DICKENS, Charles. Bleak House. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1853.
8vo., full polished calf ruled in gilt, rich gilt spine with five raised bands and contrasting brown and green leather labels lettered in gilt, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers; upper edge gilt; pp. xvi, 624, bound without advertisments; additional etched title and 39 etched plates, including all ten 'dark plates' by H.K. Browne ("Phiz"); a very good copy, some darkening to repaired upper hinge; scattered light foxing to plates and offsetting to frontis much less pronounced than usual.
First edition, bound from the original parts. With all 40 issue points as outlined in Smith (see Smith, 1981) indicating first issue. Front wrapper from the May issue, and rear wrapper from final issue, bound in.
Dickens’s ninth novel was notably the first to feature a female narrator, the heroine Esther Summerson, who describes a gothic London, choking in smog and darkness: "As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill…". Dickens provides his customary dissection of the layers of Victorian society, the injustices of the British legal system, and in particular, the Court of Chancery.
The mystery and gloom of the novel is expertly depicted by Browne's 'dark plates', a technique specially developed for this book, and produced using a ruling-machine, which meticulously cut a close-spaced criss-cross pattern of lines into the plate, thus creating an overall dark cast on the resulting print. The illustration depicting Toms-all-Alone's, the slum that is home to the crossing-sweeper, Jo, is perhaps the most striking example.
Arguably Dicken's most ambitious novel, it is sometimes considered to be one of the earliest examples of detective fiction. It also features an intruiging case of spontaneous combustion.