Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 11

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 11

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.

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