Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 23

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 23

Esther's Narrative

  • (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'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.

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