We've got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you'll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)
(7) Snow Line
Shmoop won't lie to you. This book definitely needs your full and undivided attention. And maybe even some prep work. First off, you've got the logistics of the thing. It's long. Really long. And not only that, it has a bazillion characters and a complex and twisty plot. But then again, the good thing about Dickens is that he was writing for everybody, so even missing a few details will still leave you with an excellent sense of the novel.
Second, the language can be hard. Lots of big words, lots of long sentences, lots of layers of meaning. Bust out your favorite dictionary for this one, folks.
Third, you have to adjust your point of view to the old-timey values that Dickens was working with. That means understanding that this is a world where having a baby outside of marriage is only a few steps higher on the morality scale than murder. And reputation is so important that it would make perfect sense for Lady Dedlock to try to kill herself rather than be exposed, or for Mr. George to refuse a lawyer for his murder rap.
Finally, you've also got to get a good handle on the way the poor were treated back in Dickens's day. There's no welfare or any other government help. Being poor is a criminal offense, punishable with time in the "workhouse" – basically a sweatshop where poor people were worked to death. And children and adults count the same in terms of government intervention – i.e., not at all.