Introduction: Contexts

We consider the reception and adaptation of Bleak House, when it was published, and throughout time.

Thus far, we have focused on the immediate context of Bleak House.  We have looked at its places, the people, and the intellectual themes.  I have done my best to indicate the ways they connect in the novel, and in the Victorian England Mr Dickens describes.

If you are familiar with Mr Dickens’s novels, you will know how popular they were at the time of their publication, and how popular they have continued to be. Indeed, there is a long and illustrious history of the reception of Mr Dickens’s work. This reception includes the popular and critical response at the time of publication, as well as the increasing scholarly attention paid to the novels, and the creative adaptation of the works. This world of reception and adaptation is almost as large and complex a world of reception as the interconnected worlds depicted in Bleak House!

Reception of Bleak House.

The term ‘reception’ refers to the ways in which readers and audiences ‘receive’ a text. At its simplest level, a literary reception involves individual readers enjoying, or not enjoying a text. At its more complex level, literary reception involves the response from critics, scholars, and the general reading public. Some novels are not well received initially, but reemerge in later years when their topic and presentation finds favour. Some are instant best-sellers, but do not connect with scholars or critics. Some are seen as novels for their time; some are seen as novels for all time. Some novels, and I myself think that Bleak House is such a novel, are both of their moment, and contain eternally relevant stories.

Adaptation of Bleak House.

Some novels lend themselves to adaptation. Adaptation means the alteration of a novel into another genre or form of storytelling. You probably know that Bleak House has not been adapted as often as other of Mr Dickens’s work, though there are two significant television adaptations that appeared in 1985 and 2006. It is amazing to me to think how long this novel’s influence has lasted!. While Mr Dickens was continually frustrated by the public’s desire to perform and stage his works (sometimes while they were still being written), and was particularly angered at these adapters’ failure to pay a copyright fee, he would be pleased to know his work still finds such favour.

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