9. Enter the Detective

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
Bleak House
London: Bradbury & Evans, 1852 –1853

Charles Dickens’s novel Bleak House, first published in serial form from March 1852 to September 1853, takes place in nineteenth-century London and its surrounding countryside. The novel’s plot focuses on ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’, a prolonged legal dispute regarding a will which raises great conflict amongst numerous claimants. When a lawyer is murdered, Dickens introduces readers to Detective Bucket, who successfully resolves the case. Dickens’s portrayal of a fictional detective in Bleak House complements depictions of the criminal underworld in Oliver Twist and Our Mutual Friend, for example.

Dostoevsky was a great fan of Dickens, remarking in 1873, ‘We understand Dickens in Russia, I am convinced, almost as well as the English… maybe even we love him no less than his own countrymen; and yet how typical, distinctive, and national Dickens is.’ Such was the popularity of Dickens in Russia that the first Russian translation of Bleak House appeared in 1854, only a year after its original publication. Dostoevsky’s own copy of Bleak House was a French translation from 1871. The copy shown here is Part One, with illustrations by the prolific Victorian artist Hablot Knight Browne (1815–1882). Browne contributed to other works by Dickens, commonly signing himself as ‘Phiz’.

Devan Jaques, Katherine Bowers

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