A promising young man, Richard is an orphan who stands to gain a potential fortune in the Jarndyce case. This possibility prevents him from pursuing a career, and he slowly falls further and further into the grip of his obsession.
Truth be told, Richard is kind of a one-note guy. It's all Chancery this, lawsuit that. This is kind of odd, considering that's he's one of the main characters. Esther's got plot points going this way and that, Lady Dedlock is all sorts of complicated, Jarndyce is right at the heart of the novel's big ethical dilemma, and so on, down to even the secondary characters like Mr. George and Jo. So why make Richard so one-dimensional?
Shmoop will suggest a possibility. It might just be that Richard as a character has been sacrificed for one of the novel's Big Ideas. (This actually happens with a few of the major players – for more one-note wonders, check out Mrs. Jellyby and Skimpole.) The deep thought behind Richard's monomania (a crazed obsession about one specific thing) is the novel's criticism of the Chancery Court system.
Each case that gets caught in the Chancery system takes forever to resolve (like, decades) because all the lawyers have only one incentive – to keep the work going and going so they keep on getting paid. This is a problem, since the lawyers are paid out of the inheritance that they're supposedly trying to distribute.
At the same time, the parties to all these ridiculous lawsuits are smart, promising young people who grow up with the idea that they could inherit a giant ton of money at any time. Because of this, they never get serious about their lives; they just sit around waiting for that sweet dough to come rolling in.
Now maybe that doesn't always end in certain death, but it definitely creates an underclass of unemployed wastoids. Some – like Gridley, Miss Flite, and Tom Jarndyce – are so far gone that there's obviously no hope of rescuing them. Richard starts out with other options and possibilities. The central tragedy of his story is seeing the way he hangs in the balance between these two futures and watching the life-affirming option slowly slip further and further out of his reach.Timeline