| Quote #1
An ugly woman, very poorly clothed, hurried in while I was glancing at them, and coming straight up to the mother, said, "Jenny! Jenny!" The mother rose on being so addressed and fell upon the woman's neck.
She also had upon her face and arms the marks of ill usage. She had no kind of grace about her, but the grace of sympathy; but when she condoled with the woman, and her own tears fell, she wanted no beauty. I say condoled, but her only words were "Jenny! Jenny!" All the rest was in the tone in which she said them.
I thought it very touching to see these two women, coarse and shabby and beaten, so united; to see what they could be to one another; to see how they felt for one another, how the heart of each to each was softened by the hard trials of their lives. I think the best side of such people is almost hidden from us. What the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves and God. (8.106-108)
Jenny and Liz's love for each other is one of the novel's true notes of grace. It lifts them out of the realm of Tom-all-Alone's and the rest of the poor miserables, and elevating them to a kind of saintly level. Notice how they are always cradling babies, like a kind of double Madonna and child painting.
| Quote #2
I asked my guardian as we sat at the backgammon board whether Mr. Boythorn had ever been married. [...] "You are right, little woman," he answered. "He was all but married once. Long ago. And once."
"Did the lady die?"
"No--but she died to him. That time has had its influence on all his later life." [...] when I was awakened by Mr. Boythorn's lusty snoring; and I tried to do that very difficult thing, imagine old people young again and invested with the graces of youth. But I fell asleep before I had succeeded, and dreamed of the days when I lived in my godmother's house. (9.58-69)
This is such a wonderful human moment – a young Esther trying to imagine what an old dude like Boythorn was like as a young man. It just feels like exactly the kind of thought you might have in that half-awake half-asleep state.
| Quote #3
It was at the theatre that I began to be made uncomfortable again by Mr. Guppy [...] with his hair flattened down upon his head and woe depicted in his face, looking up at me. I felt all through the performance that he never looked at the actors but constantly looked at me, and always with a carefully prepared expression of the deepest misery and the profoundest dejection.
It quite spoiled my pleasure for that night because it was so very embarrassing and so very ridiculous. But from that time forth, we never went to the play without my seeing Mr. Guppy in the pit, [...] I really cannot express how uneasy this made me. [...] to know that that absurd figure was always gazing at me, and always in that demonstrative state of despondency, put such a constraint upon me that I did not like to laugh at the play, or to cry at it, or to move, or to speak. I seemed able to do nothing naturally. [...] Sometimes I thought of telling Mr. Jarndyce. Then I feared that the young man would lose his situation and that I might ruin him. Sometimes I thought of confiding in Richard, but was deterred by the possibility of his fighting Mr. Guppy and giving him black eyes. Sometimes I thought, should I frown at him or shake my head. Then I felt I could not do it. Sometimes I considered whether I should write to his mother, but that ended in my being convinced that to open a correspondence would be to make the matter worse. I always came to the conclusion, finally, that I could do nothing. (13.34-37)
It's a little chilling, isn't it, that Esther has no recourse but to be stalked by this ridiculous guy? Here it's played for laughs because he's so pathetic and clearly not dangerous, but still. Shmoop thinks there's a larger point to be made here about how powerless Esther feels in this situation despite her extreme discomfort. Is she right not to take action? Why do you think she dismisses all the possibilities in favor of "doing nothing"?