Study Guide

Bleak House Chapter 8

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 8

Covering a Multitude of Sins

  • (Esther's back at the wheel.)
  • So it's only been one night, but Esther is totally settling into her new digs. She's psyched to be in charge of the housekeeping keys and making tea. (Imagine what her life has been like up to this point if making tea for other people seems way awesome.)
  • At breakfast Harold Skimpole talks about how bees tick him off because they're so busy and productive, or some such nonsense. We'll have to take Esther's word for it that he is really fun to be around; he sounds to us like the most annoying human being on earth.
  • Afterwards Jarndyce shows Esther his study, called "The Growlery" because he goes there to growl.
  • There's kind of an odd moment where Esther kisses his hand, overcome by all sorts of feelings, and this makes Jarndyce have feelings too. Feelings, feelings, feelings.
  • To break the half-paternal, half-romantic mood, Jarndyce tells her that the other Jarndyce who killed himself because of the Chancery lawsuit used to live in Bleak House. He was so obsessed with the lawsuit that he totally stopped taking care of the house. That speaks to the theme of people abandoning their domestic responsibilities.
  • Wow, sucks, Esther tells him, but then compliments him on how nice he's made the house since inheriting it.
  • Jarndyce is flattered. Then he nicknames Esther – 20-year old, naïve, pretty young Esther – "little old woman." Oh how very nice. Esther tells us that this nickname stuck so well that "my own name soon became quite lost" (8.38).
  • Still, Jarndyce clearly really values her opinions. They talk about what Richard should do with his life. Oh, yeah, Richard – remember him? He's just fresh from school and needs to find a job. Esther suggests asking him what he's into.
  • Jarndyce tells her to call him Guardian.
  • Life goes on for a little while, and Esther and Ada discover that since Jarndyce is such a rich and generous guy, he's constantly being hit up for money by all sorts of crazy-sounding philanthropic organizations. These are mostly run by women, who are totally incapable of running a charity. Chicks, man.
  • One of these women, Mrs. Pardiggle, comes to visit. She is uptight, severe, loud, obnoxious, self-righteous, and of course totally uncaring. She is another woman who domineers over her husband. Her charity is done close to home, and she drags her poor kids around to all her activities (so she's got that edge over Mrs. Jellyby). She is beyond horrible.
  • Mrs. Pardiggle invites Esther and Ada on a mission to visit a neighborhood slum to confront a brickmaker.
  • As Esther predicts, this mostly involves condescendingly yelling at him for not going to church as he sits with his family (wife with a black eye, which he proudly says he gave her, sick baby, some random others).
  • The guy is totally unmoved and tells Mrs. Pardiggle off.
  • Esther is sad at the hostility of the situation and how there is no way these two people could ever communicate with or understand each other.
  • After Mrs. Pardiggle leaves, Esther and Ada try to help the brickmaker's wife with the seemingly sick baby she's holding. As soon as they come closer, though, they realize that the baby is dead.
  • Yowza!
  • Ava loses it and starts to cry, which makes the wife (Jenny) cry too. A friend of hers rushes into the house, hugs Jenny, and slowly shushes her to sleep. The friend tells Esther and Ava that Jenny held the baby for seven days straight while it was sick. The girls leave the two poor women alone, and Esther marvels at the fact that poor people are apparently able to have close friendships and normal human emotions.
  • There's a lot of this "Poor people – they're just like us!" stuff in much of Dickens's writing. It sounds wacko now, but it was a pretty novel message in his day and age, before the creation of the kinds of social support systems (welfare, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.) we rely on today.

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