Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 17

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 17

Esther's Narrative

  • (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.

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