is wrong with it? The main problem is that Bleak is simply overlong. Dickens is of course synonymous with long novels, which is far from an inherent problem; I would not change a word of David Copperfield or some of his other long works, and the same goes for even longer ones by others. However, I think this nine hundred page novel would have been significantly improved if cut by at least a third. Impressive as the well-executed vast panorama is, the subplots add little and bring the book down overall. They are good mostly for comic relief, but this soon wears thin. In contrast, the main narrative is absorbing and meaningful; the book could have been excellent, perhaps even great, if restricted to it. Also a problem for me, though admittedly very subjective, is that the eccentric characters and sentimentalism for which Dickens is known simply go too far. I am no fan of them generally, but he usually makes them palatable; this, though, is so extreme that it is very distracting and probably even detrimental. Several characters - i.e., Prince Turveydrop, Boythorn, Kenge, etc. - are so eccentric as to be unbelievable. Others - such as Jo and Caddy - are so sentimentalized that they seem patently contrived; there were surely many people essentially like them, and Dickens had an admirable goal in calling attention to their plight, but they seem designed only to elicit pathos, lacking real soul or depth. As the list suggests, this extends even to names - again common in Dickens, but general extremism sends it over the proverbial top. The good/evil dichotomy is also unrealistically clear cut; characters like Jarndyce and Woodcourt seem too good to be true, and much the same can be said of those like Skimpole on the other side. Dickens does little to establish motivation, and it is very hard to take such cut and dried presentations seriously on their own terms. All these things significantly lower Bleak for me, but it is important to emphasize that they are exaggerated versions of factors always present in Dickens. Those usually annoyed by but able to overlook them are strongly warned; those for whom they are immaterial, and of course the millions whom they have always been delighted, have nothing to worry about and will like Bleak far more than me, and I substantially enjoyed it.

All told, this is essential for anyone who likes Dickens, most of whom will be thoroughly charmed, but I strongly recommend reading his best works (Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield) or the simpler early ones first.
Charles Dickens at his Best  Sep 6, 2008
Although I purchased and read this book quite a while ago, I would like to say that it is undoubtedly Dickens'best effort.

It's a fascinating read - a book you can not put down. Dickens weaves so many stories and sub-plots, one has to re-read it time and again.

A great book.
"The dense fog is densest...near that leaden-headed old obstruction ...the High Court of Chancery."  Oct 4, 2006
Written in 1853, when Dickens was at his peak, Bleak House is often considered Dickens's best novel. Set in the 1850s, the novel tells several interconnected stories involving dozens of characters from all levels of society, giving a broad picture of life in London and in the countryside during this period. As is often the case with Dickens, his satire and humor enliven his sometimes dark subjects, without blunting his criticism of bureaucracy and the mistreatment of children. The novel is huge, not just in terms of length but in its universal themes, its characterizations, and the magnitude of its reach.

Esther Summerson, the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock and Captain Hawdon, an early lover, is raised in secrecy by a resentful aunt. After the aunt's death, Esther joins the household of the kindly Mr. Jarndyce, who is also mentoring Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, Ada's cousin. Richard, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce have been involved for years in a lawsuit, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, about the terms of an old will, and this lawsuit, which has continued interminably in the High Court of Chancery, is the inspiration for the satire Dickens directs toward British bureaucracy and the paperwork which paralyzes it.

As the lives of Esther, Lady Dedlock, Ada, Richard, and Mr. Jarndyce unfold, the reader also learns about the lives of those who come into peripheral contact with them. Capt. Hawdon (Nemo), for example, is found dead by a sad, little street waif named Jo, whose miserable life offers little chance of improvement. An unprincipled lawyer is murdered, adding mystery to the novel. Dickens emphasizes the way characters actually behave, paying scant attention to their inner thoughts, but he individualizes them and brings them vibrantly to life through their actions (though some, such as Esther and Mr. Jarndyce, sometimes appear too saintly).

Humor permeates the novel, with some characters, particularly those involved in law, serving as caricatures. The touching romance of Esther and Allan Woodcourt, a physician, echoes throughout the novel, despite his long absences and her bout with smallpox, and contrasts with Lady Dedlock's sad remembrances of her own past. Symbols, such as the ever-present London fog, emphasize the theme of isolation.

Thoughout this doorstop-sized novel, Dickens's treatment of the characters and his ability to bring the period to life create lively reading. His empathy with the underdog and his depiction of the inequities of the society combine with mystery, romance, and Esther's coming-of-age to make this a vital novel, full of life, conveying a dramatic picture of mid-19th century British life and the lessons to be learned from it. Mary Whipple
One of his best  Apr 17, 2003
I found this the best written prose that I have read so far by Dickens, and it ranks amongst the best written books that I've read by anyone. His assassination of the British establishment sometimes almost made me wince, yet I always found it entertaining and not preachy. I didn't find the plot as good, or the characters as sympathetic as A Tale of Two Cities (my favourite), but it beats the melodrama of Great Expectations by a long shot. I actually found this a far more damning indictment of society than Hard Times, contrary to what I'd been led to believe. Highly recommended.
Yawning in North Carolina  Apr 9, 2003
I have read Great Expectations and David Copperfield and enjoyed them immensely. These books offer a wonderful, colorful cast of characters. So, I thought I would try Bleak House. I slogged through 150 pages and finally gave up! Tedious is the operative word here! The characters were dessicated and one-dimensional and I felt as if the plot was not moving forward at all. Overall, a major disappointment.

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