Snowbound with Lady Dedlock

By Mary Downing Hahn

Snow…days and days of snow falling thick and heavy, blotting out the neighbors’ houses, blurring the horizon so I can’t tell where the earth ends and the sky begins. Snow so deep I can’t go to the mailbox, drifts of snow piling up against the fence, blocking roads, closing schools and stores. The kind of snow you can’t stop watching, magic snow wrapping the house up tight, keeping me a prisoner but at the same time freeing me from obligations. Giving me time to sit by the fire, two cats in my lap, and read.

No need to venture to a library to find a book. I’ve been accumulating them since I was a child. My very first purchase was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales, five cents at the church rummage sale. My most recent was Fludd by Hilary Mantel, a bit more than five cents at Amazon.com.

Upstairs, downstairs, in almost every room my books wait for me to read them again, a goal delayed by the new ones arriving all too frequently from Amazon.

So here I am on this theoretical snowy day, standing in front of a tall bookcase, trying to choose the perfect snowy day book. My finger moves from spine to spine, lingering on some, then moving on. None is quite right.

Then I come to my shelf of Dickens. Three years ago the PBS production of Bleak House inspired me to reread all of Dickens’s novels. I began, appropriately, with Bleak House and finished a year or so later with Martin Chuzzlewit.

Book in hand, I sit down by the fire and return to London and the Court of Chancery to follow the ruinous case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Waiting for me is the too-good-to-be-much-fun Esther Summerson, the far-more-fascinating Lady Dedlock, poor Jo the homeless crossing sweeper, kindly old Mr. Jarndyce and his young relatives Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, and Grandfather Smallweed, who enlivens things by shouting at his granddaughter, “Shake me up, Judy!”

Let it snow. If I finish Bleak House before it stops, I’ll begin Our Mutual Friend.

Mary Downing Hahn’s latest book is The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall (Clarion).

From the November/December 2010 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

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