Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 40

By Charles Dickens

Chapter 40

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.