At last year’s Wrexham Carnival of Words we experimented by asking people to join us in a long read from January to April. George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ proved very popular and we had a lot of fun discussing it at an event in Wrexham Library. In 2023 we are encouraging you all to join us in reading Charles Dickens ‘Bleak House.

Charles Dickens, you may love him or hate him, but if you like books and reading he is very hard to ignore! Dickens was and remains a truly global phenomenon, with his books still selling worldwide and translated into most of the main languages of the world. Many of his works continue to be adapted for radio, TV and film and his popularity never seems to dim.

Bleak House was published in monthly instalments between March 1852 and September 1853 and is Dickens second longest novel. Your heart may sink at the prospect of tackling nearly 1000 pages of mid Victorian literature but let me try and persuade you why it may be more fun than you anticipate.

I ‘did’ ‘Bleak House’ for A Level English Literature, which for many is the kiss of death for any great work of literature but for me I finally realised why my grandparents loved Dickens. They would read chapters aloud to each other in front of a fire each evening and this is probably how it was meant to be enjoyed in days before the internet, TV or even radio. For me it will be my fourth reading of ‘Bleak House’ and it is almost like returning to a small town you once knew to reunite with family, friends and villains. Dickens characters are so vividly drawn from the oily and ingratiating Mr Guppy to the ruthless and amoral Tulkinghorn and the tragic figure of Jo the Crossing Sweeper. All are gathered into a huge arc of interlinking plot lines, wrapped constantly in the ever thickening London fog which envelopes the Law Courts. In Dickens all of life is revealed and you feel totally immersed into the world of mid Victorian London. If I have one criticism of Bleak House it is Dickens use of language, in common with many Victorians, he can never describe something or someone in less than a paragraph which included many long and often invented words. Like Middlemarch I have found myself looking forward to returning to Bleak House and becoming part of its world. Like Middlemarch there is also an episodic element to Bleak House, with four chapters appearing each month and of course Dickens was the master of the cliff-hanger and knowing how to keep his readers gripped.

If all this still puts you off then perhaps you can approach Bleak House like a good box set and you could find you have lost a weekend. Failing that I can thoroughly recommend Andrew Davies adaptation for the BBC in 2005 starring Gillian Anderson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Charles Dance and Carey Mulligan.

However you consume Bleak House I hope you will join us for a free event at the 2023 Wrexham Carnival of Words in Wrexham Library at 5pm on Saturday 22nd April. There will be readings, discussion and a fun quiz, come and tell us what you loved or hated.