Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 6

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 6

Quite at Home

  • (Esther narrates.)
  • OK, so the troupe gets the heck out of Dodge, and with every mile out of the city the weather looks nicer and the outdoors greener and more pleasant.
  • Richard and Ada discuss the fact that Mr. Jarndyce's least-favorite thing in the world is to be thanked for the many good things he does. Like, one time he saw Ada's mom coming to say thanks and ran away from his house for three months. Um, OK. They prepare themselves to not thank him for anything.
  • When they get to Bleak House, Mr. Jarndyce meets them, calls them by their first names, which was a huge deal back then, and really only reserved for family – meaning he's super warm and friendly and wants to be close.
  • Ada kind of very slightly hints at possibly being grateful to him, and he almost bolts but doesn't.
  • Mr. Jarndyce asks the gang about Mrs. Jellyby. They all kind of hem and haw about how dedicated she is to the Africans and then finally confess that she's an off-putting mess. He seems concerned and talks about how the wind is suddenly in the east.
  • OK, a little Shmooptastic aside. This whole wind-in-the-east business is Jarndyce's way of indicating that he's upset about something. Once he calms down, he says the wind is no longer in the east. It's based on a proverbial idea that an east wind blows disease and bad odors or something. Fun brain snack: the east wind is also an evil force in the Old Testament (Genesis) and The Lord of the Rings
  • trilogy. Then again, it's the east wind that blows Mary Poppins to the Banks children, so it's not always a bad thing.
  • OK, then, where were we? Oh, yes.
  • Ada calms Jarndyce down about the Jellybys by telling him that Esther was super awesome in dealing with the kids there. Esther is all shy and denies doing much. She says Ada is just being nice, but Ada insists. Mutual admiration society.
  • Jarndyce takes them on a tour of the house, which is old and irregular, with additions built onto the original structure in no particular sense or order.
  • Esther loves it.
  • Jarndyce announces dinner in a half an hour and tells them about his friend Harold Skimpole who will join them.
  • First, though, Esther gets the keys to the castle, literally.
  • Every wonder what that expression means? Well, in a large household, the person running the place was the housekeeper, who managed the servants, the kitchen, the cleaning of the house, etc. And to do all that, the housekeeper would have keys to all the doors, closets, storage rooms, the wine cellar, the linen cupboards, the pantry, the silverware drawers, and whatever else. Basically, it's a big deal.
  • Esther can't believe the crazy honor and huge responsibility of the keys. It's far, far more important than just being a governess.
  • Dinnertime.
  • Our friends meet Harold Skimpole, who is an easy-going, totally relaxed dude who happily tells them that he is a naïve imbecile when it comes to money, property, time, duty, responsibility, or any of the other things grownups have to deal with.
  • He's tried being a doctor and a painter but isn't really into working or supporting his wife and children, so he just sponges off Jarndyce. He actually tells them all of this.
  • Of course, our first reaction is ewww, what a horrible person.
  • But Esther is charmed by the fact that he's telling them these seemingly personal things up front and that he's so friendly. Exactly how good-looking would he have to be to make all of this sound delightful rather than disgusting?
  • Moving along.
  • After dinner, Esther is suddenly called to take care of Skimpole, who has been "took." She thinks that means he's had some kind of fit, but when she gets to his room, she finds him about to be arrested for debts. Richard is already there.
  • Skimpole is not embarrassed in the least by the situation, which totally floors Esther, who feels doubly embarrassed on his behalf.
  • Actually he's so unembarrassed that he hits Richard and Esther up for money to avoid going to debtors' prison. He is completely unselfconscious about the whole matter.
  • They spend what little they have paying the man who has come to arrest him.
  • Skimpole nicknames this man Coavinses, after the name of the prison where he was about to go.
  • He then asks Coavinses whether he felt bad about coming to arrest him. Coavinses says no. (Um, duh. Why would he?)
  • Later that night Jarndyce finds out this nonsense and is upset that Richard and Esther paid the money instead of just going to find him. He tells them that Skimpole has this sort of problem almost every week and that they shouldn't bail him out any more, but should just tell him and he'll do it. Because that's just the kind of enabling friend he is.
  • He's kind of mad at Skimpole for asking Richard and Esther for money in the first place but then decides that this just shows how naïve and innocent the guy is.
  • For the record, Skimpole is not innocent or naïve. It's pretty clear from his conversation that he knows everything about everything and this whole naïve shtick is an act.
  • Finally everyone goes to bed, and Esther wonders how Skimpole has managed to avoid having any responsibilities whatsoever.

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