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Bleak House by Charles Dickens
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Bleak House

$20.99 USD

Retail price (USD): $29.95

Discount: 30%

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Narrator Simon Vance
Length 32 hours 57 minutes
Language English
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Bleak House opens in a London shrouded by fog—a fog that swirls most densely about the Court of Chancery, where the obscure case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce lies lost in endless litigation, slowly devouring an inheritance in legal costs.

Against this ominous background, Dickens’ rich tapestry of a novel weaves together the fortunes and desires of several characters whose fates are tied to the case: Ada and Richard, two young orphans who stand to inherit and wish to marry when they do; the worthy John Jarndyce, their voluntary guardian while the case is pending; and Esther Summerson, Jarndyce’s protégée, whose romance is complicated by torn loyalties and whose heritage is shrouded in mystery and scandal. This darkly comic portrait of London society is often regarded as Dickens’ best.

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England, where his father was a naval pay clerk. When he was five, the family moved to Chatham, near Rochester, another port town. He received some education at a small private school but this was curtailed when his father's fortunes declined. When Dickens was ten, the family moved to Camden Town, and this proved the beginning of a long, difficult period. When he had just turned twelve, Dickens was sent to work for a manufacturer of boot blacking, where for the better part of a year he labored for ten hours a day, an unhappy experience that instilled him with a sense of having been abandoned by his family. Around the same time Dickens's father was jailed for debt in the Marshalsea Prison, where he remained for fourteen weeks. After some additional schooling, Dickens worked as a clerk in a law office and taught himself shorthand; this qualified him to begin working in 1831 as a reporter in the House of Commons, where he became known for the speed with which he took down speeches. By 1833 Dickens was publishing humorous sketches of London life in the Monthly Magazine, which were collected in book form as Sketches by "Boz". These were followed by the publication in installments of the comic adventures that became The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, whose unprecedented popularity made the twenty-five-year-old author a national figure. In 1836 he married Catherine Hogarth, who would bear him ten children over a period of fifteen years. Dickens's energies enabled him to lead an active family and social life, including an indulgence in elaborate amateur theatricals, while maintaining a literary productiveness of astonishing proportions. He characteristically wrote his novels for serial publication and was himself the editor of many of the periodicals in which they appeared, including Bentley's Miscellany, the Daily News, Household Words, and All the Year Round. Among his close associates were his future biographer John Forster and the younger Wilkie Collins, with whom he collaborated on fictional and dramatic works. In rapid succession he published Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge, sometimes working on several novels simultaneously. Dickens's celebrity led to a tour of the United States in 1842. There he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and other literary figures, and was received with an enthusiasm that was dimmed somewhat by the criticisms Dickens expressed in his American Notes and in the American chapters of Martin Chuzzlewit. The appearance of A Christmas Carol in 1843 sealed his position as the most widely popular writer of his time; it became an annual tradition for him to write a story for the season, of which the most memorable were The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. He continued to produce novels at only a slightly diminished rate, publishing Dombey and Son in 1848 and David Copperfield in 1850. From this point on, his novels tended to be more elaborately constructed and harsher and less buoyant in tone than his earlier works. These late novels include Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. Our Mutual Friend, published in 1865, was his last completed novel and perhaps the most somber and savage of them all. Dickens had separated from his wife in 1858-he had become involved a year earlier with a young actress named Ellen Ternan-and the ensuing scandal had alienated him from many of his former associates and admirers. He was weakened by years of overwork and by a near-fatal railroad disaster during the writing of Our Mutual Friend. Nevertheless, he embarked on a series of public readings, including a return visit to America in 1867, which further eroded his health. A final work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a crime novel much influenced by Wilkie Collins, was left unfinished upon his death on June 9,1870, at the age of 58.

Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, including one for his narration of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. A multiple Audie finalist, Simon has won Audie Awards for The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan, and The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Winner of the 2008 Booklist Voice of Choice Award, Simon has also been named an AudioFile Golden Voice as well as an AudioFile Best Voice of 2009.

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Reviews

Bleak House represents the author at a perfectly poised late-middle moment in his extraordinary art.”

“Features one of his most holy of heroines…He brilliantly projects Esther as his type of ideal woman, with her modesty, perceptiveness, and moral responsibility.”

Bleak House is one of the greatest novels by one of the giants of English literature. It is also, in the words of one legal scholar, ‘the ultimate indictment of law, lawyers, and the legal system in the English language.’”

Bleak House is a satirical look at the Byzantine legal system in London as it consumes the minds and talents of the greedy and nearly destroys the lives of innocents—a contemporary tale indeed.”

“Perhaps his best novel…When Dickens wrote Bleak House he had grown up.”

“Dickens could not have performed better than [Simon Vance] does here. With a motley cast of characters to challenge the skill of any narrator, his brilliant dramatizations range from a homeless street urchin to an arrogant barrister, from a canny old windbag to a high-minded heroine who deserves the happy ending Dickens affords her. [Vance] is also persuasive as the indignant voice of the author himself, attacking both the injustice of the law and the cruel indifference of society. This may be one of the most Dickensian novels Dickens ever wrote. Highly recommended.”

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