"A CLARITY AND PUNGENCY THAT SURPASSES THE REST OF HIS WORK": DICKENS' BLEAK HOUSE, IN ORIGINAL PARTS AND SCARCE ORIGINAL BLUE WRAPPERS
DICKENS, Charles. Bleak House. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1852-53. Twenty parts in 19, as issued. Octavo, original blue paper wrappers; housed in custom cloth chemise and full morocco clamshell box. $6800.
Scarce first edition in original parts and wrappers of Dickens' ambitious, bracing masterpiece, with 40 engraved illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"), including frontispiece and nine other dramatic "dark plates," as well as vignette title page. All in original blue wrappers.
Structured "with a daring double narrative and centered on institutional satire," Bleak House is "technically [Dickens'] most ambitious novel and widely held to be his masterpiece" (Schlicke, 45). In it, "for the first time [society] is seen as an absurdity, an irrelevance, almost a madness. A dark force from which the real people must escape in order to create another society of their own… [Dickens] had been preparing for this novel all his life and, despite the calamities… which had helped to provoke it in the first place, … was even happy while he was writing it… It might even be said that Bleak House cured the very malaise which was responsible for its composition" (Ackroyd, 649-50). "The Dickens cosmos, his phantasmagoric London and visionary England, emerges in Bleak House with a clarity and pungency that surpasses the rest of his work, before and after" (Bloom, 311). Issued in 20 numbers in 19 parts from March 1852 to September 1853. Bleak House was the first Dickens novel issued in parts in blue paper wrappers; previous works had appeared in green paper wrappers. Ten of the 40 plates are Browne's striking "dark plates," deeply etched with a mezzotint-like chiaroscuro contrast (Hatton & Cleaver, 276-77). As often with this work, several advertisements are variants or absent from the individual parts. Parts 2, 5, 9, 12-15, 17-20 with all material called for (including scarce "Village Pastor" pamphlet in Part 15). Parts 3, 6, 8, 9, 11 without Crochet Cotton slip; Parts 4, 7 without Marsland slip. Part 1 with different first four pages of advertiser at front and without six pages of advertisements at rear. Part 3 with different first two pages of advertiser at front and without seven pages of advertisements at rear, but with uncalled for Household Words slip. Part 16 without Grace Aguilar slip. Hatton & Cleaver, 275-304. Gimbel A130.
Plates and text with scattered light to mild foxing and soiling. Closed tear and loss to first page of Part 18 advertiser. Several spines restored (Parts 1 and 3 neatly respined), several wrappers with light edge-wear; restoration to two corners, old tape repairs to front wrappers of Parts 17, 18. An extremely good set of the scarce issue in original parts.