One of Charles Dickens’ novels, Bleak House, was alive and well in Illinois. After our parents divorced, our mother certainly made sure that time spent at home with her was nothing but bleak. Our stepmother Beatrice, with her less than welcoming manner, did the same. Both houses shared a depressing, fear-inducing quality.
Bleak House is a novel by Charles Dickens, published in 20 monthly instalments between March 1852 and September 1853. It is held to be one of Dickens’ finest novels, containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots in his entire canon. The story is told partly by the novel’s heroine, Esther Summerson, and partly by a mostly omniscient narrator. Memorable characters include the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn, the friendly but depressive John Jarndyce, and the childish and disingenuous Harold Skimpole, as well as the likeable but imprudent Richard Carstone.
Our version of Bleak House as teenagers was not as intriguing but just as depressing. Have you ever spent time somewhere that you felt so uncomfortable that you were waiting for the next bombshell? There were landmines scattered throughout each home that you hoped to dodge. It was not always easy and the explosions happened almost daily.
Dad always said you should never argue with a crazy person and so he didn’t. My sister Abby and I tried to do the same. Although, as you know by your reading, silence was sometimes taken as insolence or quiet criticism. Or a sign that we were plotting against one of these two women…or perhaps both? You may have heard the often quoted, you can’t win…the story of our life with these two women.
Sometimes, when we were gathered at one house or the other, the mood would suddenly change. It was because our dad had arrived home. That made all the difference in the world. At Mother’s, he would sweep us away as if on a magic carpet and we would escape the negative environment. At our stepmother Beatrice’s, he would come in after a long day at work and greet everybody in such a pleasant way that no one wanted to burst the bubble. It was truly a sight to behold.
My sister Abby and I knew that no matter what, we always had Dad looking out for us. Amidst the madness and sometimes chaotic setting, he always brought the calm.