Sep 272013

I have a friend who divides the population into two categories, those who have read Steinbeck’s East of Eden and those for whom that is a pleasure in prospect. I’m pretty much of the same opinion, but with Bleak House as the tome in question.

So, it was with delight that I read chapters 1-16/numbers 1-5, pretty much untouched since I first read it in awe as an undergraduate in 1978. It was with even more delight that my fellow Dickens fans and I absorbed the wisdom of Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship’s guest Professor Grahame Smith, who effortlessly drew contributions from the Dickens devotees attending, enthused by his own passion for the author and the book. David Innes reports on the latest get-together of the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship.


Grahame was obviously delighted to attend and to return to Aberdeen, where he studied, meeting friends old and new who share his enthusiasm for the master of novel-writing.
Bleak House, most Dickens readers would agree, sees the man at the peak of his powers as a novelist. Grahame pointed out that it followed David Copperfield in the author’s canon and that since he had honed his writing to literary perfection in that semi-autobiographical masterpiece, Bleak House gave him the confidence to experiment.

The use of a narrator, interwoven with chapters by the main character and conscience of the novel, Esther Summerson, was bold, although as one contributor on the night pointed out, Dickens had to be careful not to alienate a large and appreciative readership as a consequence of experimentation.

Radiohead and the transition from OK Computer to Kid A is the best contemporary comparison I could make.

Is Esther credible, too good to be true? We mused on this. One of our number commented that her background of psychological abuse was similar to that experienced by many young people with whom he has contact, and her reactions and motives are not untypical of similarly unfortunate young people in the 21st century.

She is also fairly unique, it was agreed, in being a strong female character and major protagonist in Dickens’s fiction.

As well as his Dickens scholarship, Grahame also has a fascination for the cinematic. He believes that the best potential Dickens film adaptations might have been directed by Orson Welles, which is no longer a possibility, sadly. He feels that perhaps Spike Lee could do Dickens justice, a controversial view perhaps, but one which chimed with some of the Fellowship who shared Grahame’s interest in cinema.

It really was the best of times.

Bleak House is the biggie, of course, and in more ways than one, given its labyrinthine plot, range of characters and ground-breaking fiction-writing technique. It’s also large in volume. To do it justice, therefore, the next three meetings will consider it further, and allow those of us with limited reading time to read it cover to cover. That is no hardship.

The Fellowship’s programme between now and the end of 2013 will be:

  • Tuesday 15 October 2013: lecture by Paul Schlicke, on the topicality of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 6-10, chapters 17–32.
  • Tuesday 12 November 2013: lecture by Dan Wall, on the serialisation of Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 11-15, chapters 33–49.
  • Tuesday 3 December 2013: lecture by Paul Schlicke, on plots and detecting in Bleak House, followed by seminar on numbers 16–20, chapters 50–67.
  • Tuesday 17 December 2013: Paul Schlicke will read A Christmas Carol


All meetings will be held in Grampian Housing Association’s offices, situated at the corner of Huntly Street and Summer Street, Aberdeen, where there is ample free parking. Each evening’s proceedings will start at 19:00 and finish at 21:00. We’ll be delighted to see you.


The Aberdeen Fellowship intends to affiliate to the International Dickens Fellowship. We’ll carry details of that here when everything’s finalised, but is the place to go to keep up to date.


To be added to the circulation list for information on local Fellowship activities, contact Dr Paul Schlicke  , newly elected chair of the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship.