Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 5

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 5

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.

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