Bleak House Summary
In the Court of Chancery, where civil suits are decided, there is an inheritance case called Jarndyce and Jarndyce that has been going on for several generations. One guy has actually committed suicide over it. Ada Clare and Richard Carstone are orphans connected with the case. Esther Summerson is a girl raised in isolation by an angry aunt. The three are united one day by a man named John Jarndyce (Ada and Richard's distant cousin), who spends his money on random philanthropic causes all around the country.
Meanwhile, the very old, rich, important, and fashionable Dedlock family has a loyal attorney named Tulkinghorn, who takes the reputation of the Dedlocks very seriously. Lady Dedlock is also marginally connected with the Jarndyce case, and one she day pays an unusual amount of attention to the handwriting on one of Tulkinghorn's legal documents. This seems minor, but it makes Tulkinghorn go crazy with suspicion, and he begins investigating.
The guy whose handwriting it is calls himself Nemo. He lives in a tiny room in the house of a weird old man named Krook, who keeps a warehouse full of odds and ends that he calls a store. Just as Tulkinghorn finds him, Nemo kills himself by an overdose of opium. We don't know whether this was an accident or a suicide. At the inquest, the only person who knew Nemo is a street sweeper boy named Jo, who is as poor and sad a human as ever could be. Illiteracy, dirt, malnourishment, lack of education – you name it, Jo has it. Tulkinghorn tells the Dedlocks the story of Nemo.
Esther becomes Ada's governess, and the two of them and Richard live with Mr. Jarndyce, who tries to find a profession for Richard. Sadly, though, Richard is fixated on the court case and thinks that any minute now the case will be decide and he'll be filthy rich. So he tries being a doctor, then a lawyer, then an army officer, but nothing sticks. Meanwhile, Esther makes all sorts of friends: Miss Flite, a nice but totally crazy old woman who comes to court every day thinking it's the Day of Judgment from the Bible; Caddy Jellyby, the daughter of a woman who is only interested in doing philanthropy in Africa and horribly neglects her own family; Alan Woodcourt, a doctor who treats the poor; and Jenny and Liz, two abused wives of bricklayers who live a poor, sad existence.
One day a veiled but obviously wealthy woman finds Jo and makes him take her to all the places associated with Nemo – where he lived and died, where he worked, and where he was buried. Jo is later found by Tulkinghorn and his detective, Bucket. When they show him another, similarly veiled woman, Jo recognizes the clothes but it's not the same woman. She turns out to be Hortense, Lady Dedlock's ex-maid, who is furious at having been fired. She becomes even more furious when Tulkinghorn doesn't find her a job.
The pieces of the mystery start gradually falling into place. Mr. George, an ex-army trooper, has a letter from a Captain Hawdon, which Tulkinghorn obtains through blackmail. The handwriting matches Nemo's. Bucket sends away Jo, who has been running his mouth a little bit about his adventures with the veiled woman. Jo wanders around, falls ill, and is taken in briefly by Jenny and Liz, who passes him on to Esther. He freaks out because Esther looks so much like the veiled woman, but at the time it just seems like his fever talking. Jarndyce takes Jo in, but the next morning he is gone and can't be found. However, one night with Jo in the house was long enough to get Esther sick (with some kind of pox, we're guessing). Although she recovers, her face is left disfigured by scars. Jarndyce asks her to marry him and she accepts. Richard and Ada secretly get married, but Richard is still obsessed with the Jarndyce suit. Ada becomes pregnant.
From her own mild investigations, Lady Dedlock has figured out that Nemo was Captain Hawdon, and that the baby that she had with him (out of wedlock) didn't actually die but was raised by her crazy sister. She finds Esther, confesses to being her mom, then tells her they can never see each other again.
Too bad Tulkinghorn has put the whole thing together too. He tells Lady Dedlock that he's going to tell her husband the truth any day now. But that night, he is shot and killed. Bucket arrests Mr. George for murder, based on some pretty good circumstantial evidence. In reality, though, he is doing major detective work and figures out that the real killer is Hortense! Meanwhile, thinking that she is about to be exposed and maybe even accused of murder, Lady Dedlock runs away. Bucket sets off to find her, bringing Esther with him. They chase her around the country, up north, then back south to London. They finally find Lady Dedlock dead in the cemetery where Captain Hawdon had been buried.
Woodcourt tells Esther that he loves her and always has, but it's too late – she is already engaged. She gets ready to marry Jarndyce but is none too psyched about it. At the last minute, Jarndyce reveals a big surprise: he's been setting up a house for her and Woodcourt all this time, ever since he realized she would be much happier with Woodcourt than with him. Suddenly the Jarndyce case implodes. All the inheritance money has been spent on court fees, and since there is no more money, there is no more case. Richard is freed from his obsession and dies. Mr. George is reunited with his mother, the Dedlock housekeeper. Sir Dedlock is heartbroken over the fate of his wife and never quite recovers. Ada has a baby and lives at Jarndyce's house. Esther and Woodcourt are happily married with two kids.
- This preface says in two pages what could be summed up in five words nowadays: "based on a true story."
- Dickens says that all the Courts of Chancery stuff in the book is true, ripped from the headlines as it were.
- And you know what else? Human spontaneous combustion (spoiler!) is totally real too. Um, yeah OK.
- Right away the gloves come off with the third-person narrator. It's November in London, cold and miserable, and there's chimney soot all over the place.
- To top it all off, it's super foggy – foggy for real, as in bad weather outside, and foggy metaphorically, as in the Court of Chancery is full of idiotic and needlessly complicated lawsuits.
- Court of whoswhatsit, you say? No worries, Shmoop has your back: In Victorian times, there were a whole bunch of different courts for different lawsuits, kind of like we have one type of court for criminal cases and another for civil cases. The Chancery Court dealt with noncriminal stuff, mostly having to do with inheritance issues and wills. These cases could drag on forever – the one that Jarndyce is based on went on for 70-some years. You won't be surprised to learn that Dickens was totally not a fan of that the system.
- The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce involves some sort of inheritance and estate business. It's so confusing that no one knows what it's actually about, and it's been going on so long that the original people involved are all dead and now it's their children and grandchildren. No one thinks it will ever be resolved.
- The court is a huge, impersonal, totally uncaring bureaucracy. There are a bazillion different kinds of lawyers and clerks, and a Judge (called Lord Chancellor) who really couldn't care less about anything and basically just tries to do as little as possible.
- Today in the court there is also a crazy old woman who is a frequent visitor and whom "no one knows for certain, because no one cares" (1.7). There's also a guy from far-away Shropshire yelling to get the Lord Chancellor's attention.
- Finally the day's session is done and the Lord Chancellor goes to his chambers to talk to two young people there who are wards of the court and parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. They need the court's permission to go to live with their cousin.
- Still the third-person narrator. Still nothing but harsh and snide words, but this time it's all about Sir and Lady Dedlock.
- Lady D. is at the very top of high society, aka "fashion". This makes her basically a celebrity, and the papers feature the parties she gives and the places she goes.
- The Dedlocks have just come back to London from the country, where Lady Dedlock was "bored to death" (2.3). They are about to take off for Paris. Oh, her sad, sad life.
- Sir Leicester Dedlock is twenty years older than his wife and apparently married her for love because she didn't bring any land or wealth to the family. They don't have kids. They do however have lots of money and social status and are super-duper well bred.
- While they are in London, Mr. Tulkinghorn, the family lawyer, comes to visit.
- He is terrifying from the get-go, always wears black, knows way too many family secrets, and is just generally crazy powerful. His main mission in life is to protect the secrets and dignity of the families who retain him.
- Lady Dedlock is apparently involved in the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. Mr. Tulkinghorn gives a boring little summary of the inaction in the court that day.
- While he is talking, Lady Dedlock notices one of the documents he has brought with him and asks about the handwriting on it.
- OK, folks, quick brain snack. This is 19th- century England, so all official documents are handwritten. If copies are needed, the originals are sent out to copy clerks, part of whose professional skill is to have specifically developed handwriting for legal work. Also, this is a time when everybody is constantly writing things by hand, which means you get to know the handwriting of people close to you.
- So, anyway, Lady Dedlock asks about this handwriting and is strangely excited and curious by it.
- Mr. Tulkinghorn wonders why she wants to know, and she goes back to her indifferent mood, shrugging it off as a random question.
- After a little while, Lady Dedlock faints. She comes to and goes to rest in her room.
- There's a commotion, and Sir Dedlock is pretty worried, since he's never seen her faint before.
- Whoa, total about-face as we flip into the voice of a first-person narrator, Esther. The third-person narrator specializes in sounding obnoxious, mocking everything he describes. Esther, on the other hand, is all about self-flagellation and self-deprecation. She is someone totally unlikely to want to write or talk about her life – and that's just how she sounds.
- She begins at the beginning, with her totally miserable childhood.
- Raised by a woman she knows as her godmother, Esther has no friends, no family, and no one who's nice to her. Her only companion is a doll, which she talks to.
- The godmother is cold, unloving, and generally miserable. Esther, though, keeps calling her very good, mostly because the woman is really, really religious.
- On Esther's birthdays, this godmother tells her how much better everything would be if she had never been born. (And you thought that ugly sweater was a bad birthday present!)
- Whenever Esther asks about her mother or father (she doesn't remember either of them) the godmother just quotes the Bible in response. Also, she says "your mother is your disgrace, and you were hers" (3.14). To a 10-year-old. Awesome.
- When Esther is 12, a chubby, important-looking man comes to the house, looks her over, and leaves. Nothing happens.
- Two years later the godmother has some kind of fit and dies. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
- The man comes back and introduces himself as Kenge from the law firm of Kenge and Carboy. He reveals that this godmother was actually Esther's aunt (shocker!), but an aunt in fact and not in law (whatever that means).
- Kenge offers Esther the chance to go to a boarding school to learn how to be a governess, and eventually to work for Mr. Jarndyce.
- Esther is totally floored by this offer. She is pretty much totally floored anytime anyone is the slightest bit nice to her, actually. It's sort of awful and horrifying to read how little kindness she has ever experienced and how deeply she feels it whenever anything positive happens to her. Her response is usually to talk about how little she deserves it.
- Esther is enrolled at Greenleaf, a school where she spends six years learning stuff and then learning to teach the stuff she's learned. She loves it there.
- One day she gets a letter stating that in five days she will be off to London to be a governess for Mr. Jarndyce's ward, per the plan. She is sad to leave the school, and everyone there tells her how much they love her and will miss her.
- In London she comes to the Court of Chancery and meets Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. Richard and Ada are going to be Mr. Jarndyce's wards. Ada is about 17 and will be Esther's pupil. Richard is Ada's distant cousin and is about 19. Esther is 20.
- Esther and Ada become fast friends and after meeting with the Lord Chancellor, who OKs the Mr.-Jarndyce-wards thing, they leave the court building.
- Outside they run into the crazy little old lady who hangs out there. She blesses them, is impressed to meet "the wards in Jarndyce" and tells them that she is expecting a Day of Judgment. She seems to be mixing up the end of the world with the end of the court case. Pay attention here: the crazy old woman is kind of wacko, but in that way where you know that everything she is saying is actually really relevant, meaningful, and highly symbolic.
- (Still Esther narrating.)
- Kenge tells the gang that since Jarndyce's place (called Bleak House) is far away, they'll be spending the night at Mrs. Jellyby's. When no one seems to know who she is, Kenge explains that she is a super-awesome philanthropist who is devoted to all sorts of causes. The cause of the moment is Africa.
- When they get to the Jellyby house there is a commotion over the youngest Jellyby, who's gotten his head stuck in a railing. The other kids are concerned and the neighborhood tradesmen are trying to help. Pretty much everyone is involved except Mrs. Jellyby herself.
- Esther directs the freeing of the kid and goes inside.
- OK everyone, we're about to get to one of the novel's big themes, which is expressed here in the form of a chapter-long joke.
- The Jellyby house is the dirtiest, messiest, most ridiculously upside-down piece of disgustingness ever, complete with totally neglected and endangered children and a completely silent and almost invisible husband. It makes Ada, who is a delicate flower, cry to have to stay there.
- Meanwhile Mrs. Jellyby is totally chillaxing, dressed in ill-fitting clothes and spending all of her time writing letters about totally impractical and ridiculous-sounding schemes to help Africans in the colony of Borrioboola-Gha (a made-up name, obviously).
- So – get it? She's trying to help people who are really far away but has no concern for her own domestic problems. She acts like she's more important than her husband, who has no control over her. Chicks, man! Also, do-gooders, man.
- The person who takes down her dictation is her eldest daughter, Caddy Jellyby. She looks angry and unhappy to Esther.
- Finally, it's dinnertime. Mrs. Jellyby announces that she has no idea where the hot water, kettle, or water jug are, and that the boiler is broken, so her guests can't wash up before eating.
- (At this point, Shmoop started wondering why exactly Kenge brought Esther and Ada to this hellhole. Is this some kind of payback or punishment?)
- Esther and Ada try to freshen up as well as they can and discover that the doors of their bedrooms don't work. Esther ends up telling fairy tales to the Jellyby kids while getting ready.
- The food is gross and totally uncooked, although Esther is generous enough to say that if someone had actually prepared it, it would probably have been yummy. (She always tries to say something nice.)
- There is a very silent, passive man sitting at the table who eventually turns out to be Mr. Jellyby. He is really a nonentity.
- Mrs. Jellyby spends dinner drinking coffee, rifling through papers, and sending Caddy off to write letters.
- Esther tells some more stories to the kids and puts them to bed.
- Then Esther asks Ada to explain why Mrs. Jellyby is supposed to be this amazing person when her kids and her house are falling to pieces. It sounds really snide when we write this, but in the novel Esther is genuinely confused. She's all naïve and innocent and sweet, so everything she says is totally non-sarcastic.
- Ada laughs at her. Ada has a little bit of that beautiful-girl-gets-to-be-a-jerk quality.
- Late at night Caddy comes to see Esther and busts out with some super-angry ranting. Basically she says: 1) I know the house is a disgusting mess, 2) I wish our family were more normal (i.e., I wish our mom mommed it up more), and 3) I wish you could teach me about stuff like you're going to teach Ada. Then Caddy starts crying and falls asleep in Esther's lap.
- Esther falls asleep too, and dreams about turning into Ada, then her school friends, then the mad woman at the courthouse, then no one.
A Morning Adventure
- (Esther narrates.)
- The next morning the gang wakes up totally freezing in the horrible Jellyby house. Nothing from the dinner the night before has been cleared from the table. The cook is clearly drunk. There is no breakfast. At this point, none of this should shock anyone. Seriously, why didn't they stay in a hotel?
- Caddy suggests going for a walk, and so she, Esther, Ada, and Richard go out. Ada walks with Richard (wink wink, folks, wink wink) behind Caddy and Esther.
- Caddy rants and raves some more about how much she hates living the way they do.
- The four then find themselves again in the neighborhood of the Court of Chancery. (It's like all roads lead to Rome.)
- They run into the crazy old woman, who is psyched to see "the wards in Jarndyce" (5.20).
- The woman does more of her shtick, conflating the Biblical and Chancery Days of Judgment, and acting alternately sweet, loopy, and very well-mannered. She invites them over to her place before she goes to court.
- It turns out she lives right around the corner, in a little apartment over Krook's shop. It's a shop in name only, really, since Krook mostly seems to be a crazed hoarder who only buys things; he doesn't actually sell them. Krook is a skeletal old man who keeps a vicious-looking cat named Lady Jane. The "shop" is jam-packed with pretty much every kind of detritus imaginable: bottles, clothes, law books, rags, maritime supplies, human hair, bones, parchment scrolls, old documents, and so on. Krook also has advertisements on the window, one of which is a kind of job-wanted ad from a copyist named Nemo.
- OK, brace yourselves for some symbolism. Krook is known around the neighborhood as the Lord Chancellor, and his shop is nicknamed the Court of Chancery!
- That's pretty deep, guys. All that human detritus, gathered up, rotting, and useless, is the same in this weird shop as in the real court.
- Anyhow, Krook kind of freaks out when he hears that the gang, or at least Ada and Richard, are involved in Jarndyce. He recites some facts about the case, shocking them all with his detailed knowledge.
- Then Krook tells the sad tale of Tom Jarndyce, who dealt with the case for a long time and eventually grew so depressed by the whole thing that he blew his brains out, saying that waiting for the settlement is like "being ground to bits in a slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad by grains" (5.57). Wow.
- Everyone is shaken up by this story, then the little old lady takes them up to her apartment on the third floor.
- There's almost nothing there, and Esther realizes that the lady is so thin because she's poor and doesn't have enough to eat.
- The woman shows them her many birds but won't tell them their names yet. She keeps the birds under cover so they don't sing when she's in court.
- She eventually wants to free the birds when the judgment is given but assumes they'll die in their cages. (Ahem: just like the people involved in the lawsuit!)
- Finally the church bells ring and the woman has to rush off to get to court before the session starts. On the way down the stairs, she points to the second-floor apartment and tells them that a law-writer (a guy who copies legal documents) lives there.
- Esther is walking last, and Krook corners her and demonstrates that although he is totally illiterate he has a good memory: he can write the words "Jarndyce" and Bleak House one letter at a time. It's a little bizarre.
- As they leave, Ada gets sad about being involved in the court case and thus being made enemies with random relatives whom she doesn't even know.
- Richard agrees that the whole thing is a colossal waste of time, money, and sanity.
- They drop Caddy off at home, get into a carriage, and roll out of the city.
Quite at Home
- (Esther narrates.)
- OK, so the troupe gets the heck out of Dodge, and with every mile out of the city the weather looks nicer and the outdoors greener and more pleasant.
- Richard and Ada discuss the fact that Mr. Jarndyce's least-favorite thing in the world is to be thanked for the many good things he does. Like, one time he saw Ada's mom coming to say thanks and ran away from his house for three months. Um, OK. They prepare themselves to not thank him for anything.
- When they get to Bleak House, Mr. Jarndyce meets them, calls them by their first names, which was a huge deal back then, and really only reserved for family – meaning he's super warm and friendly and wants to be close.
- Ada kind of very slightly hints at possibly being grateful to him, and he almost bolts but doesn't.
- Mr. Jarndyce asks the gang about Mrs. Jellyby. They all kind of hem and haw about how dedicated she is to the Africans and then finally confess that she's an off-putting mess. He seems concerned and talks about how the wind is suddenly in the east.
- OK, a little Shmooptastic aside. This whole wind-in-the-east business is Jarndyce's way of indicating that he's upset about something. Once he calms down, he says the wind is no longer in the east. It's based on a proverbial idea that an east wind blows disease and bad odors or something. Fun brain snack: the east wind is also an evil force in the Old Testament (Genesis) and The Lord of the Rings
- trilogy. Then again, it's the east wind that blows Mary Poppins to the Banks children, so it's not always a bad thing.
- OK, then, where were we? Oh, yes.
- Ada calms Jarndyce down about the Jellybys by telling him that Esther was super awesome in dealing with the kids there. Esther is all shy and denies doing much. She says Ada is just being nice, but Ada insists. Mutual admiration society.
- Jarndyce takes them on a tour of the house, which is old and irregular, with additions built onto the original structure in no particular sense or order.
- Esther loves it.
- Jarndyce announces dinner in a half an hour and tells them about his friend Harold Skimpole who will join them.
- First, though, Esther gets the keys to the castle, literally.
- Every wonder what that expression means? Well, in a large household, the person running the place was the housekeeper, who managed the servants, the kitchen, the cleaning of the house, etc. And to do all that, the housekeeper would have keys to all the doors, closets, storage rooms, the wine cellar, the linen cupboards, the pantry, the silverware drawers, and whatever else. Basically, it's a big deal.
- Esther can't believe the crazy honor and huge responsibility of the keys. It's far, far more important than just being a governess.
- Our friends meet Harold Skimpole, who is an easy-going, totally relaxed dude who happily tells them that he is a naïve imbecile when it comes to money, property, time, duty, responsibility, or any of the other things grownups have to deal with.
- He's tried being a doctor and a painter but isn't really into working or supporting his wife and children, so he just sponges off Jarndyce. He actually tells them all of this.
- Of course, our first reaction is ewww, what a horrible person.
- But Esther is charmed by the fact that he's telling them these seemingly personal things up front and that he's so friendly. Exactly how good-looking would he have to be to make all of this sound delightful rather than disgusting?
- Moving along.
- After dinner, Esther is suddenly called to take care of Skimpole, who has been "took." She thinks that means he's had some kind of fit, but when she gets to his room, she finds him about to be arrested for debts. Richard is already there.
- Skimpole is not embarrassed in the least by the situation, which totally floors Esther, who feels doubly embarrassed on his behalf.
- Actually he's so unembarrassed that he hits Richard and Esther up for money to avoid going to debtors' prison. He is completely unselfconscious about the whole matter.
- They spend what little they have paying the man who has come to arrest him.
- Skimpole nicknames this man Coavinses, after the name of the prison where he was about to go.
- He then asks Coavinses whether he felt bad about coming to arrest him. Coavinses says no. (Um, duh. Why would he?)
- Later that night Jarndyce finds out this nonsense and is upset that Richard and Esther paid the money instead of just going to find him. He tells them that Skimpole has this sort of problem almost every week and that they shouldn't bail him out any more, but should just tell him and he'll do it. Because that's just the kind of enabling friend he is.
- He's kind of mad at Skimpole for asking Richard and Esther for money in the first place but then decides that this just shows how naïve and innocent the guy is.
- For the record, Skimpole is not innocent or naïve. It's pretty clear from his conversation that he knows everything about everything and this whole naïve shtick is an act.
- Finally everyone goes to bed, and Esther wonders how Skimpole has managed to avoid having any responsibilities whatsoever.
The Ghost's Walk
(Sneery McMockerson is back as narrator.)
- It's raining cats and dogs in the world's least pleasant place to be, Chesney Wold, the Dedlocks' estate.
- Luckily they aren't there (they're in Paris, remember), but their housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell, is.
- She's been a servant with the Dedlocks for 50 years now and is obviously pretty committed to the whole lord-of-the-manor thing.
- She has two sons. One ran off and joined the army and was never heard from again. The other was a born engineer who left for "the North."
- The north of England (Manchester and Leeds, mostly) is where the Industrial Revolution is happening as the novel takes place. Not sure what that is? Quick brain snack. In the middle of the 19th century, technologies for producing goods started to advance by leaps and bounds. Instead of small groups of highly skilled people making stuff in little workshops, factories were created, where many low-skilled workers could manufacture the same stuff (mostly cotton fabric) by using division of labor (think assembly line – each guy just does one very specific job over and over again). Cheap workers, sped-up production, and cheap raw materials from England's many colonies ended up lowering prices and in short order made England into the world's economic powerhouse.
- So Mrs. Rouncewell's son is all about that. She's kind of bummed though that he didn't go into the family business of being servants, which probably sounded less nuts back in the day than it does to our freedom-loving modern American ears.
- Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson Watt (the engineer's son) is visiting.
- He's psyched to see grandma and everything, but he's even more psyched to check out the hot new maid, Rosa. OK, maybe hot is the wrong word, since she's shy, modest, and all those awesome repressive things.
- Rosa is learning how to be a maid and so far she has learned how to show the house to visitors.
- Meaning what? Check it out – you know how nowadays when you go visiting castles and old estates in Europe they are all set up as museums and there are tour guides and gift shops and all that good stuff? Well, back in Victorian times, people still actually lived in those places, but because they were beautiful and had all kinds of fancy art and objects in them, you could stop by and take a tour without having to know the people who lived there. A special servant would take you around and tell you about what you were looking at. So servants would have to memorize the spiel – which is what Rosa has been doing.
- There is a knock at the door.
- Turns out it's Mr. Guppy and another guy. They are clerks who know Mr. Tulkinghorn, and since they happened to have a few hours free from a case nearby, they wanted to check out the sightseeing.
- Rosa takes them around the house and Watt joins the tour group.
- Guppy is totally bored the whole time until he sees a portrait of Lady Dedlock and... freaks out.
- He swears he's seen the painting or the woman herself before. But that's crazy talk, because how could he ever have seen Lady Dedlock? And no one had ever made a print of the portrait. Guppy can't get over it, though.
- Meanwhile Mrs. Rouncewell tells the gang the story of The Ghost's Walk, one of the mansion's terraces. Speaking of which, you know what's not a good name for a pretty terrace? "The Ghost's Walk." Also not awesome? The Ghoul's Crawl, The Demon's Run, or The Vampire's Creep. Seriously, people.
- Turns out, a few centuries ago, the then Lady Dedlock cursed the Dedlock family. She also said that her steps would forever be heard on the terrace whenever some horrible thing was about to happen to a Dedlock. Nice.
Covering a Multitude of Sins
- (Esther's back at the wheel.)
- So it's only been one night, but Esther is totally settling into her new digs. She's psyched to be in charge of the housekeeping keys and making tea. (Imagine what her life has been like up to this point if making tea for other people seems way awesome.)
- At breakfast Harold Skimpole talks about how bees tick him off because they're so busy and productive, or some such nonsense. We'll have to take Esther's word for it that he is really fun to be around; he sounds to us like the most annoying human being on earth.
- Afterwards Jarndyce shows Esther his study, called "The Growlery" because he goes there to growl.
- There's kind of an odd moment where Esther kisses his hand, overcome by all sorts of feelings, and this makes Jarndyce have feelings too. Feelings, feelings, feelings.
- To break the half-paternal, half-romantic mood, Jarndyce tells her that the other Jarndyce who killed himself because of the Chancery lawsuit used to live in Bleak House. He was so obsessed with the lawsuit that he totally stopped taking care of the house. That speaks to the theme of people abandoning their domestic responsibilities.
- Wow, sucks, Esther tells him, but then compliments him on how nice he's made the house since inheriting it.
- Jarndyce is flattered. Then he nicknames Esther – 20-year old, naïve, pretty young Esther – "little old woman." Oh how very nice. Esther tells us that this nickname stuck so well that "my own name soon became quite lost" (8.38).
- Still, Jarndyce clearly really values her opinions. They talk about what Richard should do with his life. Oh, yeah, Richard – remember him? He's just fresh from school and needs to find a job. Esther suggests asking him what he's into.
- Jarndyce tells her to call him Guardian.
- Life goes on for a little while, and Esther and Ada discover that since Jarndyce is such a rich and generous guy, he's constantly being hit up for money by all sorts of crazy-sounding philanthropic organizations. These are mostly run by women, who are totally incapable of running a charity. Chicks, man.
- One of these women, Mrs. Pardiggle, comes to visit. She is uptight, severe, loud, obnoxious, self-righteous, and of course totally uncaring. She is another woman who domineers over her husband. Her charity is done close to home, and she drags her poor kids around to all her activities (so she's got that edge over Mrs. Jellyby). She is beyond horrible.
- Mrs. Pardiggle invites Esther and Ada on a mission to visit a neighborhood slum to confront a brickmaker.
- As Esther predicts, this mostly involves condescendingly yelling at him for not going to church as he sits with his family (wife with a black eye, which he proudly says he gave her, sick baby, some random others).
- The guy is totally unmoved and tells Mrs. Pardiggle off.
- Esther is sad at the hostility of the situation and how there is no way these two people could ever communicate with or understand each other.
- After Mrs. Pardiggle leaves, Esther and Ada try to help the brickmaker's wife with the seemingly sick baby she's holding. As soon as they come closer, though, they realize that the baby is dead.
- Ava loses it and starts to cry, which makes the wife (Jenny) cry too. A friend of hers rushes into the house, hugs Jenny, and slowly shushes her to sleep. The friend tells Esther and Ava that Jenny held the baby for seven days straight while it was sick. The girls leave the two poor women alone, and Esther marvels at the fact that poor people are apparently able to have close friendships and normal human emotions.
- There's a lot of this "Poor people – they're just like us!" stuff in much of Dickens's writing. It sounds wacko now, but it was a pretty novel message in his day and age, before the creation of the kinds of social support systems (welfare, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.) we rely on today.
Signs and Tokens
- (Esther narrates.)
- Esther apologizes for spending so much time talking about herself. To which the answer is obviously "Huh?" – since in reality she is constantly leaving herself out or putting herself down. So this is just more of that.
- Richard and Ada are falling in love. No worries, back then it was totally cool for cousins to get together. And it doesn't seem like they're first cousins or anything.
- In any case, Esther thinks it's adorable. Such a cute couple!
- But she is also worried about Richard's idiotic rationalizations about money. He is not a saver.
- After some time, Jarndyce gets a letter and is psyched to announce that his childhood friend Lawrence Boythorn is coming to visit. They met at school, when Boythorn saved Jarndyce from some bullies. (Brain snack: see Dobbin and George Osborne in Vanity Fair for an identical meet-cute bromance.)
- Jarndyce says Boythorn is large, loud, brave, very emphatic, and generally awesome.
- Boythorn arrives late and bursts into the house yelling about some jerk who gave him bad directions.
- He alternates between saying that things are amazingly awesome and that they're terrible and whoever is responsible for them should be shot. Jarndyce clearly loves him.
- At dinner there's more of the same, except now Boythorn's pet, a tiny yellow bird that's so domesticated it doesn't need a cage, sits on his head and eats out of his hand.
- So Boythorn clearly has a lot of bark and not much bite.
- Also, it turns out that he is Sir Leicester Dedlock's neighbor, and they are constantly suing each other and fighting over the borders between their estates.
- After dinner Esther notices how Boythorn watches Ada and Richard.
- Later she asks Jarndyce whether Boythorn was ever married. Jarndyce says no, but Esther guesses he was supposed to be married. She's a smart cookie.
- It turns out that something happened to Boythorn's fiancée, and he has never been the same since. Esther thinks about this, then dozes off and dreams about her Aunt's house.
- The next morning Guppy from Kenge and Carboy's office swings by Bleak House. Esther recognizes him as the young man who helped her in the court building the first time she came to London.
- Guppy hems and haws a bit, and then...proposes marriage to Esther! Readers everywhere say, "what the...?"
- Esther lets him down as gently as possible. Guppy says that despite her saying no, he will promote her interests as best as he can. Whatever that means.
- Esther gets rid of him as quickly as she can, then goes upstairs. Thinking about his proposal first makes her laugh. Then it makes her cry. Aww.
- (Third-person narrator is back! Quick, everyone practice raising your eyebrow ironically.)
- New people coming through. First, Mr. Snagsby, who is a law stationer. You guessed it – he has a special shop selling blank legal forms, parchment, pens, sealing wax, etc. The other thing he does is send out law documents to be copied (which back then was done by hand – everything was just rewritten).
- He is married to Mrs. Snagsby, who is the third woman we've met so far who wears the pants in the marriage. And yet again, it's not doing any favors for her appeal. She is loud, jealous, domineering, and controlling.
- They have a couple of daughters, a couple of shop assistants, and a young woman named Guster who is kind of a jack-of-all-trades. She is an epileptic orphan from the workhouse. (Brain snack: workhouses were sweatshops where orphans, unclaimed illegitimate children, and extremely poor people were basically worked to death. The idea was to make being poor so horrible that you'd try to avoid it at all costs. Nice, huh? People definitely had different notions of psychology and economics back then.)
- One day Tulkinghorn is working in his office in London. It's stuffy, filled with antiques, and generally unpleasant. The ceilings have paintings on them, and in his office is a picture of Allegory pointing his finger down at the viewer.
- Tulkinghorn leaves, and goes over to Snagsby's. This is totally unusual, because Tulkinghorn is way too important a person to every go to the stationer's himself.
- He is all cool and nonchalant and asks Snagsby who did the legal copy on the document Lady Dedlock was fascinated by earlier.
- Snagsby tells him about the law writer who rents the second-floor room at Krook's. His name is Nemo.
- Tulkinghorn is all "what?" because Nemo means "no one" in Latin.
- Brain snack! Other characters named "No one" include Captain Nemo, the Indian explorer in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey, who escapes from the cyclops Polyphemus by telling him his name is "outis", or "no man" in Greek (which also sounds like Odys, a short version of his name).
- So Tulkinghorn goes over to Krook's. Krook tells him that word on the street has it that Nemo has sold his soul to the devil, "but you and I know better – [the Devil] don't buy" (10.64).
- They go into Nemo's room and find him lying with his eyes open on the bed, totally out of it.
- Tulkinghorn smells opium, and neither of them can shake Nemo awake.
- Stay tuned! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!
Our Dear Brother
- (Third-person narrator.)
- OK, we'll stop beating around the bus – the dude is dead.
- An old woman named Miss Flite goes to fetch a doctor, and comes back with two. One takes a quick look, declares Nemo dead, and goes back to his dinner.
- The other, a surgeon, recognizes Nemo as a guy who's been buying opium from him for a year and a half now. Calm down, guys, he's not a drug dealer. Opium was a perfectly legal medication back then.
- The surgeon does a quick exam of the body and figures out that Nemo overdosed.
- Tulkinghorn goes out of his way to make sure everyone understands how marginally involved he is in this whole situation. He and Krook hover around the only piece of property in the room – a giant overcoat slung across a chair.
- Snagsby comes over and doesn't know anything about Nemo. Neither does Krook or Miss Flite. He's been living a totally isolated life.
- The gang decides to call the policeman and the beadle, so that the regular process of found-dead-body inquest can get started. Basically, at an inquest, a jury listens to some witnesses testifying about what they know about the dead guy, then decides how the death occurred. (Brain snack: it matters whether this is a suicide or an accident because suicides can't be given Christian burials.)
- The whole neighborhood is watching the show.
- The beadle comes and goes. The policeman comes and goes. The policeman doesn't think too highly of the beadle, because the police are the community law enforcement of the future while beadles are a remnant of the days of night watchmen.
- The next day, the inquest happens.
- It's a circus of morons, mostly because no one who testifies knows anything about Nemo.
- The only person who did know him is a boy named Jo, a crossing sweeper. Jo is basically the old-timey version of one of those homeless kids who cleans car windshields in the hopes of getting some charity. Jo cleans horse crap and whatever else off the street and lives on whatever money passers-by give him.
- The beadle and the coroner try to swear Jo in, but he doesn't qualify as a witness. The reason? He can't give a thorough description of heaven and hell, and so – the argument goes – he doesn't understand enough why he can only tell the truth at the inquest. OK, everyone, all together now – UGH.
- The jury decides the death was accidental.
- Meanwhile Tulkinghorn has a private conversation with Jo.
- Jo tells him that Nemo was the only person who's ever been kind to him, always giving him money whenever he had some and talking to him about his life. Jo's refrain is "He wos wery good to me, he wos!" (11.89).
- The body is given a pauper's burial in the most disgusting and foul cemetery on earth.
- The night after the funeral, Jo comes to the gates of the cemetery and sweeps the stairs. So, so sad.
On the Watch
- (Third-person narrator.)
- The Dedlocks are coming back to Chesney Wold from Paris. Turns out that however exciting Paris was, it was still far too dull for Lady Dedlock.
- She goes through life totally bored, closed in, and cold, despite being at the heart of the upper echelons of England's social elite.
- Oh, and also a bunch of people are coming to Chesney Wold with the Dedlocks to spend a few weeks hanging out. (A mansion like theirs probably had something like fifteen to twenty bedrooms for guests and for the guests' servants.)
- Sir Leicester reads letters in the carriage. Lady Dedlock notices a letter from Tulkinghorn and asks him about it.
- The letter has a little P.S. in it for her – that Tulkinghorn has something to tell her about the copied letter she was curious about.
- Lady Dedlock all of a sudden stops the carriage and says she wants to walk. Dedlock goes out after her and offers her his hand. He is very gentlemanly and chivalrous to her. When they travel, everyone can tell how he loves her, despite being so much older (he's 60 to her 40).
- Finally they get to the house and say hi to Mrs. Rouncewell, and Lady Dedlock notices the new maid Rosa.
- Then out of the blue, she pets Rosa's face, tells her she's so pretty, and generally is all nice to her. This is way, way out of character.
- That night Rosa is psyched at how nice Lady Dedlock was to her (but in a humble and charming way), and Watt Rouncewell decides to stay at Chesney Wold longer because ... ahem...it's so pretty there... ahem. (He's got the hots for Rosa, remember.)
- That night Lady Dedlock's maid Hortense, a vicious-looking French woman, rants and raves furiously about Rosa. Hortense has been with Lady Dedlock for five years and has never received any such niceness. She is angry, resentful, and way overreacting – and she stays that way for weeks and weeks.
- Meanwhile the house party is going on. There's some hunting for the dudes, some music and art for the ladies, and some totally annoying and elitist political conversation for everyone.
- The narrator mocks these guys hardcore for not knowing or caring about real people.
- Lady Dedlock, meanwhile, is on pins and needles waiting for Tulkinghorn to come.
- Finally he does and apologizes for not coming sooner. He's been busy dealing with Sir Leicester's many lawsuits with Boythorn.
- Sir Leicester gets all hot and bothered talking about his neighbor and they are both as obstinate as obstinate can be about the random nonsense they are fighting about.
- Finally Lady Dedlock buts in and tries to be really smooth, asking Tulkinghorn about this handwriting he was talking about.
- Lady Dedlock hardly ever cares about anything, so any time she does express an interest in something, it's a red flag.
- Tulkinghorn tells her that he found the law writer dead and that there was no way of figuring out who he was or even his name.
- Tulkinghorn and Lady Dedlock spend the rest of the house party pretending to ignore each other but secretly watching each other's every movement. They are each suspicious of the other.
- (OK, straighten out your pinafores and put on your best little-girl smiles – Esther's back as narrator!)
- The Bleak House gang is hard at work trying to figure out a career for Richard.
- He's mostly a good guy, but he is totally unserious and indecisive about getting a job. Anything Jarndyce suggests is fine. The navy? OK, awesome. The army? Sure, why not. Law? Yup, sounds good. Medicine? Totally.
- Esther and Jarndyce think this kind of thinking comes from two places: 1) classical liberal arts education that didn't stress anything after getting a degree, and 2) growing up with the uncertainly of this long lawsuit hanging over him (because in theory, at any moment he could end up inheriting a giant chunk of change and never have to work again).
- Finally Richard decides that medicine it is.
- Kenge comes over to formalize the details and tells them about Bayham Badger, his cousin, who is a surgeon, who may be willing to take Richard on as his apprentice.
- Richard promises to do his best. Well, "promises" might be too strong a term, since he kind of just blows off the decision process and is acting half-stoned all the time. Just thinking about him as a doctor is giving us goose bumps. Good thing there wasn't much doctors could do for sick people back then anyway.
- They decide to go to London to check out this Bayham Badger character.
- While there, they check out the theaters. Esther is shocked to run into...Mr. Guppy! He only has eyes for her, doesn't watch the play, and does kind of a sad puppy-dog (or guppy-dog) thing in her direction every time he sees her.
- It's way creepy and borderline stalkery, especially when she catches him outside their house staring up at her window. Dude.
- But it's also sort of flattering or intriguing or something, we guess, because she doesn't tell anyone about it, ostensibly because she doesn't want to get him fired. Um, OK.
- Now on to Mr. and Mrs. Badger. They are pure comic relief. Mr. Badger's main source of pride is that he is Mrs. Badger's third husband. Hardy-har, what a crazy wacko. Her first two husbands and their illustrious careers are all he ever talks about. It's like a weird fetish of some sort.
- In any case, "Mr. Badger liked Richard, and as Richard said he liked Mr. Badger 'well enough,'" (13.40), so it's a deal.
- That night, Ada says she has to tell Esther a secret.
- The secret is... that Richard loves her! Esther is all, "duh."
- Oh, but there's something else, which is...that Ada loves Richard back! Esther is like, "double duh." But, as always, she says it in a nice and sweet way.
- The next morning Esther tells Jarndyce, who seems happy enough about it. He makes Richard promise to work hard for Ada's sake and to start taking things more seriously.
- Richard agrees. We're not holding our breath, though.
- The lovebirds go for a walk.
- Then all of a sudden, Esther busts out with the information that at the Badgers' there was also a "sensible and agreeable" (13.133) young surgeon. She doesn't know why she didn't tell us this originally. We don't know either!
- (Esther narrates.)
- Before Richard sets off to the Badger college of doctor knowledge, he and Ada talk about the Chancery suit.
- Richard is definitely the kind of guy who would buy Lotto tickets, cause you never know. In his heart of hearts he's convinced they're about to hit the big time with a settlement from the suit.
- Ada rationally tries to talk him down, saying it's best to just pretend the suit doesn't even exist and go about their lives normally. Richard half-heartedly, jokingly agrees, and leaves.
- Ada and Esther set out to visit Mrs. Jellyby, but neither she nor Caddy are at home – they are out doing more Africa business. Esther asks about Peepy, the little boy whose head was stuck in the railing. No one knows where he is; the cook thinks maybe he wandered off to the marketplace to look at sheep. Granted, back then they weren't so stressed about child abduction, but still, he's only like 6 and probably shouldn't be wandering around London by himself. It's a case of shocking neglect, though it's played a little bit for laughs.
- The next morning, Caddy and Peepy come to return the visit (the 19th-century version of returning someone's phone call). Caddy looks great, and Peepy is still in ridiculous state of being half-dressed and half-mud-caked.
- Caddy rants a little bit about the Jellyby household and warns Esther that Mr. Jellyby is nearing financial ruin. With no one supervising the household, every merchant and servant is taking advantage by overcharging or even outright stealing from them.
- Caddy then confesses that soon she's going to be out of there because... she's engaged!
- Esther is a little worried. The guy is a dancing teacher who has yet to tell his own father about the engagement. The father is, according to Caddy, some big to-do, "celebrated, almost everywhere, for his Deportment" (14.58). ("Deportment" being his manners and behavior.)
- This is sort of mysterious. Esther agrees to go with Caddy to her next dancing lesson to meet her fiancé, Prince Turveydrop. He is named Prince after the Prince Regent.
- Wait, the who now? No worries. George IV, who started reigning as the Prince Regent while his father George III was a few cards short of a full deck, was a fun king, the total opposite of sour-faced, prissy Queen Victoria. His Court was all about eating, drinking, and general wastefulness and debauchery. In fact he was so into the good life that he ended dying from it.
- Prince turns out to be a really nice, quiet guy, who works crazy hard.
- While Caddy dances, Esther and Peepy sit and watch. Esther starts chatting with another observer, who is totally furious at the Turveydrop situation. It turns out that old Mr. Turveydrop, Prince's father, has modeled himself on the Prince Regent. He's fat like him, obsessed with appearances like him, and wants to be a gentleman who doesn't work for a living like him. But obviously someone's got to work for a living, right? That ended up being Prince's mother, who was also a dancing teacher and died young from overwork. Now it's Prince who works nonstop, wears cheap clothes, and doesn't even have a watch so that his father can prance around all decked out. To top it all off, Prince seems to think his father actually deserves this life.
- Finally Esther has a few words with Mr. Turveydrop himself, and he is as affected, fake, and poser-ish as they come.
- Lots of crappy parenting in this novel, no?
- After the lesson Prince rushes off to his next class, and Caddy tells Esther that she's been learning a few rudimentary things about how to manage a house from Miss Flite.
- Esther is totally touched by how sweet Caddy is and how hard she's trying.
- They get Ada and Mr. Jarndyce and go to visit Miss Flite.
- At Krook's house there's an ad for the second-floor apartment, and Caddy fills the gang in on Nemo's death.
- Esther goes into the empty room and gets really freaked out. Oooooh, spooky!
- Miss Flite is being examined by a nice young doctor named Woodcourt. He tells them that although he was too late to the scene to help Nemo, he decided to take care of Miss Flite instead. She was really discombobulated by the whole experience but is now back to her old self.
- Miss Flite then tells them that she is somehow mysteriously getting a small stipend every week. She thinks it's from the Lord Chancellor. It's obviously from Jarndyce.
- Krook comes in the room, insisting that since he is also the Lord Chancellor, he should be introduced to Jarndyce.
- Krook finally tells everyone the names of Miss Flite's birds. Ready?
- "Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach" (14.151). Wow, quite a list, with almost infinite meanings.
- Everyone is creeped out.
- On the way out Krook keeps invading Jarndyce's personal space. He then shows him a corner of his weird shop where he is apparently teaching himself how to read.
- Jarndyce asks why he doesn't get someone else to teach him, and Krook says he's afraid another person would teach him wrong. Talk about paranoid!
- Mr. Woodcourt explains that Krook is not actually mentally unbalanced, though.
- Caddy and Peepy go home.
- All of a sudden, Esther – again out of order – tells us that she forgot to mention that Woodcourt was the same guy she met at the Badgers' house. Oh, and that he has since come to dinner at Bleak House. Oh, and also that Ada made some crack about him, which Esther won't repeat to us. Wink, wink, hint, hint, nudge, nudge everyone. It's not a spoiler if it's obvious.
- (Still Esther.)
- OK, guys, this chapter is kind of hardcore. Everyone sit down and take a deep breath before plunging in.
- In London Jarndyce is constantly being hit up for money by all his philanthropist acquaintances. They come at him hard and fast with totally wacko schemes that never actually help anyone or do anything other than make a big show of how helpful they supposedly are.
- Jarndyce seems happy when Harold Skimpole is around, because when he asks for money he is at least honest that he's just going to fritter it away.
- Skimpole has been sick, but now he's all better. He tells the gang about how he tried to use the idea that "it's the thought that counts" to pay his doctor and butcher. No go. Apparently they want actual money.
- Also, he tells them that the fellow who came to arrest him at Bleak House earlier, nicknamed Coavinses, has died. He was widowed with three kids, who are now orphans. Because he was a debt collector he was way unpopular with the locals – and now that unpopularity is trickling down to his kids.
- Jarndyce immediately wants to track down the kids. It's easy enough to find them.
- Esther, Ada, Skimpole, and Jarndyce arrive at the building and the landlady gives them a large key and tells them that the Neckett children are on the third floor.
- They go upstairs and find a 5-year-old boy, Tom, taking care of an 18-month-old girl, Emma, in a tiny, freezing-cold room. They were locked in from the outside for safety. It's so incredibly sad and dispiriting, especially since the boy is totally trying to be a grownup when he talks to them.
- Soon, their older sister, Charley, comes in. She's 13 and works as a laundress every day to earn "sixpences and shillings" (pretty much nothing, in other words).
- She tells Jarndyce that she's been taking care of the other two kids since their mom died. She is brave, bustling, industrious, chipper, positive, and a little world-weary. It's heartbreaking. (Hang on a sec, Shmoop has something in its eye. Allergies, maybe. Sniff.)
- Jarndyce chats with the landlady about how the kids are getting on. Turns out, not only does this 13-year-old have to provide for a 5 and a 1-year-old, but they are being mistreated because of their dad's profession.
- Jarndyce asks if Neckett was a good worker, even if his field was unpleasant. Everyone agrees that he was very industrious and serious about his job and was a good man besides.
- A downstairs neighbor comes into the Necketts' room. He is gruff and rude, but the kids clearly know and like him.
- Scowling and yelling, the neighbor introduces himself as Mr. Gridley... one of the men who comes to the Court of Chancery for resolution of a hopeless lawsuit. His suit isn't Jarndyce, it's another endless piece of nonsense in which the expenses and costs of the lawsuit have already completely bankrupted the estate that the suit is about.
- Gridley rants some more and declares that the court is driving him completely insane. It's already turned him from a happy, nice guy into a yelling rage-aholic.
- Jarndyce commiserates about the court.
- Gridley apologizes a little, then takes Tom and Emma downstairs with him to give them a gingerbread cookie and play with them.
- Jarndyce, Ada, Esther, and Skimpole leave. Skimpole is struck by the idea that all this time he's been providing employment to the late Neckett.
- Meanwhile Charley wanders off to do more piecework somewhere.
- (Time to bunch up your face like something smells bad – the third-person narrator is back.)
- Lady Dedlock is bored and restless. Sir Dedlock is bedridden with gout. Since this is an inherited joint disease, he's kind of into it, despite how painful it is. It's one more confirmation of how truly pure his noble blood is.
- In any case, he's in Chesney Wold alone and miserable, and Lady Dedlock is out gallivanting around London in her bored way.
- And now for something completely different – a little glimpse of what life is like for Jo the crossing sweep.
- Jo lives in a place called Tom-all-Alone's, a condemned slum. Buildings are decaying, gross, and repugnant. The people who live there are also decaying, gross, and repugnant. Sometimes the buildings fall down and kill people, but no one does anything about it because the property the slum is on is part of a Chancery lawsuit over disputed ownership. No owner means no responsibility. No responsibility means tragedy.
- Jo is illiterate, uneducated, and completely ignorant of most things he encounters. It's so super sad that, honestly, Shmoop is having some trouble mocking the situation.
- The narrator, though, has no such problem. Every day Jo eats his breakfast on the steps of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" (16.13), and the irony is so thick here you can cut it with a knife. The society's members spend their days trying to convert people in far-away colonies to Christianity, while they ignore people like Jo who are living right under their noses. This is like Mrs. Jellyby times a million.
- All day long Jo sweeps his crossing and eventually makes just barely enough to pay for his place in Tom-all-Alone's. Sometimes he hears music, responding to it with about the same level of animal enjoyment as a dog.
- Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is working in his office. He's making legal trouble for Gridley and Boythorn.
- Suddenly he sees a woman go past his window. She is veiled and dressed like a servant, but he can tell by her mannerisms that she is actually a lady. Very mysterious.
- The woman goes and finds Jo. She figures out that he is the boy mentioned in the newspaper stories about the inquest. She offers him crazy money to take her to three places: 1) where the dead guy's work came from (aka Snagsby's), 2) where he used to live, and 3) where he was buried.
- Jo is sort of slow and can't really understand what this person wants from him. He does know enough to call her "my lady," and she immediately says, "I am not a lady. I am a servant" (16.37).
- He takes her around. She is sort of crazed and a little emotional. At one point she takes off her glove to give Jo money and he sees that her hand is very white (meaning she doesn't work) and covered with shiny rings.
- She almost loses it when he shows her the cemetery and tells her they had to bury Nemo close to the surface and had to stomp on the body to get it into the shallow grave. Nice.
- (Haloes out, angel wings on – Esther's back.)
- Richard's not doing too well at Mr. Badger's private med school. He's not used to working, studying, or really doing much of anything, and the whole "learning about how people's bodies work" thing is boring for him.
- Mr. and Mrs. Badger come over one day to talk to Esther and Ada about Richard's not really being cut out to be a doctor. (Seeing how being a doctor means doing work.)
- Esther is kind of worried about this because, well, what profession doesn't require doing work?
- Later she and Ada chat with Richard about this. He's totally wishy-washy but figures that medicine will do about as well as anything else until his ship comes in and he hits the Chancery lawsuit lottery.
- This is obviously bad news all around. Esther is really freaking out now because Richard is just turning into a gambler, hoping for the big score without making any backup plans.
- It's concerning not just because of him, but because he's going to have to support Ada and whatever babies they have as well, since Ada can't get a job (it being Victorian times and all).
- Richard is like, "Oh, but what if I studied law instead?" He's all excited to get into Kenge's office and learn how to keep a close eye on the Jarndyce case. This is obviously a way, way terrible idea.
- But Richard seems so into it that Jarndyce agrees to talk to Kenge and make it happen.
- Still, he's starting to get permanent worried eyes every time he looks at Ada.
- That night Esther can't sleep for some reason. (She's not telling us why.)
- She does some work around the house and bumps into Jarndyce, who is sitting staring at the fire, deep in thought.
- Out of the blue, they start talking about Esther's background. Well, it's not really out of the blue, but it seems that way because of the way Esther is telling the story.
- Jarndyce decides to tell Esther what little he knows about her origins.
- When she was 12, he got a letter from a crazy-sounding woman who told him that Esther had been raised in secret from birth, and that every possible trace of who her parents were was erased. Also, he could never meet this woman, her aunt, and had to go through Kenge.
- Esther starts crying at the memory of her horrible childhood and her repugnant aunt. Then she cries more, out of gratitude to Jarndyce. She tells him he is like a father to her.
- This immediately freaks him out. She doesn't really know why. Guys, lest we forget, since the novel keeps calling her an old woman – she's about 21 years old at this point.
- And now the whole story comes out.
- Turns out that earlier that day Mr. Woodcourt had been to Bleak House with his mother to tell them that he was about to sail to China as a ship's doctor.
- He has no money and has to take whatever job he can get. (When most of your clients are poor, they generally can't pay you all that much.)
- Still, he's super sad to be leaving the place where he spent so many happy hours.
- Meanwhile, his mother is droning on and on about how fancy their family is and how they are descended from a very important line of Welsh people and can trace their family back through many generations to some king or other.
- Esther makes like she doesn't really get why Mrs. Woodcourt won't get off this hobby horse. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with her, could it?
- Alan Woodcourt and his mom leave and Esther starts doing housework like crazy to keep from being sad.
- Suddenly Caddy Jellyby comes over and gives her a bouquet that "Somebody" left at Miss Flite's. Ada is psyched about this bouquet and thinks it has a lot of meaning behind it. Esther tries to downplay it. It's all a little high-school-drama all of a sudden.
- (Esther narrating.)
- Oh, Richard, Richard, Richard. You kind of suck. Like the Katy Perry song goes, "he's hot and he's cold" about medicine and the law. Sometimes he's into it, sometimes not, and always totally unconcerned and way too relaxed about his future.
- Finally they get him into Kenge's office and rent a little apartment for him in London, since Bleak House is too far away to commute. He promises to be good and is left to his own devices.
- The rest of the gang goes away to visit Boythorn in Lincolnshire (remember, his estate is right next to the Dedlocks').
- On the way there Skimpole is mooching off Jarndyce, as usual. He tells them his house and furniture have been seized because he hasn't been paying his rent. Esther wonders what's going on with his wife and kids, but he doesn't seem to think about them at all.
- The weather is beautiful, the landscape gorgeous, and they have a great ride out to the country.
- Boythorn meets them with his usual mix of crazed angry speech and delicately kind actions. He tells them about Sir Dedlock, his gout, and the fact that if they want to go for a walk through the park at Chesney Wold, they are welcome to, but he won't come with them. He also fills them in on Mrs. Rouncewell, Watt Rouncewell and Rosa (talk about a small town – that this random guy would know the marriage plans of Watt!). And he shows them the totally amazing castle and grounds of the Dedlock estate.
- Boythorn's house is beautiful and has an amazing fruit and vegetable garden. It's the most lush, fruitful, abundant piece of land ever.
- On one side of the property, however, Boythorn has stationed a permanent guard, a bulldog, and a bunch of signs warning trespassers – all to do with his many lawsuits with Dedlock.
- All of them walk to Church, since it's Sunday.
- Esther sees Rosa, Sir Dedlock, and the French maid Hortense. Then, as she suddenly meets eyes with Lady Dedlock... she totally flips out.
- She starts having crazed flashbacks to her childhood, to her aunt, her aunt's eyes, and then describes looking at Lady Dedlock as like looking into a broken mirror. Then she starts hearing the sermon not in the preacher's voice but in her aunt's.
- All of this she rationalizes by saying that maybe Lady Dedlock looks a little bit like her aunt.
- Um, OK.
- After church is over, Skimpole and Boythorn have an argument about whether it's better to get along with the rich and powerful by just agreeing to whatever they say and hoping they give you money or influence (Skimpole's position) or whether it's better to have principles (Boythorn). It's kind of a silly argument.
- Skimpole talks about how well-suited he is to a life of leisure. (Well yeah, that's great if someone else is bankrolling you.)
- A week later, Esther, Ada, and Jarndyce are out walking around when it starts to rain.
- They just make it to a lodge to take cover, and discover inside... Lady Dedlock!
- She apparently knows Jarndyce. Whoa!
- He used to know her sister better – but she and her sister apparently do not talk at all anymore. She is cold and haughty, as she normally is, and treats Ada and Esther like children.
- Suddenly Lady Dedlock's carriage drives up and out come Hortense and Rosa. It turns out that Lady Dedlock had called for an attendant and they didn't know which one of them she meant.
- She meant Rosa.
- Hortense is furious.
- After Rosa and Lady Dedlock drive away (it's a two-seater carriage), Hortense is so enraged that she takes off her shoes and walks back to the house barefoot through the wet grass and the rain.
- Jarndyce is all, wow, dudes, she is totally bonkers!
- But no, apparently she is just really mad because she's already been fired and is just serving out her last few days as Lady Dedlock's maid. Since this was such a high position, as far as serving work goes anyway, she is crazy angry about being let go.
- (Start your best mustache twirl – the third-person narrator returns.)
- The whole legal profession is on summer break. Everyone who can gets out of the hot city and goes to the shore.
- Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby can't really leave, but obviously they have a lot less to do. They are waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Chadband to come to tea. Chadband is a self-proclaimed preacher, though that's pretty unofficial since he has no congregation and isn't affiliated with any denomination.
- Chadband is fat and oily. He talks in a weird question-and-answer format that sounds like he's saying something deep and meaningful when he's really just blathering on about nothing.
- Mrs. Snagsby is totally into this nonsense, though, and is all excited to have the Chadbands over. After a couple of speeches, Chadband digs into the food.
- Suddenly there is a commotion in the shop and Snagsby goes to investigate.
- A policeman is there, holding Jo by the arm.
- The policeman complains that although he's been telling Jo to "move on," the boy hasn't actually gone anywhere. (Move on where, Shmoop? Well, officially Jo – as a beggar – counts as a loiterer. Back then, the police had a legal right to shoo bums off to a different part of the city.)
- Jo says he is constantly moving on and really he has nowhere to move on to.
- Snagsby acknowledges that he knows the boy and thinks he's not a danger. He is clearly compassionate. Meanwhile, Mrs. Snagsby (the very religious one, remember) is standing behind him doing her best to kick Jo out and have nothing to do with him.
- The cop says he found a bunch of money on Jo. How could someone like him come by money without some kind of illegal activity being involved?
- Jo tells a garbled version of his story – that some veiled woman hired him to walk her around to the places associated with Nemo then gave him money. He complains that most of what she gave him was stolen at Tom-all-Alone's.
- The cop doesn't really believe him.
- Suddenly, into the shop comes Mr. Guppy, who happened to be walking by and heard the commotion.
- The cop leaves and Guppy questions Jo, only to get the same general answers.
- When Mrs. Chadband finds out that Guppy works for Kenge's office, she exclaims that she's known that firm for years!
- A long time ago, before she was married, Mrs. Chadband was in charge of a child named Esther Summerson. Whoa.
- Guppy is a little floored by this news.
- Meanwhile, Chadband seizes on Jo and starts preaching to him and says how great it is to be a boy. This is just a shocking, horrendously insensitive thing to say to someone who lives the kind of non-boy life Jo leads in the streets. Dickens really hates hypocritically religious people.
- Finally Chadband stops, and makes Jo promise to come back the next day to listen to more of the same.
- Jo just wants to get away so he promises to come. Then he goes away, finds a corner somewhere to hide in, and eats the little bit of food that Snagsby managed to secretly give him before he went away.
A New Lodger
- (Still third-person narrator.)
- Since all even mildly important law people are away on summer vacation, there's not much to do for low-level clerks like Guppy. He hangs out in his office, bored out of his mind.
- Guppy is paranoid about the newly arrived Richard Carstone. Guppy is obsessed with the idea that everyone is against him in the office (which is not true), and plans and schemes against them in response.
- His friend Young Smallweed comes to visit. Young Smallweed is 15 going on 40. He's been raised on the street and in the law court and is kind of like a little old man. Young Smallweed looks up to Guppy and wants to be just like him.
- They are soon joined by Tony Jobling, a clerk from another law firm.
- The three go out for lunch.
- Tony brings up Esther (really, really indirectly) and Guppy immediately snaps at him for mentioning it.
- Smallweed takes them to a neighborhood diner, where everybody knows his name, and where he apparently has the hots for a 40-year-old waitress. Seriously.
- Jobling starts to complain about his life. He was recently fired from his job for some misappropriation of funds (i.e. stealing). Also, he's lost a ton of money at the track. Now he's broke and thinking about enlisting in the army.
- Guppy commiserates but reminds him that he was equally broke when they went to check out Chesney Wold together.
- Then Guppy has a brainstorm. Jobling can work for Snagsby, who likes Guppy and will hire whomever he recommends. He'll be a law writer. Also, Jobling will rent Nemo's old room at Krook's place, since it's cheap and he can live there under a different name.
- Guppy then says that rumor has it that Krook is actually super rich and that no one can figure out what his deal really is. Maybe Jobling will be able to.
- This is a good plan, they all decide.
- Jobling and Guppy go over to Krook's.
- Krook is plastered and passed out. For a long time they can't wake him up, and when they do, he stumbles around completely wasted and out of it. Finally he comes to.
- Jobling buys him another bottle of gin, and immediately they're his best friends. (Well, that, and he already knows Guppy.)
- Guppy introduces Jobling as Mr. Weevle, and Krook is happy to have him.
- Snagsby is also happy to have him.
- Jobling/Weevle spends his nights reading the celebrity gossip in the newspapers and hanging out with Krook. Word on the street has it that maybe he will be Krook's heir.
The Smallweed Family
- (Still the third-person narrator.)
- OK, so Young Smallweed actually has a first name – Bart.
- Other members of the Smallweed family are Bart's grandmother, Mrs. Smallweed, who is very old, half-crazy and half-senile; Bart's grandfather, Mr. Smallweed, who is paralyzed from the waist down and is a greedy, grubby, cheapskate moneylender who hates everyone; and Judy, Bart's twin sister, who is also 15 going on 40, really hideous and nasty, and has never learned how to laugh.
- Every time Mr. Smallweed says a number, Mrs. Smallweed starts crazily yelling about money. Then Mr. Smallweed throws a cushion at her to make her stop yelling, which makes him fall over. Then Judy needs to plump him back up to a sitting position, like a pillow.
- Sounds like the coolest family, right? Also, apparently all of them were raised on the same no-fairy-tales, no-imagination educational model that Mr. Gradgrind favors in Dickens's Hard Times.
- Charley Neckett, the recently orphaned girl who "goes out to work," does housework for them in exchange for pay and a little bit of food. They scheme about how to get her to eat less food, and Judy domineers over her.
- Bart comes home from lunch with Jobling and Guppy, and Mr. Smallweed compliments him for not paying for his part of lunch.
- Mr. Smallweed has a visitor, Mr. George, who is a large man who obviously used to be in the army based on the way he carries himself.
- The next time Mr. Smallweed throws the cushion at his wife, Mr. George intervenes. Smallweed laughs and asks if she reminds him of his own mother.
- Mr. George reveals that he actually has not been a good son, and that his solution has been to stay away from his family altogether.
- In any case, he is there to extend his debts for two months and pay the interest on them. Smallweed is clearly a little scared of him, but not so scared that he can't indirectly threaten him with being "sold up" if his payments are ever late.
- Talk to me, Shmoop. Well, back in the 19th century, credit was not as easily available as it is now – no credit cards, no easy mortgages, no nothing. If a person ever had to pay more than they had on hand, they'd have to take out a loan. And talk about predatory lending – there was no oversight on moneylenders, so they could charge whatever interest they wanted and they could also sell debts to other moneylenders. Presumably a nicer and more gentle lender would sell hard-to-collect debts to someone who would be less delicate – a leg-breaker, if you will. Imagine if your credit card company was suddenly able to transfer your debt to the mob, who then came after you to collect. So here Mr. George has borrowed from Smallweed and makes regular payments on the loan every two months. As long as he can scrape enough money together to make the payment, he's OK. But if he's ever late or doesn't have enough to pay, Smallweed will sell his debts to someone else.
- Smallweed tells Mr. George that his situation is of his own making. Basically, it's all because Mr. George wouldn't help Smallweed find an old army buddy of his – Captain Hawdon.
- Turns out Smallweed placed a false advertisement in the papers, asking Hawdon to come forward to "hear something to his advantage" (21.130), when he really wanted to track Hawdon down because of some outstanding debts.
- Mr. George sneers that he wouldn't rat out a friend. Plus, he adds, Hawdon is dead.
- Then Mr. George leaves, hangs around the city a little bit, then goes back to his place. Turns out he runs a kind of old-timey gym and shooting range, where he teaches boxing, archery, riflery, and fencing.
- There's no one taking lessons, though; the only person there is his assistant Phil. Phil has a bad leg, but quick, strong, and hard-working.
- After a quick chat, they go to sleep.
- (Third-person narrator.)
- Tulkinghorn is sitting in his office drinking expensive wine.
- Oh, but, fake out! He's not alone – he's there with Snagsby, who has apparently come to tell him all about Jo and his story of the woman who paid him to take her around on a Nemo walking tour.
- Tulkinghorn makes extra sure that Snagsby didn't tell his wife he was coming, then Snagsby notices... another person in the room!
- It's Mr. Bucket, a detective officer.
- All right, back to the story.
- Bucket needs Snagsby's help to find Jo, who it seems has "moved on" pretty well this time.
- Snagsby is at first a little worried, but Bucket says he just needs to ask him a couple of questions and then pay him some money. Bucket adds that apparently Nemo was supposed to get some property, which this woman might have been scheming with. So off they go to Tom-all-Alone's.
- Bucket asks whether, by the way, Snagsby knows anyone named Gridley. No, he doesn't. Too bad for Bucket, who apparently has a warrant out for Gridley's arrest.
- Bucket is every bit the detective: friendly but also menacing, he sees everything without seeming to have to look around, and he is never discombobulated by anything he sees.
- At Tom-all-Alone's, seeing all the crap in the street (literally, crap – there's no sewage system) and all the dregs of humanity and plague victims, Snagsby almost loses his lunch.
- They try to find Jo, but it's hard because no one knows what his street name is. Finally they figure out that around here he's called "Tough Customer" and that he's gone to get some medicine for a sick woman.
- The sick woman is none other than our old friend Jenny, the wife of the brickmaker. Lots of coincidences in Dickens. You never meet someone and then never see them again – which is sort of crazy in a big city like London, right? And not very much like real life.
- Anyhow, Jenny is there cradling a baby. OK, relax, it's not the same dead baby from before. It's her friend Liz's baby, who reminds her of her dead one.
- She's crying because she wishes her kid were still alive. Meanwhile Liz is crying because when she imagines the baby's future (being beaten by his father, seeing his mother be beaten, then maybe becoming a street kid and probably running away from home), she wishes he were dead.
- Wow. Awful. Yeesh.
- Jo comes back with the medicine and Bucket takes him to Tulkinghorn's office.
- There Jo freaks out a little bit because... the veiled woman is standing in front of him! Jo is confused because the woman seems very much like the one he saw – the same clothes – but is clearly not her – wrong hands, wrong voice.
- Bucket looks happy, gives Jo some money, and sends him off.
- The woman takes off her veil, revealing herself to be... Hortense the maid!
- Tulkinghorn thanks her for doing this thing, mumbles that it must have been the other one wearing this one's clothes, and sends her off.
- Hortense reminds him that he promised to get her a job.
- Bucket sends Snagsby on his way, after again confirming that he'll keep all of this a secret.
- (Sit up straight, hands in your lap, use your inside voice – Esther is narrating.)
- When the gang gets back to Bleak House from Casa Boythorn, Esther gets a really unexpected visit from...Hortense!
- Hortense spends a few minutes bad-mouthing Lady Dedlock, then asks Esther for a job. She says she'll do a lot of things to promote Esther's interests. Esther is all, but I really don't need a maid. (Especially a scary, half-crazy one, Shmoop would add. Ooh, zinger!)
- Hortense gets mad – she doesn't seem to handle rejection very well – and storms off. Esther is sort of confused by the whole thing and tries to get over it.
- A little later Richard comes to visit. It seems he's not doing too hot at Kenge's law school. All he does is read about the Jarndyce case and get more and more delusional about how soon it's going to be resolved and how he and Ada are going to be rolling in dough.
- The next time Esther comes to London she confronts him about his various deficiencies. At first he kind of laughs it off, but then he breaks down and cries about how he is letting Ada down, but he can't help obsessing over the case to the exclusion of everything else.
- Esther is moved by the tears, but Richard is clearly not going to change anytime soon.
- He announces that instead of medicine or law, he wants buy a commission in the army. (Relax, dudes, Shmoop is here to explain: that just means that he will become an officer rather than an infantryman.)
- Esther meets up with Caddy, and while they are walking, Caddy asks Esther to come with her and Prince to tell his father and her mother about their engagement. They are totally freaked out about how these crazy parents are going to react, and Esther would be good moral support.
- Of course she says yes.
- Prince and Caddy get down on their knees in front of Mr. Turveydrop and fess up. He does a super-dramatic faint and calls for Prince to just kill him outright. He's really quite the drama queen, and Prince starts crying because he feels so bad. Esther sees right through Turveydrop, of course, but both Prince and Caddy just take him and his importance at his word.
- Prince tells his father that his comforts and delicacies and tastes will still be top priority, even after the marriage. This calms Turveydrop down and he generously offers for Caddy and Prince to live with him forever.
- Which is all nice and everything, but clearly it actually means that Mr. Turveydrop will live with the happy couple until he dies, since he has no independent source of income.
- Esther is sort of horrified, but Caddy and Prince are happy.
- Trying to get two for two, Caddy and Esther set off for the Jellyby house.
- The house has "for rent" signs in the window because Mr. Jellyby has been forced to declare bankruptcy. He sits silent with a bunch of lawyers going over documents.
- Mrs. Jellyby continues her African work without a care in the world.
- Caddy tells her she is engaged.
- Mrs. Jellyby has almost no response whatsoever. She is just about as indifferent as if Caddy were a totally random stranger. It's totally crushing and Caddy is hysterical, of course. Esther tries to comfort her as best as she can.
- Downstairs, Caddy and Esther play with Peepy and the other Jellyby kids, and Caddy starts feeling happier knowing that she will create a nice secondary home for them.
- When Esther goes home, there is a knock on her bedroom door...it's Charley!
- Charley announces that she is Esther's new maid – which is a gift from Mr. Jarndyce. Also, her brother Tom is now at school, and her baby sister Emma is being taken care of. All of this is also part of the gift from Jarndyce. Which is all wonderful and everything, but the kids will only get to see each other once a month. Does that sound way harsh to anyone else?
- Oh well. They both cry together from happiness.
An Appeal Case
- (Esther narrating.)
- Richard is all gung-ho about the army. Much like he had been about medicine... for three weeks. And law... for a month.
- But yet again, some complicated legal maneuvering makes it official. (Richard is still a ward of the Court, so everything has to go through them).
- Jarndyce has a little talk with Richard, Ada, and Esther, and tells them that since Richard and Ada are so young, they shouldn't be engaged. It's better if they are both free until Richard has his life a little more together.
- Ada is sad but thinks that Jarndyce is probably right.
- Richard is sad and furious at Jarndyce. Esther says he will never forgive him.
- Still, they undo the engagement.
- Esther helps Richard prepare for getting to his army post. She packs all his stuff and together they spend some time in London making sure everything is all set.
- Richard takes some fencing and shooting lessons from Mr. George at his gym.
- One day Mr. George comes to meet Jarndyce and Esther and freaks out when he sees her. She really looks familiar, which is crazy because they've never met before. But it really disturbs him.
- Jarndyce chats with Mr. George about his clients. Are they ever people who want to practice weapons skills to get revenge? Mr. George says that's happened before, but generally no. He thinks of his place as a safe way to let off steam for angry people.
- Speaking of angry people – it turns out both Mr. George and Jarndyce know Gridley, the angriest guy ever.
- Since this is Richard's last day before leaving, he and Esther go to check out the doings at the Court.
- Esther is shocked that everyone there is totally calm and happy and making jokes about the Jarndyce case. That is pretty upsetting when you consider all the people whose lives have been ruined by this horrible endless legal nonsense.
- The session is quickly over and nothing has gotten done. Shocker.
- Richard looks all tired and worn out.
- Suddenly Esther sees Mr. George in the court. He is psyched to see her and Richard and asks whether they know a crazy old woman who usually hangs out in court.
- Esther points out Miss Flite, and Mr. George tells them that Gridley has actually been hiding out at his place, but ``he is on his deathbed and wants to see Miss Flite.
- They all go, and Esther leaves a note for Jarndyce telling him where they are.
- When they get to the place, there's a really nice old guy there. He's a doctor who says he's been called to check on a sick man.
- As soon as Mr. George lets him in, however, he whips off his disguise. He turns out to be... Bucket!
- Bucket knows that Gridley is in there because he's been doing some surveillance on the place, but he promises that he's not going to take advantage of the situation.
- He's actually a pretty noble, respectable guy.
- Jarndyce shows up.
- They all come in to the room where Gridley is lying on a sofa. He's really not doing too well. Esther has trouble even recognizing him.
- Gridley shakes hands with Jarndyce and holds Miss Flite's hand as she sits next to him. She is the only friend he has left in the world, he says. The court has finally broken him.
- Bucket tries kind of a cute way to rev him back up, telling Gridley that he'll be back to fighting with the lawyers and judges in no time.
- But it's no use. Gridley dies holding Miss Flite's hand.
Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All
- (Monocle secure? Here comes the third-person narrator.)
- Ever since all the business with Bucket and Jo, Mr. Snagsby hasn't been himself.
- Shmoop's going to go ahead and guess that this might be because he's a reasonably decent human being and seeing how Jo lives in the horrible hell-hole that is Tom-all-Alone's has unbalanced him somewhat.
- Everything is freaking him out – every time a customer comes in and asks for him, every time a bell rings. Dude's having some major flashbacks.
- Mrs. Snagsby, meanwhile, is trying to do some detective work to figure out what in the world is wrong with him.
- All her thoughts center on Jo and figuring out just how he is connected to her husband.
- Oh, and here's a shocker – Jo never showed up the next day for more of Chadband's preaching. (Yeah, we're totally floored too.) But somehow Chadband ran into him in the street and threatened to take him to the police if he didn't come.
- So the next evening at Snagsby's house, everyone is ready to listen to Chadband's gibbering nonsense, er , instructive speeches. When Jo walks in he is all confused. He quickly looks at Mr. Snagsby (since he's the only person there who's ever been the least bit nice to him).
- Mrs. Snagsby sees this look and thinks that...her husband is Jo's father!
- She's no detective Bucket.
- Chadband lays into Jo, talking about how Jo really needs to understand the universal light and truth (meaning Christianity). He talks so well that Jo totally falls asleep.
- The narrator pipes in here to say that there might be a good story that Jo needs to hear (i.e. the story of Jesus), but no one cares enough to tell it to him the way it should be told to a totally illiterate boy.
- Meanwhile Mrs. Snagsby works herself into hysterics.
- She needs to be taken upstairs, so the meeting breaks up. Jo tries to leave.
- Guster has been quietly moved by Jo's rag clothes and generally depressing state. She finds him quickly before he leaves and gives him some food, along with a sympathetic word about also being an orphan. Aww, Guster. She's a nice one.
- Snagsby slips Jo a little bit of money before he leaves... which Mrs. Snagsby sees.
- (Still third-person narrator.)
- Morning time at Mr. George's place. His gym shooting gallery is in the neighborhood where all the card sharks and con artists live. He's the only one who gets up early in the morning.
- He and Phil get up and talk about Phil's dream about seeing swans in the country. This is a surprising dream, because Phil has never actually been to the country.
- Mr. George has kind of a day-dreamy moment and tells Phil that he actually grew up in the country and knows all sorts of trees and animals.
- Then they talk about the past.
- Phil doesn't know how old he is because it's a number higher than he can count.
- But he does remember being an orphan and becoming a helper to a traveling tinkerer. (A tinkerer was like a fix-it guy. This was way before the disposable consumer culture we know and love – back when people used to actually hang onto things that broke and tried to get fix them.)
- It was a hard life, maybe one or two steps up from being a straight-out beggar. When his boss died, Phil tried to take over the business, but he was too awkward with people and too hideously ugly to make it work.
- Phil's face is marked with every kind of thing imaginable – burns from working near a fire, scars from fistfights with his drunken boss, weird bald patches from burns. It's not a good look. He knows it but it doesn't seem to bother him.
- In any case, one day, when he was still a tinkerer, Mr. George stopped him in the street thinking he was a war veteran. One thing led to another, and here they are.
- One thing is clear: Phil worships the ground Mr. George walks on.
- All of a sudden visitors arrive. It's Grandpa Smallweed and Judy.
- Smallweed is all freaked out at being in the shooting gallery, what with all the weapons around. At least he's self-aware enough to know there's ample reason to want to kill him.
- There's a lot of Judy trying to prop up and adjust her grandfather. This is something she does with the least amount of niceness possible. She's pretty clearly just waiting for him to finally die.
- At long last, Smallweed gets to the point.
- He would like a piece of Captain Hawdon's handwriting, not for himself, but for a famous lawyer who's been asking about it.
- Mr. George doesn't want to even admit he has any such thing, but he's willing to go talk to the lawyer face to face to figure out what this is all about.
- Before they go, Smallweed busts out with the news that Richard has been borrowing money from him. Mr. George tries to get him to leave Richard alone, but Smallweed is pretty clever and knows all about Richard's various collaterals: "He has good friends, and he is good for his pay, and he is good for the selling price of his commission, and he is good for his chance in a lawsuit, and he is good for his chance in a wife, and – " (26.102).
- As they're about to leave, Judy sees Mr. George put something in his breast pocket.
More Old Soldiers than One
- (Third-person narrator continues.)
- The fancy lawyer who wants Captain Hawdon's handwriting sample is...OK, obviously it's Tulkinghorn.
- Mr. George is impressed with Tulkinghorn's nice office and checks out the portrait of Sir Dedlock.
- When Tulkinghorn finally comes in, he is his usual totally indifferent-seeming self.
- Mr. George asks what the deal is with the handwriting. Tulkinghorn doesn't want to say, other than that it's something really minor and that Mr. George would be paid. Oh, that doesn't sound fishy in the least.
- Mr. George says no to the whole thing because he's feeling sort of trapped.
- Smallweed is furious and whispers to Tulkinghorn that Mr. George has a piece of Hawdon's handwriting in his breast pocket! Right now! Too bad they can't just beat it out of him!
- But Tulkinghorn is chill.
- Finally Mr. George says he's going to go consult an old army buddy about what to do. He let's it slip that Hawdon is dead, which seems to get a teeny tiny reaction out of Tulkinghorn.
- Mr. George heads out to another part of London, to the house of the Bagnets.
- Matthew Bagnet is a bassoon player now and his wife is a super-competent, super-awesome woman who takes care of the house and kids and is generally the brains of the whole operation. (This is kind of a recurring character type in Victorian novels – check out Mrs. O'Dowd in Vanity Fair.)
- All of them go way back, and Bagnet reminds George that it's his wife who gives the advice while pretending it's coming from himself. It sounds kind of condescending, but it's played for cuteness.
- Anyway, after dinner Mrs. Bagnet tells Mr. George to stay as far away as possible from Tulkinghorn and his shenanigans. He's psyched because this confirms his own feelings about the matter.
- They hang out all night, and as Mr. George watches the very perfect Bagnet family (they've got some super-cute, super-awesome kids as well), he feels lonely and sad.
- Mr. George leaves and goes over to Tulkinghorn's office to give him a final no.
- When he gets there, he fumbles with the locked door, and Tulkinghorn comes out and yells at him about it. He also yells at him about hiding the fugitive Gridley earlier.
- (Still the third-person narrator.)
- Sir Dedlock is feeling a little better with his gout and so is hosting all his random poor cousins at Chesney Wold. One of them is the really old Volumnia, who lives on a small allowance he gives her and sometimes annoys him by visiting.
- Volumnia asks one evening about the very pretty Rosa. Lady Dedlock says that she is her "pet – secretary – messenger – I don't know what" (28.17). You know, just a pretty face that's nice to keep around.
- Meanwhile, Sir Dedlock is upset about the fact that Mrs. Rouncewell's son, the Ironmaster (Watt Rouncewell's dad, the guy who owns an iron factory up north) has been asked to run for a seat in parliament.
- This is craziness to Sir Dedlock, since Mr. Rouncewell is the son of a servant. He's way too low-born for any such high political office.
- Dedlock is really stressed about this.
- After Volumnia and all the other cousins go to bed, Sir Dedlock tells Lady Dedlock that Mr. Rouncewell is actually here right now to talk to them about Rosa.
- Mr. Rouncewell comes in and doesn't beat around the bush. Dedlock is all the more indignant because Rouncewell doesn't seem at all uncomfortable in their presence.
- The gist of Rouncewell's deal is: 1) Watt is in love with Rosa, but they are both too young to marry; 2) he's OK with them getting engaged; 3) if they do, Rouncewell wants to take Rosa away and put her in a school for a couple of years so she ends up being a little more equal in rank to his son.
- Sir Dedlock flips out at all of this. Really, really flips out. Rosa needs more schooling? Chesney Wold isn't good enough for her or Watt? And so on and so forth.
- Mostly Sir Dedlock is against anyone rising up from their born station in life.
- They have a big fight and Rouncewell leaves, saying that he'll try to get Watt to fall out of love. Good luck with that.
- Later Lady Dedlock gets Rosa to fess up that she loves Watt too, then promises to do whatever she can to make Rosa happy. She's suddenly all sweet and nice and maternal. Where on earth did that come from?
The Young Man
- (Mr. Third-Person still with us.)
- The Dedlocks are back in London for the winter. Sir Dedlock is enjoying chillaxing in his study. Lady Dedlock is bored as always. Tulkinghorn comes and goes with estate business.
- In reality, though, Tulkinghorn is constantly watching Lady Dedlock, and she is clearly scared by him. It's hard to know what his motives are. Duty? Hatred of the people he works for? The thrill of the hunt?
- One evening when Sir Dedlock is reading some article about how the country is going to the dogs to his wife, Guppy is announced.
- Guppy is there because, after he had written her many letters, Lady Dedlock finally agreed to see him.
- He's got a whole spiel prepared on a piece of paper and he does his best to be as lawyerly as possible. But we don't really have time for his slow style, so here are the highlights:
- Esther Summerson looks a lot like Lady Dedlock, so maybe she is related to her family somehow.
- Maybe if Guppy figures out that Esther is a Dedlock relation, then she can join the Jarndyce lawsuit and profit – and then have warmer feelings towards Guppy (who asked her to marry him, remember).
- Guppy has info from Mrs. Chadband – who used to be Esther's aunt's servant – that Esther's real name is Esther Hawdon.
- The law clerk named Nemo who died at Krook's was actually named Hawdon.
- After his death, a veiled lady paid Jo to take her around to sites associated with him – and Jo can be found right away to tell everyone about the pretty rings on her fingers.
- Guppy has a bunch of letters that Hawdon had on him when he died and can bring them to Lady Dedlock.
- Whoa. That's some craziness right there. (OK, maybe we had kind of figured all of this out already.)
- Anyway, Lady Dedlock is clearly freaked out, though she's hiding it well. She tells Guppy to bring the letters.
- When he leaves she breaks into hysterics because... drum roll... the big secret reveal is coming up... OK, get ready now...everyone sitting down?...Esther is her daughter! Miss Barbary is her sister! Miss Barbary told Lady Dedlock that the baby died within hours of being born and then raised her in secret! What on earth? Who would be that kind of crazy?
- (OK, smooth out your pinafore – Esther is back as narrator.)
- Mrs. Woodcourt comes to visit Bleak House for a couple of weeks. Which...OK, imagine you really like somebody, who may or may not like you back, and then his or her mother comes to stay at your house. Yeah, a little stressful.
- Mrs. Woodcourt is constantly harping on how super awesome their family tree is and how Alan is the descendant of some long-ago king.
- Esther claims not to really understand what she's getting at, but she's also crazily anxious about everything the old lady says and does.
- Mrs. Woodcourt then busts out with the prediction that Esther will marry some rich older dude.
- Finally she leaves, much to everyone's relief.
- Caddy comes to visit, and everyone starts trying to help plan the wedding and her future. The Jellybys have had to move, since Mr. Jellyby has lost everything and declared bankruptcy. He makes Caddy promise to keep a decent house when she and Prince are married. Apparently the state of his own house makes him want to kill the whole family, which is super sad, but also funny, because he is the meekest, mildest, nicest man ever.
- The bankruptcy also means that he can't outfit Caddy for her marriage – literally. Back in the day the bride would have to bring a bunch of clothes, linens, and things (called a trousseau) with her when she got married.
- Esther, Ada, and Caddy do their best to work out a wardrobe for her.
- Also, Esther and Caddy try to straighten up the Jellybys' house so the wedding brunch can be held there. This is a monumental task, since the place is crazy dirty – like, Hoarders level.
- They also try to make Mrs. Jellyby look presentable. She is, as usual, totally distracted by Africa and couldn't care less about the whole "my daughter is getting married" thing. She's kind of psycho.
- Mr. Jellyby, cheered up by all the effort, tells Caddy to "never have a Mission" (30.82) (in other words, never to be like her mother).
- Caddy cries about how unhappy her parents' marriage is and promises to make her house a second home for her dad.
- The wedding itself is lovely and uneventful.
- The wedding brunch guests are Mrs. Jellyby's activist friends and the super-self-important Mr. Turveydrop. Each only cares about his or her own pet project, and no one can hold a normal conversation.
- It's a good thing Jarndyce is there. He is somehow able to create conversation among these self-absorbed idiots.
- Mr. Turveydrop makes the newlyweds promise yet again to always take care of him, then lets them go on their weeklong honeymoon. Mrs. Jellyby lets Caddy go with barely a second thought or glance. They really haven't had such good parental models, these two.
Nurse and Patient
- (Esther still narrating.)
- Esther is teaching Charley how to write. It's not going too well, even though Charley has great hand-eye coordination. (Quick brain snack: modern science has confirmed that it is much harder for adults to learn to read and write than for kids. Their brains are no longer as plastic and adaptable.)
- Charley tells Esther she has seen Jenny, the brickmaker's wife, getting medicine for a poor boy.
- Esther decides to go investigate.
- When she and Charley get to the cottage where Jenny and her friend Liz are staying, they see Jo, who is clearly suffering from some kind of severe fever.
- He loses it when he sees Esther, getting her confused with the veiled lady and the French maid and yelling that he doesn't want to go back to the cemetery.
- No one knows what he's talking about, of course, and they figure he is delirious.
- Suddenly Jenny realizes that her husband is on his way home, drunk as usual, and everyone has to clear out before he gets there. It's clear that he beats her all the time, and she doesn't want to set him off.
- Meanwhile, Jo is getting worse. This is before antibiotics, and any old infection could just kill you. People were dying from pink-eye all the time.
- Esther and Charley make him follow them home to Bleak House, even though Jo is kind of terrified of Esther.
- At home Skimpole flips out (as much as he can) and tells them that Jo clearly has a terrible fever and they need to get him the heck out of there – even if that means he's going to die.
- Jarndyce is all, um, no.
- They take as much care of Jo as possible and put him in the barn overnight.
- (This is just before the germ theory of disease is understood. Victorians know that feverish people are contagious but not exactly what makes the disease spread. Touch? Air? Some kind of blood pollution? Dirt? There were many theories.)
- So anyway, the next morning, Jo is gone. No, not dead, actually gone – he vamoosed in the middle of the night.
- They spend five days trying to find him, but no luck.
- But... Charley catches whatever he had and becomes extremely ill.
- Esther takes care of her exclusively. She forbids Ada to come anywhere near them, closes off their part of the house, and takes extreme disinfecting precautions.
- Charley gets worse, and worse, and worse. She is delirious, talks about her family, raves a little, and then... gets better! Yay!
- Except, no. Because now Esther is sick too.
- Charley, since she just got over whatever the illness is, was immune, so she can take care of Esther. Esther doesn't tell the rest of the house that she is ill yet.
- The next day she wakes up... blind. Wait, what? Oh, man!
The Appointed Time
- (Get out your best cynical jokes – here comes the third-person narrator.)
- It's a nervous night around the law courts for some reason.
- Mr. Weevle is pacing in his room at Krook's. He looks out the window and sees Snagsby, who is still all discombobulated from being a small part of the Jo mystery.
- They chat about the dead guy that used to live in Weevle's room. Weevle is a huge fan of this morbid conversation, as you can imagine.
- Finally Snagsby goes away, followed by a disguised Mrs. Snagsby. She is apparently still spying on him.
- As soon as he leaves, Guppy pops out. Evidently he's late for the meeting he and Weevle were planning.
- They start whispering and plotting. It becomes clear that Guppy doesn't actually have the letters he told Lady Dedlock about. Krook has them and is supposed to hand them over to Tony (Weevle) at midnight to help him read them, at which point Guppy will steal them.
- They're kind of pathetic criminals, if what they're planning to do can even be considered a crime in the first place (since Krook stole the letters from the dead Nemo).
- Both are freaking out about being in the scary room in the middle of night. Tony is particularly nervous and worried.
- All of a sudden some kind of gook and nasty gunk starts falling around them in the room. Since it's midnight, Tony goes down to see Krook.
- At first he finds nothing but some kind of grease and oil all over the place.
- When they shine a lamp around they discover... Krook's cat eating his remains! Krook is dead! And he died of... spontaneous combustion!
- (OK, this nonsense was mocked hardcore when this novel first came out. But Dickens defended the idea saying basically, "well, I think it could happen," without offering much evidence. So OK. The man was a genius. We'll cut him a little slack in the spontaneous combustion department.)
- (Mr. Third Person still at it.)
- So of course the neighborhood goes crazy. The local bar is doing a brisk business, since every single person needs a drink when they hear the crazy news about Krook bursting into flames.
- The bar owner gives Guppy and Jobling drinks on the house to keep them at the bar, since they're attracting business by telling the story over and over again.
- Snagsby comes to check out whatever is going on. He is so confused and guilty feeling that he wants to turn himself in to the police – for no reason. He's an odd duck.
- Mrs. Snagsby, as always, follows him. She confronts him without actually telling him what she is upset about and takes him home.
- Guppy takes Jobling aside and tells him that they need to get their stories straight for the upcoming inquest. Basically they can tell the whole thing the way it happened and just leave out the detail about the letters.
- Then Guppy asks whether Jobling wants to stay in his apartment and try to dig around in Krook's piles of documents to see if there is anything valuable there.
- Jobling is going a little nuts about everything and is upset at even the thought of staying at that horrible place. They argue, but everything is fine, then the Smallweeds pull up in a carriage.
- Old Smallweed is taken to the neighborhood bar, and after a good amount of yelling at the rambling, senile Mrs. Smallweed, he announces that Krook was...her brother!
- Since Krook had no other relatives, and there is most likely no will, the Smallweeds inherit the whole of his property. He is here to claim it and lock it up.
- Tulkinghorn is on his way to serve as Smallweed's lawyer in this inheritance deal.
- Guppy has a giant case of d'oh, complete with forehead slapping.
- The neighborhood is suddenly overrun by journalists, doctors, scientists, and other experts, all of whom are trying to figure out how spontaneous combustion could possibly occur in a human being.
- All the new hustle and bustle is yet again good for business at the local bar. The neighbors are also relieved to hear that a full-size coffin has been ordered even though there isn't much of Krook's body actually left to put in it.
- The inquest is held and spontaneous combustion is determined to be the cause of death.
- Meanwhile, Guppy goes to see Lady Dedlock.
- She is super-cold and overbearing with him. He fesses up that he has no letters and that maybe they were destroyed with Krook. Or maybe not.
- She says, OK, fine, whatever, and tells him to leave.
- But just as he is leaving, into the room walks... Tulkinghorn! Who of course has free entry into the Dedlock house.
- Lady Dedlock makes like she doesn't care, and Guppy sort of shuffles out with a small greeting. But Tulkinghorn immediately recognizes him, sees a strange scared/guilty expression for a moment on Lady Dedlock's face, and tries to put the pieces together.
A Turn of the Screw
- (Still the third-person narrator.)
- The day before his two-month debt payment, Mr. George gets a letter from Smallweed that says that he has to pay the whole thing back immediately.
- He's freaked out – he obviously he doesn't have the money.
- Phil suggests declaring bankruptcy, but that's not a good idea because the debt was cosigned by Matt Bagnet, and if Mr. George doesn't pay, they'll go after the Bagnet family.
- Mr. George is beyond crushed. Then the Bagnets come to resign the loan like always, and Mrs. Bagnet immediately sees that something is wrong.
- She flies into a rage thinking that are about to lose everything – mostly because of her children.
- Mr. George is super sorry and feels horrible. Apparently the loan was to start his gym/shooting gallery business, which hasn't been doing well. Even if he sold it he wouldn't have nearly enough money to pay back the debt.
- Mrs. Bagnet reads the letter, calms down, and apologizes for yelling, since really it's not Mr. George's fault. Mr. George knows she is just trying to protect her family and feels nothing but respect and admiration for her. Us too.
- Bagnet and Mr. George go to talk to Smallweed.
- Smallweed is about as hostile as can be. He's a tiny, bitter, nasty monster of a man.
- After some threatening conversation about how much they owe and how little he cares about ruining the Bagnets, Smallweed takes the pipe Mr. George usually smokes on the payment days and crushes it, yelling, "I'll smash you. I'll crumble you. I'll powder you. Go to the devil!" (34.99). He's like Santa Claus, this guy.
- So Mr. George and Bagnet go to Tulkinghorn's office.
- Tulkinghorn is with a client who turns out to be Mrs. Rouncewell. When she comes out, Mr. George has his back to her, but she salutes the two army men and talks a little about her son who ran off to the army. She is happy to see men in uniform. Aww, lots of loving moms in this novel.
- Tulkinghorn pretends like he doesn't want to give them the time of day, until finally Mr. George says he is ready to give up the sample he has of Captain Hawdon's handwriting.
- Tulkinghorn immediately takes it, the loan is re-set up the old way with a small payment every two months, and Mr. George gets a letter saying that the Bagnets will be left alone about the money.
- Wow, that was quite a nifty piece of blackmail Smallweed and Tulkinghorn set up, right? Well played, gentlemen, well played.
- Mr. George goes over to the Bagnets and is totally depressed. Nothing works to cheer him up.
- He tells the oldest of the children to always be nice to his mom. Hmm, that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the events of the day...or does it? Stay tuned.
- (Esther's back. She's still blind, so we kind of feel bad making fun of her so much before.)
- Esther is full-on sick for several weeks. She's got a fever, she's delirious, and she hallucinates about endless staircases and being part of a necklace. Really, the works.
- But then, very slowly, she starts to get better. And also, her eyesight starts to gradually come back. Whew!
- Suddenly she realizes that all the mirrors have been taken away from the rooms. When she asks Charley about it, Charley starts to cry. That's pretty scary, right there. So Shmoop's guessing Esther had shingles, or smallpox, or some similar kind of skin-disfiguring illness.
- Jarndyce comes to see Esther and they are very sweet together. Esther again feels like he's a dad figure for her.
- They talk about Richard a little bit. Apparently he's been hiring lawyers for himself and is starting to really mistrust Jarndyce. He's got Chancery-itis.
- Finally Esther asks to go off to the country for a little bit before seeing Ada. She wants to get used to her new face before she sees Ada's reaction to her.
- It's really all so very sad.
- Boythorn wants nothing more than to have Esther at his place. He leaves so she can have the house all to herself.
- Before she goes, though, she gets a visit from Miss Flite, who has heard that she is ill.
- Miss Flite is super sweet, with hugs and kisses, and tears all around.
- She tells Esther that a lady came to see Jenny and Liz, the wives of the brickmakers, took the handkerchief that Esther had left there a long time ago for the dead baby, and left some money for it.
- Esther kind of figures maybe it was Caddy and doesn't think too much about it.
- Then Miss Flite tells her life story. Her dad apparently was a nice guy who was sucked into a Chancery lawsuit and became a miserable, angry man. After he died her brother got sucked in until he became an alcoholic. Then her sister was also sucked in and became... well, Miss Flite won't elaborate, but the implication is that she became a prostitute. And finally, Miss Flite was sucked and went mad.
- Hey, you know what's apparently a really great institution? Chancery.
- OK, Dickens, we get it, Chancery sucks.
- Miss Flite warns that she sees the signs of Richard's getting sucked in.
- Finally she tells Esther what's happened to Mr. Woodcourt, the nice young doctor.
- Seems that his boat sailing to China was shipwrecked! But he's OK. Actually, better than OK – he was a very heroic first-responder, helping the other passengers, saving lives, and generally being extremely awesome.
- Miss Flite is psyched because she thinks he will get a title out of this, but Esther knows that however awesome people are in peacetime, titles are only awarded for acts of bravery in war. Or to very, very rich people.
- Hint: we're guessing Dickens is ticked off at the way titles are distributed, not Esther so much.
- Anyway, now we come to another totally expected reveal. Would you believe that Esther loves Woodcourt? And that she kind of thinks maybe he loved her too? She claims, however, to be psyched that he never told her, because now she won't have to disappoint him with her disfigured face. That's some hardcore denial right there, folks.
- (Esther still at the wheel.)
- Esther and Charley go off to Boythorn's place near Chesney Wold. It's fantabulous, and everything has been prepared to make Esther as comfy as possible.
- Finally she sits down and looks at herself in the mirror.
- It's a shock. From everything we've been told, Esther used to be quite beautiful. Now she's...not, to the point that she doesn't recognize herself in her reflection.
- But she's a trooper and tries to pep herself back up.
- It's good to be in the countryside, and Esther uses Boythorn's place to rehab. Lots of walking and riding, lots of food – whatever it takes to get her strength back.
- The village of Chesney Wold is full of people who are very happy to see her, and everyone is super friendly wherever they go.
- One day they go walking into the park at Chesney Wold, near the Ghost's Walk (Boythorn has told her that old family legend).
- Out of nowhere comes... Lady Dedlock!
- She very calmly asks to speak to Esther alone, then as soon as Charley leaves, she throws herself around Esther and tells her about being her mom and everything.
- They cry and talk a lot. Lady Dedlock keeps asking for forgiveness, and Esther realizes that she's forgiven her mom a long time ago and now feels nothing but love. Also, Esther realizes that she no longer looks anything like Lady Dedlock and is happy that one of the clues linking them is gone.
- It's a pretty hard-to-take scene. Shmoop may have shed a tear or two.
- Then Lady Dedlock says that this is the one and only time they can ever see each other, and that Tulkinghorn suspects the truth and is close to busting the secret wide open.
- Brain snack: having sex out of wedlock back then was a major, huge, horrendous no-no, especially for a woman. And having a baby out of wedlock? That was almost criminal. Certainly no woman who had done that would have gone on to marry as well as Lady Dedlock had – she'd be tainted forever. So that's why it's a really big deal to keep the whole thing secret.
- Esther asks permission to tell Jarndyce, and Lady Dedlock consents.
- Lady Dedlock is wracked by guilt at not having raised her daughter, shame at having a baby out of wedlock, and fear that she will dishonor Sir Dedlock with her doings.
- Tulkinghorn is like the Terminator. He has no feelings and can't be reasoned with. He just keeps going and going, digging and digging, without mercy or pause.
- Lady Dedlock takes off.
- Esther sits for a while, recovers, and goes home to Boythorn's wishing she'd never been born.
- Back at home she finds letters from Ada and Jarndyce, who are on their way down. She is reminded of their love, which cheers her up a little. Honestly, though, this would be a totally psycho shock to the nervous system. Esther is pretty amazing for handling it as well as she does.
- She starts getting very nervous about Ada seeing her for the first time. But when Ada comes her face shows nothing but love and happiness. Yay!
Jarndyce and Jarndyce
- (Esther narrating.)
- Esther doesn't tell anyone about the whole Lady-Dedlock-is-my-mom situation, but every time the name comes up her heart skips a beat.
- A few weeks later she has a visitor at the village inn. This is kind of weird, because why wouldn't the person just come to the house?
- Esther goes to check it out and finds... Richard! OK, you already knew that because you read the list of characters in this chapter.
- He's happy to see her, doesn't react to her face in any way, but immediately launches into his conspiracy theory about Jarndyce. He thinks Jarndyce is trying to keep him away from the lawsuit to get some kind of advantage over him.
- Esther is sad to see Miss Flite's prediction about Richard becoming obsessed with Chancery coming true.
- Richard has also brought Skimpole with him, who is apparently now leeching off Richard. Skimpole is not such a great influence in the best-case scenario, and this is very far from the best case.
- Skimpole does his usual song-and-dance about being totally irresponsible and not knowing anything about anything, but Esther pretty clearly tells us that she is onto him and understands that he is not as innocent and naïve as he pretends to be. Well, duh.
- Richard asks Esther to tell Ada that he is working really hard for both of them. Too bad it's not at some actual job, but instead he's just getting deeper and deeper into debt trying to follow the court case.
- He also passes along a message that as soon as Ada is no longer a minor he's going to re-propose to her.
- In response, Ada writes Richard a letter telling to him to lay off the case already and not to worry about her.
- Meanwhile Esther tries to talk to Skimpole and get him to leave Richard alone.
- Both the letter and the conversation totally fail. Both of these guys are way past a stern talking-to.
- The next day Richard comes to visit Ada, and all is very nice, until the arrival of Richard's new lawyer, Mr. Vholes. (Check out the name – a vole is a rat-like rodent. Nice.)
- Skimpole says he has known Vholes for a long time, since he is always running afoul of the law. Then he casually drops the bomb that Vholes actually bribed him for an introduction to Richard. That's some predatory behavior, there.
- This guy looks like death warmed over. He's coming to tell Richard that his case is actually on the docket for the next day – because apparently Richard wants to be physically in court every time the case comes up.
- Richard speeds off to book some carriage tickets for the trip.
- Meanwhile, Mr. Vholes tells Esther and Ada about his three daughters and his aging father, all of whom he supports. Meaning? Richard is a cash cow and he's never going to get his claws off of him.
- Finally Richard and Vholes drive off with a horse and rider that look to Esther like one of the Biblical horsemen of the apocalypse.
- Um, we guess that qualifies as a spoiler alert.
- (Still Esther.)
- After a nice long recovery, the gang leaves Boythorn's and returns to Bleak House. It's all in disarray, since Esther couldn't do the housekeeping while she was sick. She puts everything back in order.
- Then she sets off to London on a mission she doesn't yet tell us about.
- On the way she decides to visit Caddy and see how life is going with the Turveydrops.
- Life with the Turveydrops is going pretty well, actually.
- Caddy is learning how to dance a little and to play the piano and violin so they can save money on accompanists. They've also taken on four apprentices.
- Brain snack time: back before formal vocational training, all different kinds of tradesmen – tailors, gardeners, doctors, and anyone else with specialized knowledge – would take on students (apprentices) to live with them and learn the business. Parents would pay a reasonably steep fee for this. The idea was that after the kid learned whatever he needed to learn, he'd either set up his own business or take over the one where he'd been apprenticed.
- Anywho.... Mr. Turveydrop and Mr. Jellyby get along really well, since one is all performance and the other is all audience.
- Esther and Caddy go on Esther's original errand, which brings them to the house of Mr. Guppy.
- At first he's all excited to see them. But as soon as Esther takes off her veil and he sees her face, he loses it.
- What comes next is a totally horrible scene of awkwardness straight out of The Office.
- Guppy starts, in legal language, to make it clear to Esther that since she had refused his offer of marriage already, there is nothing legally binding them, and that he can't re-propose.
- It's so painful. She is cringing. He's embarrassed. Disaster.
- Finally Esther interrupts and tells him what she actually came there for. She's worried he's going to find out about Lady Dedlock, so she makes him promise to stop trying to do anything for her interests like he'd said he was going to do.
- He is so relieved that he swears to do whatever she asks, cross his heart, hope to die.
- Esther and Caddy leave and he follows them into the street to make Esther repeat again that they are not engaged, and to get Caddy's name and address as a witness.
Attorney and Client
- (Third-person narrator returns.)
- OK, now we get a long aside about the legal system. The narrator is not a fan. The main gist is this:
- Men like Vholes have a surface veneer of respectability (in this case, the daughters and the father).
- The whole point of the legal system is to keep creating work for itself.
- Any time any kind of reform is proposed in Parliament, lawyers testify that the whole bunch of super-respectable lawyers like Vholes will be out of work.
- And of course all of this is surrounded by the black comedy of Vholes himself, who is always described as either a predator or death. Hardy har har.
- The Court of Chancery wraps up for the season and goes on summer vacation.
- Richard is totally furious because, of course, nothing got done.
- He has a long conversation with Vholes, who tells him that he never takes vacation even if the court does, and any time Richard wants him, Vholes is at his disposal. Oh, and by the way, here is a bill for his services.
- Vholes is constantly doing a self-contradicting kind of double talk: "If I were the kind of man who gave his clients hope, I would tell you that you have a good chance of getting a bunch of money, but I won't tell you that."
- Richard is total sucker for this drivel, which is how Vholes got him to leave Kenge and Carboy and transfer his legal case to Vholes in the first place, and also how he got Richard to start mistrusting and being paranoid about Jarndyce.
- Leaving the office, Richard passes Guppy and Jobling.
- Those two are on their way to Krook's place to pick up Jobling's stuff and try to look around in the process, just in case those letters from Captain Hawdon didn't get destroyed after all.
- When they get there they see the Smallweed family digging through all the crap in the shop. It's a crazy, horrible mess and will take a very long time to get through.
- Guppy and Jobling manage a very quick look around, don't find anything, and go upstairs to pack up.
- They run into Tulkinghorn, who, as always, is hovering unseen in the shadows.
- Tulkinghorn tries to ask Guppy some questions about Lady Dedlock and why he was there talking to her when someone of her social status should be totally inaccessible to a lowly clerk like him.
- Guppy is kind of half-scared and half-confused but manages not to say anything too horribly incriminating.
National and Domestic
- (Third-person still.)
- Lots of doings at Chesney Wold.
- Lady Dedlock is sick; she hasn't been feeling well for some time.
- Sir Dedlock is a Member of Parliament, with a pretty solidly uncontested seat. His conservative party, however, is in some trouble in the elections. They are spending a lot of time, energy, and money to try to get their candidates elected. But no luck, regardless of how they try to bribe the voters. (Quick brain snack: it was much easier to bribe voters back then, because there were a lot fewer of them – only people who owned land or businesses could cast ballots.)
- All the Dedlock cousins are helping out...or at least hanging around pretending to help out.
- Volumnia is scandalized that anyone would consider voting for a candidate from the reform movement.
- Sir Dedlock is happy to hear her say that and immediately likes her better for it.
- Their conversation kind of goes back and forth about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because people are interested in candidates like Mr. Rouncewell, the Ironmaster.
- Tulkinghorn comes in.
- He tells Sir Dedlock about some bad election results. It seems that, although Mr. Rouncewell didn't actually run for a seat himself, he did campaign against Sir Dedlock and his candidate, helped by his son Watt, and together they managed to influence the election.
- Sir Dedlock is totally furious.
- He asks Lady Dedlock to keep Rosa as far away from these people as possible.
- She answers that she has no desire to get rid of her.
- Tulkinghorn then says he has a story to tell them. Check this out: he says that in the village of the election there was a beautiful young girl who became a favorite of a lady of high society. But the lady had a terrible secret – when she was young she gave birth to a baby out of wedlock. Although the father was dead, the secret came out anyway. And the young beautiful woman was forever tainted by being associated with this grand lady.
- Wow. That sounds a lot like the plot of the novel, no?
- Tulkinghorn is a master of the threat.
- Lady Dedlock displays no reaction to the story. She takes a sip of water and goes to bed.
In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Room
- (Third-person narrator.)
- That was some crazy indirect showdown. Even Tulkinghorn needs a breather.
- After a couple of minutes, Lady Dedlock comes to his room.
- There's no beating around the bush anymore, but she still stays super calm and her face is totally non-responsive.
- How long has he known her story?
- A couple of days.
- Does everyone else already know too?
- No, that was just to show what would happen if the secret got out.
- Can she make it so that Rosa isn't tainted by being associated with her?
- He doesn't know. (Time out – talk about guilt by association! Poor Rosa.)
- Lady Dedlock offers to sign any papers she needs to to confirm all the facts. She tells Tulkinghorn that all her jewels, money, and fancy clothes are in their places. She is ready to leave the house.
- Whoa, not so fast, Tulkinghorn says.
- He doesn't want the secret out just yet. If she leaves, the honor and reputation of the Dedlock family will be ruined forever. For now he just wants her to continue as if everything were the same.
- Tulkinghorn says that he only wants what is best for the family, and the best way to preserve its place in the world is to keep up appearances.
- Lady Dedlock agrees, shoots him a hateful look, and leaves.
- He goes to sleep.
- She goes to her room, paces, rips out her hair, screams, and cries. Good soundproofing in those old houses, though – no one hears her.
- The next morning, everyone in Chesney Wold gets up as if nothing had happened.
In Mr. Tulkinghorn's Chambers
- (Third-person narrator still going.)
- Tulkinghorn leaves Chesney Wold and goes back to his office in London.
- There he finds Snagsby, who is all worried and flummoxed and generally in a state of confusion and bewilderment.
- He tells Tulkinghorn that Hortense has been lurking around the neighborhood. Somehow she got Snagsby's name and now she's constantly coming into his shop. This is unpleasant in and of itself, but even more so because of Mrs. Snagsby's suspicions and jealousy.
- Tulkinghorn tells Snagsby to send Hortense to him next time he sees her and promises to get rid of her.
- What do you know – she comes to the office five minutes later.
- She is totally furious – like, teeth-gnashingly so. It's hard to know what she's so angry about, but mostly it seems to be because Tulkinghorn never found her a job.
- She promises that if he does, she'll do whatever he wants to bring Lady Dedlock down.
- Tulkinghorn is feeling just a little threatened by her, but mostly he's upset that she even knows that he wants to bring Lady Dedlock down in the first place.
- He tells her to go away.
- Then he threatens to have her locked up in jail, saying she won't be able to get out for a long, long time.
- She threatens him back again, but not with anything specific (she just comes off as a little bit psycho). She's so mad that she just repeats whatever he says back to him in an angry voice. It's like a really nasty game of "I know you are, but what am I?"
- Finally she leaves, and he has a glass of wine.
- (Prim and proper, boys and girls – Esther takes the narrating helm.)
- Esther goes through life in a state of shock. Every time conversation goes anywhere near the Dedlocks or Chesney Wold she has to leave the room. Thinking about the fact that she can never talk to her mom again is beyond miserable.
- Meanwhile Ada and Jarndyce talk about Richard and how totally underwater he is with his obsession with Chancery and his fears and mistrust about Jarndyce.
- It doesn't seem like there's anything to do about it, though, since they've tried reasoning with him already. He's just delusional at this point.
- But maybe at least they can get Skimpole away from him, Esther suggests. Jarndyce defends Skimpole and says whatever bad influence he is having is unintentional. Esther is like, well, even so.
- So the whole gang goes to visit Skimpole's to see what can be done.
- His house is, not surprisingly, falling apart. But he's got a lot of good food and good wine on the table.
- Jarndyce and Ada start trying to talk to Skimpole, telling him that Richard is actually quite poor, and to stop mooching off him please.
- Skimpole waves them off with his whole "I don't understand money, I'm just a naïve artistic guy" shtick. This seems to satisfy Jarndyce.
- Skimpole then introduces Ada and Esther to his three daughters, who have been raised to be exactly like him. His wife, meanwhile, comes and has a private chat with Jarndyce, who gives her some money.
- Finally Skimpole complains that yet another guy has been harassing him this morning because of some debts and decides to go to Bleak House to get away from him.
- Esther wonders why he doesn't think his daughters and wife are going to be stuck at home having to deal with the man. She's totally onto him but can't really do anything about it.
- Back at Bleak House, they suddenly have a visitor. It turns out to be... Sir Dedlock!
- Esther almost has a heart attack.
- But he's just there to say that he heard they had been staying at Boythorn's house. He knows Lady Dedlock knows and likes Jarndyce and he's sorry if they felt like they couldn't come to Chesney Wold and have a nice tour of the place just because he and Boythorn are in a fight.
- Jarndyce is surprised to see him and thanks him.
- He leaves. What a totally bizarre visit. Shmoop is guessing this scene is meant to humanize Sir Dedlock somewhat? He's high and mighty, but does he actually care about personal relationships and old-timey values like hospitality? It's hard to say.
- Anyway, this visit makes Esther decide to tell Jarndyce the truth.
- She goes to see him that night, and together they fill each other in on some key details.
- First, from Jarndyce: Boythorn's old fiancée was Lady Dedlock's sister (!), who out of nowhere and without saying why cut off all communication with him.
- Esther explains that she did that because she decided to raise Esther. She was her aunt, and Lady Dedlock is her mother.
- Jarndyce is floored but is super nice and loving to Esther. He talks to her and makes her feel OK and generally responds in as positive a way as possible.
- Esther goes to sleep that night wondering "how could I ever be busy enough, how could I ever be good enough, how in my little way could I ever hope to be forgetful enough of myself, devoted enough to him, and useful enough to others, to show him how I blessed and honoured him" (43.130).
The Letter and the Answer
- (Esther still doing her thing.)
- The next morning Esther tells Jarndyce the rest of the story, which is, Oh, yeah, please don't tell anyone.
- He's obviously fine with that, and everything is hunky dory.
- Esther is worried about anyone else finding out, though. There's Tulkinghorn, who might know; Guppy, who she's pretty sure will stop poking around about her background, like she asked; and Hortense, who was so weird when she came to ask for a job.
- Jarndyce says they can't really do anything about any of that, so not to worry.
- He also says he has something to ask her, but he can't ask outright, so he'll write a letter.
- She's all gratitude and feeling like she owes him big-time.
- A week later she receives the letter. It's a...proposal of marriage! Yes, yes, we all saw that coming, obviously.
- But still – isn't a tiny bit creepy, considering how she thinks of him as a dad, and how indebted she feels to him? It's a bit too much of a power imbalance to be OK.
- The letter is nice and sweet and loving, and Jarndyce makes sure to say that no matter what her answer, it won't change how he feels about her.
- Esther also reads between the lines to see that he's asking her now that she's no longer pretty, because she's unlikely to get another offer.
- She starts to cry. Then she feels guilty for not being instantly happy about this and for still thinking about Woodcourt.
- Finally Esther makes up her mind to say yes and burns the dried bouquet that Woodcourt gave her before he left for China.
- A week goes by. Jarndyce doesn't say anything about the letter and acts totally normal.
- Two weeks go by.
- Esther comes to see him and says she has an answer. She hugs and kisses him. It's kind of an odd moment – instead of calling her his wife or his love or whatever, Jarndyce is psyched and calls her "the mistress of Bleak House," like she's marrying the house and not him (44.58). She doesn't tell Ada.
- Whatever. We told you it was kind of weird.
- (Esther keeps on chugging along. With her pen.)
- Vholes comes to see Jarndyce. As usual, he looks, sounds, and feels like death.
- His main message is that Richard is in financial hot water and is thinking of selling his army commission to raise funds. He's still fixated on Chancery.
- Vholes tries to make it like his coming to see Jarndyce is some humanitarian mission since he can't bill for the visit. But obviously, if Richard runs out of money, then Vholes is out work.
- Jarndyce is at a loss. He'd give Richard money, but Richard would never take it.
- Esther decides to go to Deal, the port where Richard is stationed, to talk to him.
- Ada writes Richard a letter.
- It's 75 miles away – a nine-hour ride. (Wow, Shmoop is happy we drive cars nowadays, not horses.)
- Richard is a hot mess. He's already resigned his commission, and Esther can't talk any kind of sense into him about anything.
- Ada's letter offers Richard all her money if he just stays in the army.
- He's really ashamed, but then immediately turns the situation around and decides that this is some new trick of Jarndyce's to buy him off.
- Esther is grossed out by his nonsense, and he feels terrible for even thinking such a thing.
- Finally Esther goes back to her hotel. She stops to check out some docking ships and sees...Woodcourt!
- Instinctively, she runs away as fast as possible, but then she hears his voice in the hotel – he's staying at the same place she is!
- She mans up and goes out to see him.
- He is clearly happy to see her, but when she lifts up her veil and he sees her face, he is very sad and sorry. Esther is happy to see this. Why? Maybe she needs that last hope of being with Woodcourt to be killed off before she marries Jarndyce? Something like that.
- Still, they chat in a very friendly fashion, and then Esther asks Woodcourt to be a friend to Richard in London, since he is the only normal, practical, steady person Richard knows.
- Woodcourt promises.
- When Richard comes to say good-bye, Woodcourt befriends him, but then asks Esther in an aside if there is something wrong with him. Woodcourt senses "an ungrown despair" (45.87) in Richard. Don't ask, we don't know what that means either. But, you know, obviously nothing good.
- (Back to the third-person narrator and his righteous indignation.)
- Woodcourt is back trying to doctor the miserable poor people in Tom-all-Alone's. This is why he doesn't have any money, remember?
- Walking around, he sees a woman on a stoop with a huge wound on her face. Of course it turns out to be... Jenny! Dickens's world is full of crazy coincidences.
- Woodcourt is super nice to her – he has an ability to talk to the poor as if they were actual people. Oh yeah, crazy.
- She's nursing yet another beating from her husband but seems OK.
- When he's done with her, Woodcourt sees a boy creeping around the corner. Jenny runs after him, yelling, "Stop him!" – and Woodcourt does, thinking maybe he just robbed her.
- But no. This boy is none other than... Jo.
- OK, the surprises are not even all that surprising anymore.
- Woodcourt recognizes him from the inquest, but Jenny knows Jo ran away from Bleak House after being taken in by Esther when he was sick.
- Woodcourt hears this and is half nauseous, half ready to cry. Jo is patient zero of that horrible disease that disfigured Esther's face.
- Jo is horrified and sorry that he infected Esther.
- Still angry, Woodcourt asks Jo why he left that night.
- Turns out Jo didn't run away at all – he was taken away by... well, we don't know yet, since he just whispers the name to Woodcourt.
- The guy took him to a hospital and gave him some money to stay far away after he was released (which, considering he is still really sick, shows what hospitals were like back then – pretty much just places for poor people to go to die).
- He stayed away as long as he could, but now he's run out of money, so he's back at Tom-all-Alone's to die.
- (Third-person narrator continues inducing guilt.)
- Woodcourt takes Jo out of the slums. He buys him some food. Jo is all excited to eat but then realizes that he has no appetite. Uh-oh – that's never a good sign. Well, that, and the title of this chapter is kind of a spoiler, no?
- Woodcourt makes Jo eat anyway, and Jo tells him the story of the lady in the veil who wanted to see Nemo's haunts.
- The two go to see Miss Flite to try to find Jo a place to stay. Of course, Krook's shop is now gone, and Judy Smallweed tells them where they can find Miss Flite now. She's staying in Gridley's old room.
- Miss Flite is super excited to see Woodcourt, her old doctor, and immediately comes up with the idea of having Jo rest up at Mr. George's place.
- Mr. George and Woodcourt like each other right away, and Mr. George is always psyched to do something for Esther's sake.
- Woodcourt reveals that the man who took Jo out of Bleak House that night was... Bucket. He completes the circle by saying that Bucket is associated with Tulkinghorn, and that's where Jo was taken the last time Bucket got him.
- In any case, since Jo is now no longer contagious, Mr. George is happy to take him in. Mr. George's assistant Phil takes the boy to get a bath and some new clothes.
- Everything is all arranged, and Jo tries to recover for a couple of days, drifting in and out of delirium and asking often for Mr. Snagsby.
- Finally Woodcourt goes to find Snagsby, tells him about Jo, and gets him to come down to visit, even though Snagsby is worried about Mrs. Snagsby and what she would think or say.
- Snagsby is shaken by Jo's state, leaves a bunch of money for him, and is generally very moved. He's a pretty nice guy.
- Jo asks Snagsby to write a really big note when he dies, in really, really big letters, saying that he's sorry he got Esther sick and didn't mean to do it.
- Finally, the tear-jerking death scene. It's very sad. Jo dies. This recap can't really do it justice – just go read it.
- But first, a quick Shmoop brain snack: there are a couple of Dickens novels where young children die – see for instance, Nell in Little Nell and Paul Jr. in Dombey and Son. He would write the serialized parts so that each death would come for the special Christmas edition. People loved these. Actually, it was sort of morbid – he would get fan letters asking him to please kill off some more children in his novels, since he wrote about this so movingly. Oh, those wacky Victorians.
- (Third-person narrator. He gets all the juiciest chapters.)
- OK, things are starting to happen hard and fast now, people.
- Lady Dedlock is talking to Rosa. She's always very sweet and maternal to her, since Rosa is kind of a replacement Esther.
- Rosa loves Lady Dedlock too.
- Lady Dedlock tells Rosa that she's going to send her away, and that this is for the best. Rosa protests, but she's kind of a weakling and goes along to get along.
- Lady Dedlock then goes to see Sir Dedlock, but he's in with Tulkinghorn.
- She announces that she's sending Rosa away up north to go to Mr. Rouncewell's school. In fact, Mr. Rouncewell is coming that afternoon to discuss it.
- Mr. Rouncewell arrives and exchanges some tense words with Sir Dedlock.
- In any case, the situation is settled, and Rosa is all set to go that very night.
- Tulkinghorn comes to see Lady Dedlock that evening. As usual, he's calm, threatening, and borderline sociopathic all at the same time.
- Basically he tells her that all bets are off now, since by sending away her maid she is reneging on the agreement to proceed as though nothing were wrong. She's all, what's the problem with sending away my maid? But Tulkinghorn thinks it looks suspicious that she's suddenly getting rid of this maid that she loves so much.
- Shmoop kind of thinks Tulkinghorn was just waiting for any excuse. This one seems kind of flimsy.
- In any case, he says he won't tell Sir Dedlock that night and instead goes home.
- Lady Dedlock decides to go out for a walk alone.
- Suddenly a shot is heard in Tulkinghorn's neighborhood.
- The next morning, the cleaning people find Tulkinghorn...dead in a pool of blood!
- Above him there is a painting of a guy in a toga pointing a finger. Usually he's pointing at nothing, but now he points at the corpse.
- (On and on with the third-person narrator.)
- Oh, finally, a little comic relief!
- It's Mrs. Bagnet's birthday and she gets the full treatment: food badly prepared by her husband, house badly cleaned by her children, and a little party afterwards.
- She loves it, Mr. Bagnet loves it, the kids love it – they are an amazingly happy and normal family, and it's a huge relief to just read about some non-dysfunctional people for a change.
- Oh, but here comes Mr. George to join the party, and we're back to the Dickensian horrors.
- He's trying to be cheerful, but he's pale and shaking and generally not OK.
- He says he's sad because of Jo's death and because it makes him think of Gridley's death too.
- The Bagnets try to comfort him, when into the house pops...Bucket!
- Bucket does an amazing, elaborate routine of pretending (without actually saying so) to be one of Mr. George's old friends who just happened to see him as he was walking by.
- Bucket is charming, loves kids, and generally makes himself the life of the party. The Bagnets love him, and they assume that he's very good friends with Mr. George.
- Even Mr. George is kind of buying it. The reason Bucket's thing is so believable is that he really does seem like a nice enough guy, not a phony. Plus, honestly, there's no way not to like the Bagnets.
- Finally Mr. George gets up to leave and Bucket says he'll walk with him.
- Outside Bucket quickly corners Mr. George and places him in custody...for Tulkinghorn's murder!
- Lots of bad circumstantial evidence here: Mr. George was hanging around Tulkinghorn's place a lot, and Tulkinghorn yelled at him that one time he came after business hours.
- Also, Mr. George has no alibi and admits that he was there at Tulkinghorn's door at the time of the shooting.
- Bucket slaps on the handcuffs, covers them with Mr. George's cloak for dignity's sake, and leads him away.
- (Guys, read the chapter title. Obviously Esther is narrating.)
- Wow, all of a sudden it's birthday season in the novel. Now Ada is about to turn 21. (That means she won't be a minor anymore.)
- Also, Caddy just had a baby and is now pretty sick. The baby is named Esther, and the grown-up Esther comes every day to take care of Caddy.
- Jarndyce suggests getting Woodcourt to take a look at her.
- Esther kind of jumps at the name, but obviously he's a great doctor, and Caddy is their friend. Turns out he's been to dinner at Bleak House without Esther's knowledge.
- Anyway, Caddy has other visitors too. Mostly totally useless ones.
- Prince comes, obviously, to check on his wife and daughter. He's cutely helpless.
- Mrs. Jellyby comes, doesn't listen to anything Caddy says, and just drones on about Africa without caring about her granddaughter.
- Mr. Turveydrop comes, pretends to be very self-sacrificing for Caddy's sake, then goes back to business as usual.
- And Mr. Jellyby comes too. He clearly loves his daughter but just sits there and does nothing. He's a passive lump.
- Slowly, under Woodcourt's care, Caddy starts to get better.
- Esther notices that something is wrong with Ada. She seems upset or worried or something that Esther can't really pin down. Esther immediately decides that Ada is concerned about Esther marrying Jarndyce, which, as we will find out soon enough, is a big ol' case of projection.
- Esther decides to chat about her upcoming marriage with Ada and tells her how it's a really good decision. Ada is all, "well, OK."
- That night Ada goes to sleep still upset by something.
- (Esther, Esther, Esther.)
- True to his word, Woodcourt tries to meet up with Richard in London. He doesn't know where he's staying, so he goes to Vholes's office to find out.
- Their conversation goes something like this:
- W: Where does Richard live?
- V: Let's just say that he owes me a lot of money.
- W: Um, OK. But where does he live?
- V: He owes money to other people too.
- W: Dude, seriously, I'm just asking for his address.
- V: So as I was saying, money, money, money, money.
- And so on. Vholes is pretty annoying.
- Finally Vholes shows Woodcourt Richard's room, which is just upstairs. He's just as depressed and crazed as ever. Woodcourt is nice to him, and Richard tells him how stressed he is that Ada's money is tied up in the court case too.
- After Caddy starts getting better, Esther suggests going to visit Richard. Ada is kind of not into it, which is surprising and strange.
- But still, they go.
- Another surprise – Ada is very easily able to figure out where Richard lives without asking for directions.
- Miserable as always, Richard is happy to see them but depressed about life overall.
- After some complaining, Ada goes to hug him and says she's not going back to Bleak House because...they're married!
- Apparently, two months ago, as soon as Richard said no to Ada's letter offering him all of her money, she decided to marry him instead so that her money would be his legally. Oh, and of course because of all the love.
- Esther cries and cries and cries. Then she leaves and cries some more. She's not really expecting anything too good to come out of this marriage, and she feels bad for them.
- That night she and Charley sneak back to Richard's place and lurk around outside a little bit. For some reason, this makes her feel better.
- Back at Bleak House, Jarndyce figures out the truth when Ada doesn't come home for dinner. He wishes them well, but expects only ill.
- Esther tries to cheer him up by talking about becoming mistress of the house, but that attempt flags too. Esther feels guilty that their own marriage is so not an exciting topic for conversation.
- (Esther still narrating.)
- A day later, more terrible news.
- Woodcourt comes to tell the gang that Mr. George has been arrested for the murder of Tulkinghorn.
- Esther is instantly worried that her mom did it. She's got plenty of motive, after all.
- In any case, they all agree that Mr. George couldn't have done it, whatever the circumstantial evidence. They decide to go visit him in jail.
- Mr. George is surprisingly relaxed in his cell and is really happy to see that Jarndyce and Esther believe that he's innocent.
- They ask about his case, and he tells them that Bucket keeps postponing the trial for some reason.
- Also, he doesn't have a lawyer.
- When Jarndyce offers to pay for one, Mr. George refuses and launches into a rant about how crappy lawyers are. He wants to get off based on the truth, not based on how a lawyer would spin the facts. If he can't get off with just the truth, he might as well be hanged.
- That seems a little crazy, no? But he's a man of extreme honor. Or something.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet come to the jail and overhear this speech.
- Mrs. Bagnet is all, "wow, that's completely ridiculous, and selfish too." But she also explains that it's impossible to change Mr. George's mind once it's made up.
- Suddenly Mr. George looks at Esther and is struck by the memory of seeing someone who looked like her go past him on Tulkinghorn's stairs the night of the murder.
- Esther's heart skips a beat.
- They leave, and Mrs. Bagnet has a brilliant idea for how to get Mr. George to change his mind about the lawyer. She's convinced from some hints he's dropped here and there that his mother lives up in the country somewhere, and she immediately sets off to find her. Literally, she just turns and walks off to Lincolnshire.
- Jarndyce is amazed and asks Mr. Bagnet if he's just going to let her go like that. (Jeez, she's a grownup, Jarndyce.) Bagnet is all, well, why on earth not? She's an amazing woman, after all.
- (The cold eye of the third-person narrator returns.)
- Bucket is on the case.
- He's here, here's there, he's everywhere. E-I-E-I-O.
- On the day of Tulkinghorn's funeral, almost no one comes in person. However, most of his clients each send a carriage to indicate that they're in mourning. (Nice custom, right? No reason to actually show up when you can just send an empty carriage.)
- Bucket rides hidden in one of the supposedly empty carriages and checks out the scene.
- His wife, who is a pretty good amateur detective, hangs out on the steps of Tulkinghorn's house with her new tenant, all according to Bucket's instructions. We don't really know what the deal with that is.
- After the funeral, Bucket heads to the Dedlock mansion. He's got his own key, and his own expense account, all on orders from Sir Dedlock.
- The footman delivers Bucket a letter. It's just like a bunch that he's recently gotten – totally blank except for two words: "LADY DEDLOCK."
- After dinner, he goes to fill Sir Dedlock in on what's going on.
- Not too much news to report today, though.
- Sir Dedlock makes a speech about how totally dedicated he is to finding Tulkinghorn's killer, and how even if his own brother did it, he'd want him hanged.
- Bucket listens politely, then says he's very close to cracking the case wide open.
- Then he goes to chat more with the footman.
- Bucket does kind of a sneaky interrogation.
- First he talks about how the footman is so tall and well-built that he should go be an artist's model. Then he asks about Lady Dedlock's walking habits. Oh, she likes to go out for walks, does she? How about that. Then he talks about how his dad was a footman and how proud he was about it. So was she out for a walk the night Tulkinghorn was murdered? Oh, she was? Very interesting. Then he talks about how good-looking she is. The footman is into it. Oh, and did you go with her for that nighttime walk? No? Well, good then.
Springing a Mine
- (Third-person narrator keeps at it.)
- OK, Shmoop is kind of sad about having to list the characters in this chapter because it's pretty hard to do justice to a mystery plot when there's no element of surprise. So, you know, spoiler alert and everything.
- Bucket gets up at the Dedlock mansion, where he's been bunking, gets dressed, and meets with Sir Dedlock.
- First things first, Bucket says, and prepares Dedlock for a huge shock by reminding him of the long line of proud Dedlocks that he comes from and how they would do their best to deal with any shocking thing they heard. Bucket is extremely sensitive. The other thing he says is for Sir Dedlock not to stress that Bucket knows the family's secrets – he knows so many secrets about so many families that one more doesn't really matter.
- Dedlock is all, OK, get on with it already.
- And so begin the reveals. We basically get the whole mystery solved and out of the way in this chapter, so pay attention.
- Bucket knows who the killer is. Is it Mr. George? No, obviously not. It's a woman! Dun-dun-dun.
- So, the deal with Lady Dedlock: before she was married, she was engaged to Captain Hawdon. Tulkinghorn started being suspicious and figured most of it out. Sir Dedlock is shocked that Tulkinghorn wouldn't have immediately told him about it, and that the lawyer must have had some ulterior motive.
- Suddenly, Smallweed, Mrs. Snagsby, and the Chadbands bust into the house. Since Bucket knows who they are and everything about it, they lose the element of surprise. Still, they try to go for the element of extortion instead, asking for hush money.
- Bucket hustles them out the door and says he'll get back to them tomorrow.
- Now, Bucket says, we'll arrest the murderess, and into the room walks... Hortense!
- She's very indignant about not finding Mrs. Bucket there, but Bucket immediately arrests her and starts telling her story.
- She was super angry at being fired by Lady Dedlock, and then even more angry with Tulkinghorn.
- The night of the murder, Hortense came and rented the spare room at the Buckets' house, hoping to throw Bucket off the scent. But she was way too overemotional about Tulkinghorn's death, which made Bucket suspicious. So he and Mrs. Bucket decided to pretend like everything was fine while actually trying to get Hortense to incriminate herself.
- Which she did. A lot.
- First, she started sending those "LADY DEDLOCK" letters to Bucket – which Mrs. Bucket saw her writing and mailing.
- Then she used a little piece of paper from a description of Chesney Wold as the wadding in the gun she used to kill Tulkinghorn. A nice symbol? Maybe. But also a really good piece of evidence, especially since Mrs. Bucket found the original sheet that the wadding was torn from.
- Finally, she tried to get rid of her gun when she went out to tea with Mrs. Bucket – which they have since found.
- Hortense is enraged, but Bucket cuffs her and gets out of there.
- Floored by everything he has heard, Sir Dedlock tries to get up, but has a fit (a stroke, Shmoop is guessing), and collapses on the ground, saying Lady Dedlock's name with love.
- You guys, he actually really loves her – that might actually be the biggest surprise in this mystery.
- (Third-person narrator still with us.)
- OK, let's back up a bit to see what else is happening.
- A day before Bucket explained the whole deal, Mrs. Bagnet went up to Chesney Wold and found Mr. George's mom, who turns out to be... Mrs. Rouncewell!
- She's totally psyched and has already forgiven George for not even writing all these years. She didn't even know if he was alive or dead!
- Anyway, now Mrs. Bagnet fills her in on how she found her (through various hints that George dropped) and that Mrs. Rouncewell needs to convince him to get a lawyer.
- There is a tearful reunion in the jail.
- Dickens is really good at these scenes. Shmoop might have needed a handkerchief.
- George agrees to a lawyer and anything else his mom wants. His only condition is that he doesn't want his brother the Ironmaster knowing about him. He's embarrassed that he hasn't amounted to anything.
- Mrs. Bagnet takes Mrs. Rouncewell home to the Dedlock place in London. It's now the morning of Bucket's big reveal.
- Mrs. Rouncewell takes Lady Dedlock aside and tells her: 1) her missing son was just found, 2) he's in jail for the murder of Tulkinghorn, and 3) Mrs. Rouncewell is sure that Lady Dedlock has some information that could free him because 4) a letter just arrived at Chesney Wold saying "LADY DEDLOCK MURDERESS" on it.
- Lady Dedlock kind of collapses in her chair, and Mrs. Rouncewell leaves the room.
- In comes Guppy. He tells Lady Dedlock: 1) he hasn't been pursuing the mystery, but 2) Smallweed and the Chadbands have, and now 3) they are talking to Sir Dedlock and trying to blackmail him.
- A footman tells Lady Dedlock that, yes, people like that have been in the house, and now Sir Dedlock is alone in his study.
- Lady Dedlock freaks out – super-duper total breakdown, completely loses it.
- Then she writes a good-bye letter to Sir Dedlock, telling him she's guilty of everything except Tulkinghorn's murder. She leaves all her belongings behind and runs off.
- (Quick aside here. This is the only time when the third-person narrator describes plot having directly to do with Esther. But even though she quickly is addressed by Jarndyce in this chapter, she is never actually seen until the narration switches back to her voice in Chapter 57. All of which is to say – we've got kind of a Clark Kent/Superman thing going on here with them.)
- Volumnia finds Sir Dedlock on the floor of the study.
- He's had a fit, can barely speak, and is communicating by writing on a piece of paper. Mrs. Rouncewell is taking care of him.
- He asks for Lady Dedlock, who can't be found, and is given her letter.
- He cries and moans after reading it, then asks for Bucket.
- He lets Bucket read the letter, then writes on his chalkboard, "Full forgiveness. Find---" (56.20).
- Bucket first tells Mrs. Rouncewell to take care of Sir Dedlock and not to worry about her son, because George has already been released.
- Then Bucket immediately takes off. First looking for some clues in Lady Dedlock's room, he finds Esther Summerson's handkerchief – and hey, what a good thing all handkerchiefs back then were monogrammed! Her name is written right on it.
- Bucket immediately remembers her from Gridley's deathbed and puts two and two together.
- He rides off to George Rouncewell's and gets Jarndyce's address.
- At Jarndyce's he asks to take Esther with him as they search for Lady Dedlock. His idea is that if she sees the two of them together, she'll be more likely to believe him when he says that Sir Dedlock has already forgiven her for everything.
- (Um, Esther. Obviously.)
- The chase is on!
- Bucket and Esther hop on the carriage and start trying to find Lady Dedlock. It's pretty exciting, but it's hard to make it sound that way in a recap – just take our word for it.
- A quick aside – this chapter is the very first time a police procedural appears in fiction. Really. So for us, who've been schooled by Law and Order, NYPD: Blue, CSI, Lethal Weapon and every other cop show and movie out there, some of this police-chase stuff is old hat. But for people reading the novel when it first came out? Whoa! This was something totally new. And obviously awesome – after all, check out how the genre took off.
- So, first to the police station, where they work out a description of Lady Dedlock and where a bunch of officers do police things. Esther is impressed that they work fast while staying calm.
- Next, to the officers dragging the river to make sure her corpse hasn't turned up. No corpse.
- Then off to Bleak House, in case that's where Lady Dedlock went to find Esther (not knowing that Jarndyce & Co. were actually in London).
- No one there but Skimpole. By the by, Bucket tells Esther that it was actually Skimpole who tipped him off about Jo the night they took him in. All it took was a little bribe. Oh, Skimpole, you horrible hypocritical monster. Or, as Bucket puts it, "Whenever a person says to you that they are as innocent as can be in all concerning money, look well after your own money, for they are dead certain to collar it if they can." (57.57).
- Then, quickly, to the house of the brickmakers where Lady Dedlock had already been once to get Esther's handkerchief.
- Liz is there, but not Jenny. No one will tell Esther where Jenny is. No one wants to fess up to Lady Dedlock's having been there, but finally it turns out that she had. She asked Jenny to go back to London, and she herself went further north.
- Esther thinks maybe she went to find Boythorn, who lives further north, and sent Jenny back to London with some message for Esther.
- Either way, Bucket realizes that Lady Dedlock left the brickmakers her watch, as payment for something.
- On they go to the north. Bucket keeps stopping at various inns, asking if people have seen a woman who matches her description.
- Suddenly the trail goes totally cold. Bucket thinks this is really odd and unlikely.
- He thinks quickly and decides to instead follow Jenny back down south. Esther is extremely upset – "but what about my mom?!" – but Bucket asks her to please just trust him. Well, he hasn't been wrong yet about anything, so now is probably no time to stop listening to him.
A Wintry Day and Night
- (The third-person narrator fills us in.)
- The official word is that Lady Dedlock went down to Chesney Wold but will be back any minute. But word on the street is that this is not actually true, and that all sorts of scandal is about to break. The Dedlock affair has become a hot topic of conversation, and everyone who wants to seem in the know is gossiping about her.
- Meanwhile, Sir Dedlock is getting worse.
- He lies and waits for Bucket to return, constantly asking about him at any slight sound in the house. It's getting more and more difficult for him to speak.
- Lady Dedlock's rooms are prepared as if she is about to walk into the house.
- Outside, it is a horrible, snowy-sleety night.
- Volumnia sits near her cousin Sir Dedlock, annoying him with her attempts to be nice. Finally she gives up and chats with Mrs. Rouncewell, complimenting her on her son George.
- Sir Dedlock is all, "wait, George is back?"
- George Rouncewell comes in, and he and Sir Dedlock flash back many years to when they knew each other at Chesney Wold. It turns out they were close – or, you know, as close as you can be with the son of your servant.
- George helps Sir Dedlock sit up and immediately becomes kind of a second nurse, right after his mother.
- Suddenly, Sir Dedlock, fighting against the stroke that's making it hard to form words, gives a long speech to Volumnia, George, and Mrs. Rouncewell. He wants them all to act as witnesses to the fact that his feelings toward Lady Dedlock haven't changed. He loves her the same, the monetary situation is the same, he has no complaints or problems with her, and he never will.
- This is all in case he dies before she returns, of course, and to combat the rumors.
- The speech almost makes him pass out, and everyone is deeply moved to hear him. It continues to be a surprise that he actually loves his wife – maybe because Sir Dedlock is always described by the third-person narrator, whose voice is always sneering and mocking.
- Night comes. Then morning. Then day. The weather doesn't let up. Still no word.
- (Esther narrating again.)
- OK, this chapter is kind of hardcore. Maybe you'd better sit down.
- Esther and Bucket drive really fast back down to London. Bucket drives the carriage into some of the most horrible, gross, narrow streets that Esther has ever seen.
- Bucket keeps conferring with other policemen, and gradually they narrow the circle of the search.
- Finally they arrive at the neighborhood where the Chancery Court is.
- They get out to walk, even though it's crazily snowing, and run into... Woodcourt! He's just been to see Richard and Ada. Richard seems to be doing OK, and Woodcourt joins the search party.
- They all go to Snagsby's house, where Bucket really wants to talk to Guster, the maid, but she unfortunately is having one of her epileptic seizures.
- Woodcourt goes to see if he can do anything to help her, and meanwhile Bucket finally talks some sense into Mrs. Snagsby and her nonsense suspicions about her extremely decent and kind husband.
- Woodcourt returns with a letter. It's written in Lady Dedlock's handwriting! It's basically a suicide note, but she says she won't have to actually kill herself since the cold will do it for her.
- Guster tells them how a poorly dressed woman came to the house, gave her this letter to mail, and asked for directions to the poor people's cemetery, where Nemo was buried.
- Bucket immediately looks worried, and they set off for that sad and terrible place.
- When they get there, Esther sees Jenny lying on the ground.
- Before she approaches, Bucket tells her that "they changed clothes at the cottage" (59.108), but this doesn't mean anything to her. He tries to explain again, that one went north to throw off the searchers and another went south. Again, Esther can't make sense of the words.
- She walks over to the dead Jenny on the ground, turns her over, and sees... Lady Dedlock.
- (Esther switches topics, but keeps narrating.)
- It's too hard for Esther to talk about her mom, so she jumps ahead in time.
- The search and the cold weather made her ill. Then she got well, and now she's staying in London to help out Ada.
- One day Jarndyce asks her if it's OK for Mrs. Woodcourt to come and stay with them. Esther is kind of not into it, but she can't say why (at least not out loud). Mrs. Woodcourt has been much nicer to her recently, and there's been less talk about the fancy ancestors.
- Jarndyce also tells her that Woodcourt isn't going to go abroad anymore because he's gotten a good offer to stay and help poor sick people in Yorkshire, in the north.
- Meanwhile, Esther goes to visit Ada daily. Usually Richard is not there – he's off at Court – or if he is there, he's reading and rereading his court papers. He gets more and more wacko with each passing day, basically.
- One day Esther runs into Miss Flite on her way over. She tells her that she has appointed Richard her executor since he's such a constant presence at the court. Esther is sad to see how far Richard has been absorbed into the craziness.
- Miss Flite has also added two birds to her bird collection, named "The Wards in Jarndyce," which is also her pet name for Richard and Ada. Oh, how very nice; that's not alarming in any way at all.
- Esther is genuinely spooked.
- Esther goes in for dinner, and Vholes comes too. He reminds Esther of a vampire sucking away Richard's life. Vholes speaks to her in private, telling her that Richard and Ada's marriage was really inadvisable, that the case is not going well, and that Richard is running out of money. Esther can see that he's saying this not out of concern but just to cover his own behind in case something happens. She's disgusted by him.
- Richard has no appetite and generally looks horrible. (Instant anachronistic Shmoop diagnosis: clinical depression. But Shmoop is not a doctor, and doesn't even play one on TV.)
- Woodcourt comes to dinner too, then takes Richard out for a walk.
- Esther and Ada talk. Ada is worried about Richard and clearly sees what's happening. She married him hoping to get him away from the court, but it hasn't worked. Now she's hoping the thing that will convince him to give it up will be... their new baby!
- Yep, she's pregnant.
- (Esther keeps on going.)
- Esther goes to talk to Skimpole, hoping to get him to stop hanging out with Richard.
- He's all smiles, and as always doing his I-don't-understand-this-thing-you-humans-call-money thing.
- She asks him as nicely as possible to stay the heck away from Richard and Ada because they have no money.
- To her surprise, Skimpole totally agrees. Why? Because when people run out of money, he's noticed that they suddenly start asking him to pay back his loans.
- Esther then yells at him for betraying Jarndyce by selling out Jo to Bucket. Skimpole is all, "but money? what is it? I'm so naïve!" Esther doesn't know how to argue morality with him, so she leaves.
- Then we get this awesome bit of news: this is the last time she'll ever see Skimpole in her life. Soon after this chat, Jarndyce found out that he still wouldn't leave Richard alone, so their friendship ended.
- Then Skimpole wrote a tell-all autobiography where he called Jarndyce "the Incarnation of Selfishness" (61.41). Which, obviously, is ridiculous. Then five years later he died. So there. Take that, Skimpole.
- More interestingly, this other thing happens when Esther walks back from Richard and Ada's house with Woodcourt one day.
- He tells her that... he loves her! He's always loved her, and her face doesn't matter to him. He just loves, loves, loves her forever.
- She is psyched! But oh, this is coming a little too late, since she's already engaged to Jarndyce. D'oh!
- They decide to be friends forever, and after he leaves she cries and cries and cries.
- Esther, Jarndyce, Bucket, Smallweed, Kenge, Vholes
- (Esther still in charge.)
- The next morning Esther feels guilty about the whole Woodcourt-love business and makes extra nice with Jarndyce.
- They even set a date for the wedding – next month. Except they never call it a wedding – they only ever call it Esther becoming mistress of Bleak House. It's pretty bizarre, actually.
- Then Bucket suddenly barges in the door, with Smallweed behind him.
- Bucket explains that he couldn't keep Smallweed from coming. It turns out that while rummaging through Krook's things, Smallweed has found yet another Jarndyce will.
- It's a good thing Bucket's been hanging around that shop, because otherwise the will would have gone to the highest bidder. As it is, Bucket got the whole Smallweed family to turn on each other and bought it for twenty pounds.
- Jarndyce tells Smallweed that he'll reward him for the find.
- They take the thing to Kenge to check it out and it turns out to be dated after all the other wills in the case!
- Kenge gets excited and calls over Vholes, who also agrees that this is quite a remarkable find.
- They explain that next month, when Court is back in session, this new will is going to be very important.
- Jarndyce isn't buying any of this.
Steel and Iron
- (Switching to the third-person narrator now.)
- George is still with Sir Dedlock, now recuperating at Chesney Wold.
- One day, though, George rides north to the industrial factory towns up there.
- He asks a random guy if he knows the name "Rouncewell," and the guy is all, "um, duh, as well as my own name."
- George is kind of overwhelmed by how important his brother has apparently become and wants to turn back...but doesn't.
- He keeps going, finds the Rouncewell factory (the biggest one around), and walks into his brother's office.
- George introduces himself as Mr. Steel, but as soon as he opens his mouth, his brother recognizes him and is hugely thrilled to see him. George is floored.
- They go to Rouncewell's house, which is fancy. The man clearly has money. There's an engagement party going on for Watt and Rosa, and George becomes the guest of honor.
- The next day George tells his brother that he's happy except for one thing: he wants to be removed from Mrs. Rouncewell's will. He doesn't want to take money away from his nieces and nephews, and it's making him feel awful.
- His brother tells him that his mom isn't going to do any such thing. But on the other hand – once he inherits the money, he can do whatever he wants with it, so no worries.
- This makes George happy. His brother immediately offers him a job, but George says he's best off helping out Sir Dedlock for now. His brother is sort of not into this, but George explains that they are different people and that George really likes being commanded, like he was in the army.
- Finally George shows his brother a letter he's written to Esther explaining that he only passed along Captain Hawdon's note as a handwriting sample, and that if he'd known Hawdon was alive he would have found him and taken care of him. Apparently Hawdon was presumed drowned after falling overboard.
- (Esther, obviously.)
- Esther starts getting ready for the wedding – getting lots of new clothes, mostly.
- She still hasn't told Ada and assumes they'll have a really quiet ceremony, maybe even without Ada there.
- Jarndyce then goes away to Yorkshire to help Woodcourt with his new job.
- One day Esther gets a letter from Jarndyce asking her to come there too.
- When she gets there, he shows her that he has bought Woodcourt a house, but asks her to make sure it's all set up well, since she's such an excellent housekeeper. It's all HGTV all of a sudden.
- They get to the house and she realizes it's set up exactly the way she organized Bleak House.
- Then Jarndyce shows her that the name of this house is... "Bleak House"!
- Esther is worried that all of this will upset Woodcourt, since it will only remind him of her.
- But then Jarndyce explains that he no longer wants to marry her. He knows she loves Woodcourt and that Woodcourt loves her. In fact, he's been setting all of this up all along as a surprise for the two of them. He just wants to go back to being her adopted father. And guess what? This is what Jarndyce meant all along when he kept talking about Esther becoming mistress of Bleak House. Nice!
- Esther is thrilled. (Shmoop is mildly weirded out by husband-dad, but whatever.)
- Esther tells us that she and Woodcourt would get married that same month, and that they've now been married for seven years.
- A few weeks later, Guppy, his mother, and Jobling come to see Esther. Guppy renews his proposal of marriage. Jarndyce unceremoniously kicks him and his posse out.
Beginning the World
- (Still Esther narrating.)
- Court is back in session, and Esther and Woodcourt decide to go check out whether the new will amounts to anything.
- On the way there they run into Caddy, who is doing really well with the dancing school.
- In the courtroom there is clearly some kind of excitement and hubbub, and when Esther asks what's going on, it turns out that the Jarndyce case is over. For the day? No, forever!
- Esther gets excited that maybe this new will has been certified, but Kenge and Vholes explain that no, what actually happened is that the whole estate has now been spent in court costs. Since there's no money to pay for more lawyering, the case will now just disappear.
- Wow, sucks.
- Woodcourt immediately thinks this will kill Richard, and they go visit him and Ada.
- When they get there, Richard is very sick but seems much happier.
- He promises to come to Woodcourt and Esther's new house when he's feeling better and to go to their wedding. Jarndyce shows up, and he and Richard make up. Richard apologizes for all the craziness.
- Then he dies.
- Whoa. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
Down in Lincolnshire
- (Third-person narrator sums up.)
- Well, Sir Dedlock is back at Chesney Wold, but not totally recovered.
- Lady Dedlock has been buried in the family mausoleum. No one is told exactly how she died, and those few who do know are paid to stay quiet.
- George Rouncewell helps Sir Dedlock ride his horse.
- The stables are kept ship-shape by Phil.
- Mrs. Rouncewell is still the housekeeper.
- It's implied that when Sir Dedlock dies it'll be the end of the Dedlock family and its prominence.
The Close of Esther's Narrative
- (Esther finishes the thing.)
- This chapter is like the part at the end of a movie where they freeze-frame each character and tell you what happens to them after the movie ends.
- So: Esther and Woodcourt live happily ever after (surprise). They have two daughters and she enjoys being the doctor's wife (a nurse, in effect). They've built an addition to their house for Jarndyce to come and stay anytime.
- Caddy and Prince are happily married and run a big dancing school. They have a deaf daughter (this is in the days before sign language and schools for the deaf, so it's a difficult disability). Prince is now lame, so Caddy does all the teaching. Mr. Jellyby still comes by every evening. Mrs. Jellyby has abandoned Africa and is now working on getting women into Parliament.
- Ada has a son named Richard Jr. They live in the original Bleak House with Jarndyce as a father to her and grandfather to him.