Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The suit of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce is a standing joke in the Court of Chancery. Beginning with a dispute as to how the trusts under a Jarndyce will are to be administered, the suit drags on, year after year, generation after generation, without settlement. The heirs, or would-be heirs, of suits such as Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce spend their lives waiting. Some, like Tom Jarndyce, blow out their brains. Others, like tiny Miss Flite, visit the court in daily expectation of some judgment that will settle the disputed estate and bring her the wealth of which she dreams.
Among those involved in the Jarndyce suit are John Jarndyce, grandnephew of Tom Jarndyce, who shot himself in a coffeehouse, and his two cousins, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. John Jarndyce is the owner of Bleak House in Hertfordshire, a country place by no means as dreary as its name. His two young cousins live with him. He provides Esther Summerson as a companion for Ada. Esther suffered an unhappy childhood under the care of Miss Barbary, her stern godmother, and a servant, Mrs. Rachel. The two told the girl that her mother is a wicked woman who deserted her. Miss Barbary is now dead, and John Jarndyce is Esther’s benefactor. Upon arriving in London on her way to Bleak House, Esther finds an ardent admirer in William Guppy, a clerk in the office of Kenge and Carboy, John Jarndyce’s solicitors.
It is Guppy who first notices Esther’s resemblance to Lady...
(The entire section is 1161 words.)
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Chapters 1-4 Summary
On a fog-enshrouded day in November, the Lord Chancellor sits in the Court of Chancery hearing another presentation on the interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which involves a contested series of wills from several generations past. An old woman sits in the chamber, as she does every day, following the arguments of the cases brought before the court. The Lord Chancellor begs Mr. Tangle, leading expert on Jarndyce and Jarndyce, to save his information for later because he must deal with two wards of the court, involved in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, who are seeking to be placed with their distant cousin.
Lady Dedlock has come up to London from her country estate in Lincolnshire because the rainy weather there has caused her to feel “bored to death.” She and her husband, Sir Leicester (who is twenty years her senior and married her for love rather than position, of which she had none), are on their way to Paris. Mr. Tulkinghorn, Sir Leicester’s attorney, comes to present news about Jarndyce and Jarndyce, on which Lady Dedlock has a distant claim. Lady Dedlock listens to Mr. Tulkinghorn read from the proceedings but begs him to skip as much of the legal jargon as possible. She notices the handwriting on the legal papers and asks Mr. Tulkinghorn if it is called a “legal hand.” Mr. Tulkinghorn informs her that it is merely the handwriting of the scribe who was hired to make the copies. He notices that Lady Dedlock suddenly looks faint. She excuses herself and goes to her bed chamber. Sir Leicester is concerned because he has never before seen his wife swoon.
Esther Summerson presents her own story as that of an orphan reared by her godmother, Miss Barbary. Esther has no friends except her doll, though she attends school with other girls. On her birthday, Esther asks her godmother about her mother. Miss Barbary tells Esther that her mother is her disgrace, and she is her mother’s disgrace. When Esther is fourteen, Miss Barbary has a stroke and dies as Esther is reading to her about Christ forgiving the woman caught in adultery. A Mr. Conversation Kenge presents himself to Esther to tell her that a Mr. Jarndyce has named himself her benefactor and is sending her to a good school. On the way to the school, a stranger in the coach comforts Esther.
After six years, Esther receives a letter from Mr. Kenge, stating that Mr. Jarndyce had arranged that she be a companion to a young ward of the...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
Chapters 5-7 Summary
The following morning, Esther and Caddy Jellyby go for a walk with Ada and Richard. Caddy complains of Mr. Quayle, who joins Mrs. Jellyby in her obsessions with Africa. The young people encounter the old woman they had met at court the previous day. She invites them to her lodgings located about Krook’s Rag and Bottle Warehouse (also of Marine Supplies). Mr. Krook buys several different kinds of objects but never seems to sell anything. He has a cat, Lady Jane, who eyes Esther in a disturbing manner. Mr. Krook explains how Tom Jarndyce had shot himself in a nearby pub. Esther notices some legal papers with handwriting similar to that on the correspondence she received from Mr. Kenge. The old woman shows her collection of birds in cages; she explains that she plans to let them all free once she has received her judgment from Chancery. In the midst of all this talk of the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Ada and Richard vow to one another never to let the suit disturb their friendship even though they are technically enemies. They return to the Jellybys’, then Esther, Ada, and Richard soon leave to continue to Bleak House. On the way, the three young people are given letters from Mr. Jarndyce; he welcomes them to Bleak House.
Mr. Jarndyce kindly meets Esther, Ada, and Richard when they arrive. He gives the impression that he will leave the room if he is thanked. Esther is given the household keys, which signifies her new level of responsibility for Ada as well as the rest of the “family.” Mr. Skimpole, a friend of Mr. Jarndyce’s, joins them for dinner. He is completely irresponsible when it comes to money; he claims to be a “mere child”—and so it proves after dinner when he is arrested for debt. He appeals to Richard and Esther’s charity, who pay off his debt. When Mr. Jarndyce discovers this decision, he is quite displeased. He warns them never to do so again.
Mrs. Rouncewell has been housekeeper at Chesney Wold, the estate of the Dedlocks, for more than fifty years. She is now a widow, and she has two sons: one went off to be a soldier and the other became involved in metalworks and has a son named Watt. Watt visits Chesney Wold and takes notice of Rosa, the young maid. Mr. Guppy and a lawyer friend arrive at Chesney Wold. They request a tour of the house. Mrs. Rouncewell tells them the story of the Ghost Walk, which the spirit of a former Lady Dedlock haunts.
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Chapters 8-10 Summary
Mr. Jarndyce takes Esther into his study, which he calls his “Growlery,” and tells her that the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is now less about the will itself and more about costs. He asks her to determine from Richard what the young man’s plans are in life. Esther feels unequal to all the new responsibility given her, but she takes it up with grace. Mrs. Pardiggle, a local humanitarian, takes Esther and Ada on one of her tours of goodwill. At a brick maker’s hovel, Esther observes the squalor, violence, and poverty of the poor. A woman, who has obviously been beaten, is holding a small baby. When Ada bends down to see it, she discovers that it is dead. Esther takes charge of the baby’s body because the family does not seem too concerned about it. The father rejects Mrs. Pardiggle’s attempts at charity, stating that it is ineffectual in their destitute circumstances. The girls return to Bleak House, and Richard comforts Ada, who is still upset about the dead baby.
Esther notices that Richard and Ada are falling in love. When Richard expresses an interest in becoming a sailor, Mr. Jarndyce writes to Sir Leicester Dedlock (who is a distant relation to Richard by way of Lady Dedlock), who promises assistance. Esther notices at this time that Richard is quite careless about money. This will prove a problem in the future.
Mr. Jarndyce receives a letter from an old school friend, Lawrence Boythorn, who is planning a visit to Bleak House. Mr. Jarndyce greets his arrival with joy. Boythorn informs him that he is involved in a legal case with his neighbor, Sir Leicester Dedlock, who is cutting off the road to Boythorn’s estate on the grounds that Sir Leicester owns the right of way. Esther asks Mr. Jarndyce if Mr. Boythorn has ever been married, and Mr. Jarndyce replies that he almost was at one time. The next day, Mr. Guppy arrives and hints at a proposal of marriage to Esther, who states that this would be impossible. He tells her that his feelings for her will remain the same. After he leaves, Esther laughs about it but then finds herself crying.
In London, Mr. Tulkinghorn visits the home of Mr. Snagsby, who hires out the copying of legal papers. Mr. Tulkinghorn asks him who copied the document he had shown to Lady Dedlock that so upset her. Mr. Snagsby tells him that it was hired out to a law writer named Nemo (which is Latin for “no one”), who lives above Mr. Krook’s shop. Mr. Tulkinghorn goes...
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Chapters 11-13 Summary
Mr. Krook comes at Mr. Tulkinghorn’s call to Nemo’s room. He discovers that Nemo is dead; he has Miss Flite, another lodger (and the mad old woman from Chancery) fetch a doctor, who gives the final verdict. Mr. Krook goes to look at Nemo’s portmanteau (a kind of luggage), as does Mr. Tulkinghorn. A young surgeon appears and says that Nemo died of an overdose of opium, though he cannot say if it was intentional. Mr. Snagsby is called for to give what information he can, but he can only relate that Mrs. Snagsby was the one who hired him. At the inquest, Jo the street sweeper is questioned about Nemo, but he can give no definite information. He can only say that Nemo was often kind to him and gave him money occasionally—if he himself had any. The inquest decides that Nemo died of accidental overdose. He is buried in a pauper’s grave, where only Jo comes to mourn him.
Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock leave Paris (where Lady Dedlock was bored) and return home to Chesney Wold. They receive word that Mr. Tulkinghorn will be arriving and that he has discovered for Lady Dedlock the identity of the person who wrote the document she noticed. Lady Dedlock meets Rosa and comments on how pretty she is. Hortense, Lady Dedlock’s French maid, is contemptuous of Lady Dedlock but hides it. When Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives, he tells Lady Dedlock that the writer of the document has died. Although he was living in poverty, the man had evidently once been something better, according to acquaintances Mr. Tulkinghorn had questioned. He tells her that the only property the man had was an old portmanteau but no papers. Sir Leicester objects to such an unseemly subject being broached in in an upper-class home, but Lady Dedlock insists on hearing the story. Afterward, Mr. Tulkinghorn and Lady Dedlock have an air of mutual suspicion between them.
Mr. Jarndyce urges Richard to choose a profession. His first inclination toward the Navy is soon rejected as being a boyish whim. Mr. Jarndyce suggests that he become a surgeon; Richard agrees with relief. Mr. Jarndyce appeals to Mr. Kenge for assistance, and Mr. Kenge agrees to ask his surgeon cousin if he would take Richard on as an apprentice to learn the profession. Ada tells Esther that she and Richard have confessed their love to each other. Esther informs Mr. Jarndyce of this, who then suggests that Richard and Ada wait for marriage until Richard has established himself in a profession.
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Chapters 14-16 Summary
Richard leaves to begin his career as a surgeon, although he fully expects to become rich when the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is settled. Esther, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce go to London. They attempt to visit Mrs. Jellyby, but she is never at home. Esther joins Caddy on a trip to her new dancing master; Caddy decided she needed refinement after she had met Esther. She tells Esther that she is secretly engaged to Prince Turveydrop, her dancing teacher. Esther is concerned about the secrecy of their relationship but likes Prince when she meets him. Caddy and Esther join Ada and Mr. Jarndyce on a visit to Miss Flite, who is thrilled to see the young ward in Jarndyce and Jarndyce once again. The dark surgeon, Mr. Woodcourt, is also there; he is the surgeon who determined Nemo’s cause of death.
While he is in London, Mr. Jarndyce meets with Mr. Skimpole, who tells him that Coavinses (a debt collector Skimpole calls after the name of a debtors’ prison) has been replaced, and his successor has foreclosed on Mr. Skimpole’s house. Mr. Jarndyce goes to visit the home of the former debt collector and encounters two small children (Tom and his baby sister) who are home alone while their older sister, Charley, is out washing clothes. Their father, Neckett, has recently died but the people do not help his orphaned children because Neckett had been a “follower” (debt collector). Mrs. Blinder, the woman who lives downstairs from the children’s rooms, tells Mr. Jarndyce that Charley, who is just thirteen, has done her best to care for her brother and sister. Mrs. Blinder is letting the children stay there free of rent. Another lodger, Mr. Gridley, also helps the children when he can. He tells Mr. Jarndyce about his own lawsuit in the Court of Chancery.
Sir Leicester’s gout confines him to Chesney Wold, so Lady Dedlock goes up to London alone. Mr. Tulkinghorn looks out his office window and notices a lady dressed like a servant, veiled and walking down the street. This lady approaches Jo and asks if he is the boy mentioned in the newspaper about the death of Nemo, the law writer. Jo replies that he is. The mysterious lady asks him to take her around to all the places associated with the law writer. Jo can tell that this person is a lady, though she insists that she is only a servant. He takes her to the places Nemo frequented and eventually to the graveyard. He shows the lady where Nemo is buried. She gives him a gold coin and...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 17-19 Summary
While Esther is in London, Richard comes to visit her frequently. She feels uneasy about him, and her feeling is confirmed when Mr. and Mrs. Badger tell her they do not feel Richard is suited to the medical profession. The following day, Richard confesses that he has lost interest in becoming a surgeon; now he is leaning toward the law as a career. Both Esther and Ada are surprised at this. Mr. Jarndyce says Richard should talk to Mr. Kenge, but he is troubled at Richard’s lack of commitment.
One night, Esther has difficulty falling asleep, so she busies herself with sewing and goes downstairs to get her thread. She finds Mr. Jarndyce also restless. He tells her some more of her childhood. He says that Miss Barberry, who had been Esther’s guardian, wrote to him to request that he look after Esther should she die. Mr. Jarndyce then became involved in Esther’s life from a distance. He validates Esther’s memory about what Miss Barberry had told her: that Esther was her mother’s disgrace, and her mother was Esther’s.
Mr. Woodcourt comes to tell Esther and Mr. Jarndyce good-bye. He is leaving for an extended time as a surgeon aboard a ship bound for the Far East. He brings his mother to see them. Mrs. Woodcourt tells them that she is hoping her son will meet ladies of good breeding in India, which makes Esther wonder what the old lady would think of her own illegitimate birth.
Richard goes to London to begin his apprenticeship with Mr. Kenge and spends a great deal of money. Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Esther go to the home of Mr. Boythorn, which is next to Chesney Wold. Mr. Boythorn had put up several “No Trespassing” signs aimed at Sir Leicester. When the group attends services at the local church, Esther notices a lady who reminds her strikingly of Miss Barberry. She realizes that this is the celebrated Lady Dedlock. Several days later, as she, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce are walking around the grounds, they are caught in a thundershower. They take refuge in a groundskeeper’s lodge—where Lady Dedlock has also taken refuge. Lady Dedlock looks at Esther almost in anger and then ignores her. She had sent for her servant and is displeased when Hortense comes along with Rose. She tells Hortense that there is no room for her in the carriage, so she will have to walk back; Hortense does walk back, barefooted.
During the long summer vacation, a constable brings Jo to see Mr. Snagsby. Jo has been told...
(The entire section is 510 words.)
Chapters 20-22 Summary
In the office of Kenge and Carboy, Mr. Guppy feels jealous of Richard, who has established himself in Mr. Kenge’s rooms. In fact, Mr. Guppy is paranoid of everyone. Another clerk by the name of Young Smallweed (called “Chick”) is only fifteen but knows the ways of the world. A man named Jobling comes to see Mr. Guppy, and they go out to dinner with Smallweed. It is evident that Smallweed is well known and respected. Jobling complains of his job situation, and Mr. Guppy tells him of Mr. Krook, who might be able to rent Nemo’s old chambers to him. They go to see Mr. Krook, who is (as always) not quite sober. Mr. Jobling agrees to take the room. Mr. Guppy introduces Mr. Jobling to the Snagbys, who offer him a position. Mr. Jobling moves into his new quarters and becomes the subject of speculation that he will come into Mr. Krook’s fortune.
The Smallweed family is composed of the grandfather; his wife; and their twin grandchildren, Judy and Bart (the clerk in Kenge and Carboy). Grandfather Smallweed does nothing but sit in his chair before the fire and torment his wife. Charley, the young orphan girl who is taking care of her small brother and sister, is their servant. Judy has never known a real childhood; she has never had friends her own age or even learned how to laugh. Mr. George, a large man who evidently was once a trooper (soldier) arrives to claim his bimonthly pipe. As he smokes his pipe, he talks with Grandfather Smallweed and shakes the old man up, at his request. George asks Grandfather Smallweed if the man in the city (whose name begins with D) would foreclose on him if he was one day late with his loan payment, and the old man agrees that he might. George discusses another man who did not pay his loan, a Captain Hawdon, who either fell overboard or jumped to avoid the consequences.
George returns to his business after having stopped to attend the theater. He runs a shooting gallery, where there is also an occasional boxing match. Phil, who works for him, is lame but strong; he must lean against the wall in order to move about. George gives Phil a few orders and then retires to bed.
Mr. Tulkinghorn questions Mr. Snagsby about Jo’s story concerning the mysterious lady. Mr. Snagsby notices that there is another man, named Mr. Bucket, in the room. The three men go to Tom-All-Alone to find Jo. They encounter two women with a baby; they discuss the desperate situation that would cause a mother...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
Chapters 23-25 Summary
Esther sees Lady Dedlock only at church for the remainder of her visit; she believes her presence upsets Lady Dedlock in some way. Hortense offers her services as a maid to Esther, since she has left Lady Dedlock, but Esther says she keeps no maid. Richard visits often but is still clearly obsessed with Jarndyce and Jarndyce. He is not interested in pursuing a career in law after all and has decided to join the army.
Back in London, Esther visits Caddy Jellyby and goes with her to break the news of her engagement to Prince. At first Mr. Jellyby feigns dismay, but then he eagerly embraces the news once he learns that the young couple will make him their first priority. When Caddy tells her mother, she is upset at Mrs. Jellyby’s indifference. Back at Bleak House, Charley arrives and announces to Esther that Mr. Jarndyce has hired her to be Esther’s maid, which will provide for her brother, Tom, to go to school and her baby sister, Emma, to be cared for by Mrs. Blinder. Esther weeps at the news, overwhelmed by Mr. Jarndyce’s kindness toward herself and Charley.
Mr. Jarndyce learns that Richard is in debt and that this is his main reason for going into the army. He warns Richard that this is his last chance because he has used up all his money on his other ventures. He tells Richard and Ada to end their engagement and go back to being just cousins for the time being. Esther notes that this almost puts an end to the relationship between Richard and Mr. Jarndyce.
In London, Mr. George comes to visit Mr. Jarndyce; he tells Mr. Jarndyce that Richard was doing well at his shooting at first, but his mind is not on it now. Mr. George keeps looking at Esther because he believes he has seen her before, but she assures him he has not. Richard and Esther go to Chancery one last time before Richard leaves. Esther meets Mrs. Rachael, the housekeeper for Miss Barberry when Esther was a child, though now Mrs. Rachael is Mrs. Chadband. Richard, Esther, and Miss Flite go to George’s shooting gallery and see an old man stating that Mr. Gridley sent for him. In fact, Mr. Gridley is hiding in the shooting gallery. The old man turns out to be Mr. Bucket, the detective, with a warrant for Gridley’s arrest. Mr. Gridley is despairing, according to Mr. Bucket. Miss Flite screams when she realizes that Mr. Gridley has indeed given up and died.
Mr. Snagsby feels guilty about his part in Jo’s poor treatment. Mrs....
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Chapters 26-29 Summary
Mr. George and his servant, Phil, discuss their pasts. Phil had dreamt of living in the country, and Mr. George informs him that he was born there. Phil asks Mr. George if his mother is living; Mr. George replies that she is not and quickly changes the subject. Grandfather Smallweed arrives to remind Mr. George that he owes him money. The conversation turns to Captain Hawdon, whom Smallweed believes is not dead. He tells Mr. George that some lawyer has been asking for samples of Hawdon’s handwriting. Smallweed says that he possesses only Hawdon’s signature and asks Mr. George if he has more samples. Mr. George replies that, if he had, he would not give it to Smallweed. At Smallweed’s suggestion, Mr. George thinks about going to see the lawyer himself. They go to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s office, where Mr. George notices boxes with Sir Leicester Dedlock’s name inscribed on them. Mr. Tulkinghorn questions Mr. George about his relationship with Captain Hawdon and determines that Mr. George served under the captain during his time in the military. Mr. Tulkinghorn also questions whether Captain Hawdon is dead. He offers Mr. George whatever price he names for any sample of Captain Hawdon’s handwriting. Mr. George is reluctant, especially after Mr. Tulkinghorn refuses to disclose the reason he wants the handwriting samples. Mr. George says that he wishes to consult a friend first.
Mr. George goes to the home of Mat Bagnet, an old army friend. After greeting his wife and children, Mr. George discusses Mr. Tulkinghorn’s request. Mr. Bagnet urges Mr. George to not give up the writing. Mr. George returns to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s to deliver his refusal. Mr. Tulkinghorn acts uncharacteristically irate and asks him if it was in his home that Gridley had hidden. When Mr. George says this is so, Mr. Tulkinghorn warns him that Gridley was a “threatening, murderous, dangerous fellow.” A passerby overhears this and thinks it applies to Mr. George, who leaves in a furious temper.
Chesney Wold is invaded by the poorer Dedlock cousins, in particular Volumnia Dedlock. Volumnia inquires about Rosa, Lady Dedlock’s servant, and praises Mrs. Rouncewell, who has two sons, according to Sir Leicester. One of them, an ironmonger, has been invited to join Parliament but has refused. Sir Leicester views this as a sign that the country is going to pieces. Mr. Rouncewell himself arrives to inform Sir Leicester that his son desires to marry Rosa on...
(The entire section is 603 words.)
Chapters 30-32 Summary
Mrs. Woodcourt, the mother of the physician who was a friend of Mr. Jarndyce’s, comes to visit. She makes Esther a confidante, much to Esther’s annoyance. Mrs. Woodcourt expounds on her family history and states that her son must marry someone of good family to carry on the noble line unsullied. Esther is annoyed, but it is important that Mrs. Woodcourt like her despite her lack of good family background.
Caddy Jellyby also comes to visit. She tells Esther that she is to be married in a month but knows nothing about housekeeping. Esther gives her some lessons and then returns to London to attend the ceremony. Mrs. Jellyby remains indifferent; she thinks the idea of Caddy’s being married is ridiculous. Esther helps prepare the lodgings where the young couple will live. Mr. Jellyby advises his daughter never to have a Mission. Prince and Caddy are married and leave for a week’s wedding trip.
Charley tells Esther that she has received news of a poor boy who is ill. The two of them go to see him and discover it is Jo. Esther takes him back home with her, but Mr. Skimpole, who once studied medicine, urges Mr. Jarndyce to put Jo out of the house because his illness is highly contagious. Mr. Jarndyce puts Jo out in a room in the stable, but Jo is gone the next morning. Charley falls ill, and Esther tends her for many days, fearing that the girl will die. When she recovers, Esther falls ill. She pleads with Charley to keep Ada out of her sick room. Esther falls deeper into the illness and goes temporarily blind.
Mr. Snagsby goes to Krook’s shop but finds that Krook has retired for the night. He meets Weevle there, for Weevle has taken lodgings in the room in which Nemo died. Mr. Snagsby wonders at the coincidence that both men in this room have been writers. Mrs. Snagsby still feels suspicious, so she follows her husband to Krook’s. After Mr. Snagsby leaves, Mr. Guppy arrives. Weevle confesses that his room bothers him. There is also a smell of cooking grease, which Mr. Snagsby had also noticed. Mr. Guppy has come to get the packet of letters from Mr. Krook; they arranged to meet at midnight. Mr. Guppy plans on making copies of the letters. Mr. Weevle goes downstairs to get the letters but returns and says Mr. Krook is gone. Mr. Guppy goes down to investigate. He finds Mr. Krook dead on the floor, consumed by spontaneous combustion.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapters 33-35 Summary
Mr. Weevle and Mr. Guppy meet at the local tavern, where a crowd has formed. They admit that they have been conspiring together but do not mention the letters they were to retrieve from Mr. Krook. Mr. Snagsby is present, too; he is startled to see Mrs. Snagsby glaring at him. The Smallweed family arrives and surprises everyone by announcing that Mr. Krook was Mrs. Snagsby’s only brother, and they have come to take possession of the property. Mr. Tulkinghorn, the Snagsbys’ lawyer, will take charge of the arrangements.
Mr. Guppy now has the unpleasant task of telling Lady Dedlock that he does not have the letters. When he arrives at her townhouse, she is on her way out to dinner but still receives him. She seems relieved when she learns that the letters have most likely been destroyed with Mr. Krook. She informs Mr. Guppy that this is the last time they will meet. She dismisses him as Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives, who had assumed that Lady Dedlock would be out. Lady Dedlock excuses herself and leaves.
Mr. George receives a letter from Mr. Smallwood stating that he must pay the sum of what he owes. Mr. George is overwhelmed; Mat Bagnet had cosigned on the loan with him, but neither of them have the money. Mr. George fears that he will be the cause of the Bagnets’ poverty. He and Mat go to visit Mr. Smallweed, hoping he will be lenient, but he is not. Mr. George and Mat hope that Mr. Tulkinghorn can be persuaded, but the lawyer berates them for taking out a loan they evidently do not intend to pay. He tells Mr. George that, if he should give him the handwriting sample he had wanted previously, the matter will be forgotten. Mr. George gives him the sample, stating that it is only a letter of instruction. While Mr. George and Mat were waiting to see Tulkinghorn, Mrs. Rouncewell leaves the office. Mr. George recognizes her and keeps his back to her. Mrs. Rouncewell can tell that the two men were formerly in the military; she tells Mat that her son had been a soldier and had always been a good man, though some people tried to turn her against him. Mr. George returns to the Bagnets’ home and urges Woolich, the Bagnet son, never to do anything to bring a gray hair to his mother’s head.
Esther recovers from her illness, but her face is left horribly scarred. She refuses to see Ada until she has had some time to adjust to her new appearance. Mr. Jarndyce tells her that Richard has become more suspicious of him,...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
Chapters 36-38 Summary
At Mr. Boythorn’s invitation, Esther and Charley relocate to his country estate next to Chesney Wold. Esther braces herself and looks in the mirror to see the extent of the scarring on her face. She knows that she was never beautiful, but she sees that whatever attractiveness she had is gone. She thinks of Mr. Woodcourt’s flowers, which she kept and dried. Although she feels his love could not remain due to her change of appearance, she decides to keep them anyway in memory of what might have been.
Esther and Charley take frequent walks around the grounds. One day she meets Lady Dedlock, who expresses her concern over Esther’s illness. Suddenly Lady Dedlock breaks into tears and throws herself at Esther’s feet—and confesses that she is Esther’s mother. Esther is overcome to at last meet the woman about whom she has dreamed so often. Lady Dedlock begs for Esther’s forgiveness but tells her that she must keep her secret for the sake of her husband. What is more, she and Esther can never speak to each other again, lest the secret come out. She leaves Esther a letter, which explains that she had been told her baby had died.
Esther struggles to contain herself because Ada is arriving that afternoon. As Esther knew she would, Ada greets her with love, with no concern over her altered appearance. Esther receives a message that someone wants to meet her at the Dedlock Arms, the local pub. It turns out to be Richard, who has brought Mr. Skimpole. Richard tells Esther that he is still involved in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Esther takes him to Ada, who senses a change in Richard’s feelings toward her. Richard then goes off to meet a Mr. Vhole, who has become his legal adviser. Esther distrusts Mr. Vhole; she feels that he is preying on Richard in his obsession over Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
After Esther returns to Bleak House, she travels to London to see Caddy. Caddy says she is learning to be a dance instructor because Prince’s health is so uncertain. Caddy goes with Esther to visit Mr. Guppy. Mr. Guppy thinks she has come to accept his proposal of marriage, but she has come to end the matter. She removes her veil and shows her scarred face. Mr. Guppy stammeringly insists that he at no time meant seriously to ask Esther to marry him. Esther assures him that she does not hold him to his promise. Having rid herself of Mr. Guppy, Esther returns to Bleak House with a lightened heart.
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Chapters 39-42 Summary
Mr. Vholes assures Richard that they are making progress in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Richard feels discouraged as he leaves Mr. Vholes’s office. Mr. Weevle and Mr. Guppy see him as he exits; they note that Richard is in increasingly heavy debt because of the lawsuit. Mr. Guppy tells Mr. Weevle that he is no longer interested in finding the letters Mr. Krook took from Nemo, but he wonders if they might still be someplace in Nemo’s room. They go to the shop and meet Grandfather Smallwood, who frequently inspects the property. They look through the room but find nothing. Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives and congratulates Mr. Guppy in associating with “grand ladies.” Mr. Guppy feels embarrassed and says nothing until Mr. Tulkinghorn leaves. Then he tells Mr. Weevle that he has been having business with a member of the upper class but it has come to an end.
Because the country is in “disarray,” Mrs. Rouncewell prepares Chesney Wold for the arrival of the entire Dedlock family, including Volumnia. Day after day, Volumnia asks Sir Leicester how the country is doing, and he replies, “Not well.” Lady Dedlock has not been feeling well lately; she seems to be fading. Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives and tells Sir Leicester that he has been opposed in the election by Mr. Rouncewell, whose son is in love with Lady Dedlock’s maid, Rosa. When Sir Leicester tells Lady Dedlock to order Rosa to stay away from the Rouncewell boy, Mr. Tulkinghorn tells him that it is more likely that the Rouncewells will tell the boy to stay away from Rosa because of their great pride. To pass the time, Mr. Tulkinghorn tells a story he says he learned from a townsman known to Rouncewell. A lady had once been in love with a shady sea captain; he impregnated her but did not marrying her. The captain died, leaving the woman to raise their illegitimate child on her own. When the townsman learned of this, he told his daughter (who was a servant of this lady) to leave her at once to avoid damage to her own reputation. Lady Dedlock says nothing to this story.
Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to his room, and Lady Dedlock follows him. She asks him how long he has known her story. He says he suspected it for a long time, but did not know for sure until a few days previously. She worries about Rosa, should her secret come out, and tells Mr. Tulkinghorn that she is leaving Chesney Wold that evening. He urges her not to because then her guilt would become public. Lady Dedlock asks if...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Chapters 43-46 Summary
Esther, who avoids talking about Lady Dedlock, discusses Richard with Ada and Mr. Jarndyce. They believe that Richard is totally lost to the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce that Mr. Skimpole has been encouraging Richard. Mr. Jarndyce and the ladies go to visit Mr. Skimpole in his lodgings, where they meet his wife and daughters. He explains that he cannot stop encouraging Richard because he knows nothing about the lawsuit. That evening, Sir Leicester visits Bleak House to apologize that Mr. Skimpole was not allowed to view the artwork. He explains that Mr. Boythorn’s guests are unwelcome because he is having a disagreement with Mr. Boythorn.
Esther can no longer keep her secret to herself. She had received Lady Dedlock’s permission to tell her guardian, so she asks Mr. Jarndyce if he knew why Lady Dedlock and her sister had parted ways. Mr. Jarndyce does not know but surprises Esther with the news that Mr. Boythorn’s former fiancée was Lady Dedlock’s sister, and the sisters’ feud was the reason the couple had parted ways. Esther feels upset that she was the cause of Mr. Boythorn’s unhappiness. She explains that the sisters disagreed because of her—that Lady Dedlock was her mother. Mr. Jarndyce comforts her; he gives no sign of disappointment at Esther’s unfortunate background.
Mr. Jarndyce tells Esther that it is better that she keep her secret. She tells him she is worried about the suspicions of Mr. Tulkinghorn, Mr. Guppy, and Hortense. Mr. Jarndyce says he has something that he wants to say to her, but he will write her a letter rather than tell her in person. In the letter, Mr. Jarndyce asks Esther to marry him. Esther is overwhelmed that he wants to make her the mistress of Bleak House even after her disfiguring illness and the revelation of her illegitimacy. She waits several days for him to mention the letter, and finally she tells him that she accepts his proposal.
Mr. Vholes arrives to tell Mr. Jarndyce that Richard is in desperate financial straits. Esther and Charley go to Deal, where Richard is stationed, to talk to him. Richard says that he has left the army because he had too much trouble with those in authority. Esther gives him a letter from Ada, in which she informs him that she offers him her small inheritance. Richard refuses and intends to return to London with Esther and Charley. As Esther walks by the docks, she sees Mr. Woodcourt, who has returned...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Chapters 47-49 Summary
Allan Woodcourt takes Jo to Mr. Krook’s, but he finds that Miss Flite has moved to Mrs. Blinder’s. He decides to take Jo to Mr. George, who is willing to take him in even though Jo is ill and is the cause of Esther’s illness and disfigurement. Mr. Woodcourt tells Mr. George that it was Mr. Bucket, at Mr. Tulkinghorn’s command, who took Jo after he left Bleak House. Mr. Woodcourt visits Mr. Snagsby, who tells the doctor that someone told him something about Jo that he is not supposed to share. He agrees to visit Jo at Mr. George’s. Jo asks Mr. Snagsby to write out his account so that no one will think he intended to hurt anyone. Mr. Woodcourt stays by Jo’s side and assures him that he will be buried by Nemo, who was so kind to him. As Mr. Woodcourt leads Jo in praying the Lord’s Prayer, Jo dies.
The Dedlocks return to London, where Lady Dedlock decides to take matters back into her own hands. She tells Rosa that she is dismissing her and has called Mr. Rouncewell to come to take her away. Rosa is upset. When Mr. Rouncewell arrives, Rosa asserts that she would like to stay. Although Mr. Rouncewell and Sir Leicester declare that it is unfair to dismiss her, Rosa leaves. Mr. Tulkinghorn, who has been present, later tells Lady Dedlock that she has broken their agreement. He has not decided when he will tell Sir Leicester about Lady Dedlock’s past, but he will do it soon. He returns to his rooms. The next morning, his body is found there, shot through the heart.
At the Bagnet home, the family is celebrating Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday. Mr. Bagnet worries that Mr. George seems unsettled for some reason beyond the burden of his debt to Mr. Tulkinghorn. Mr. George arrives for the party, visibly upset by Jo’s death. Mr. Bucket sees Mr. George through the window and invites himself to the celebration, where the children welcome him. When it is time for Mr. George to leave, Mr. Bucket accompanies him. When the two men pass a pub, Mr. Bucket pushes Mr. George into the pub and to a private chamber, where he informs the former trooper that he is under arrest for the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn. Mr. George is shocked at Mr. Tulkinghorn’s death and assures Mr. Bucket that he is innocent of the crime. Mr. Bucket informs him, as he leads him away, that Sir Leicester has offered a sizable reward for the capture of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murderer.
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 50-53 Summary
Esther receives a note from Caddy Jellyby that she is ill and wishes Esther to nurse her. Esther goes back and forth to London, despite Mr. Jarndyce’s misgivings, and takes care of Caddy and her little baby, who is named Esther. There is something odd about little Esther, who never seems to notice sounds. Mr. Jarndyce eventually proposes that the Bleak House family move to their place in London so Esther will not have to travel so much. He also suggests that Mr. Woodcourt check on Caddy; he does so and brings Caddy back to health. Esther feels badly that she has been neglecting Ada (who recently turned twenty-one). One night Ada breaks down in tears, fearful about something she will not share with Esther. That night, Esther notices that Ada sleeps with one hand under her pillow.
Mr. Woodcourt visits Mr. Vholes, who tells him the extent of Richard’s financial difficulties. Richard lives in the same building as Mr. Vholes, so Mr. Woodcourt goes to see him. Richard assures the doctor that he is looking out for Ada’s best interests. Esther suggests to Ada that the two of them go to check on Richard. Ada seems reluctant, but she eventually goes. Richard is exhausted. Ada throws herself on him and tells Esther that she will not be returning to Bleak House. She and Richard have been married for two months, and Ada will stay by her husband through his difficulties. Esther leaves, assuring Ada that she forgives whatever there is to forgive, but she is overcome by loneliness on her return home. Mr. Jarndyce, on learning of the marriage, now pities Richard and Ada but forgives them both.
Mr. Woodcourt arrives at Bleak House and tells the family of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murder. Esther is shocked, thinking of her mother’s fear of Mr. Tulkinghorn. She and Mr. Jarndyce go to visit Mr. George in prison; although the circumstances are suspicious, they think the old trooper is innocent. Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet also arrive and bring food. Mr. George is urged to get an attorney, but he refuses. He relates that he saw a woman who resembled Esther pass him on the street the night he left Mr. Tulkinghorn’s offices prior to the murder. Esther is shaken. Mrs. Bagnet says she will find Mr. George’s mother and bring her to London.
Mr. Bucket meets his wife and goes to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s sparsely attended funeral. He then goes to Sir Leicester’s home and lets himself in. He sees a letter addressed to Lady Dedlock, which causes him...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Chapters 54-56 Summary
Mr. Bucket comes to see Sir Leicester. He informs him that Mr. Tulkinghorn’s murderer was not Mr. George—it was a woman. He informs Sir Leicester that Lady Dedlock felt distrustful of Mr. Tulkinghorn because he knew her secret. Mr. Tulkinghorn also knew that Lady Dedlock had visited Nemo’s (Captain Hawdon’s) grave dressed in her maid’s (Hortense’s) clothes. As Sir Leicester tries to digest this, Grandfather Smallweed, Mrs. Snagsby, and the Chadbands arrive. Grandfather Smallweed confesses to seizing the letters from Mr. Krook. The letters were signed “Honoria,” Lady Dedlock’s first name. Mrs. Chadband says that she raised Lady Dedlock’s daughter, whom Lady Dedlock believed was dead. Mr. Bucket calls in Hortense, whom he summarily arrests for the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn. The murder weapon was retrieved from a pond, where Hortense had thrown it. When everyone leaves, Sir Leicester is overwhelmed by what his wife has gone through. He collapses on the floor.
Mrs. Rouncewell and Mrs. Bagnet go to the prison to visit Mr. George. Mrs. Rouncewell states that she has never stopped loving her son or hoping that she would receive word from him. Mr. George falls to his knees and begs his mother’s forgiveness. He begs her not to tell his brother anything about him. He is writing up his own account of his actions the night Mr. Tulkinghorn was murdered. Mrs. Rouncewell goes to see Lady Dedlock and asks her to do something to release her son from prison. She gives Lady Dedlock a letter, which is an account of the discovery of the body, by which was written in blood Lady Dedlock’s name and the word “murderess.” Mr. Guppy arrives to tell Lady Dedlock that the incriminating letters he thought were destroyed might actually still exist. Lady Dedlock knows her secret is now out, so she writes a letter to Sir Leicester, telling him that she is innocent of the murder but guilty of all other rumors he might have heard. She leaves, abandoning all her possessions.
Sir Leicester suffers a stroke and is discovered by his cousin, Volumnia. Mrs. Rouncewell tries to shield him from the fact that Lady Dedlock has disappeared, but eventually he is given her letter. Mr. Bucket arrives, and Sir Leicester begs him to find her. Mr. Bucket searches Lady Dedlock’s room and discovers the handkerchief with Esther’s name on it. He takes it and the letter to Mr. Jarndyce, who fears upon reading the letter that Lady Dedlock is...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapters 57-59 Summary
Esther travels with Mr. Bucket in search of Lady Dedlock, following the meager trail she left. Mr. Bucket asks if there is anyone with whom Lady Dedlock may have spoken, and the only person Esther can think of is Mr. Boythorn. They stop by the waterside, where sailors are examining the body of a drowning victim. Esther fears the worst, but it is not Lady Dedlock. They travel to Saint Albans, through which Mr. Bucket says Lady Dedlock traveled the previous evening. Heading toward Bleak House, Mr. Bucket tells Esther that it was indeed he who took Jo because the boy had been talking too much about the dark lady visiting the cemetery (this is now known to have been Lady Dedlock). He says Skimpole told him of Jo’s whereabouts. Esther feels that this is a base betrayal on the part of Mr. Skimpole. At Bleak House, no one has seen Lady Dedlock. At the brickmaker’s cottage, Esther learns that Lady Dedlock had asked Jenny for the handkerchief Esther had used to cover the dead baby. Mr. Bucket suspects that Lady Dedlock gave Jenny a watch in exchange for the handkerchief. They also learn that Jenny saw Lady Dedlock the previous night, and she did not look well. As they return to London, Mr. Bucket suddenly makes a connection and plans to follow Jenny while Esther goes on to London. Esther objects that they are abandoning her mother, but Mr. Bucket tells her not to worry.
Despite the “official” statement that Lady Dedlock has gone to Chesney Wold, it is known that there is trouble. Mrs. Rouncewell fears that Lady Dedlock will not be returning. At Sir Leicester’s orders, however, the servants prepare Lady Dedlock’s room for her imminent return. Mrs. Rouncewell tells Sir Leicester that her long-lost son George has returned, which gives him hope that his wife will also return. Mr. George arrives. This makes Sir Leicester comfortable, so Mr. Geoge stays by his side. Fearing that his condition will worsen, resulting in the loss of his speech, Sir Leicester tells everyone that when Lady Dedlock returns, she is to be told that his feelings for her have not changed. Sir Leicester resists the coming dark. Volumnia fears that, should Sir Leicester die, she will be left without the income he has provided for her.
As Esther and Mr. Bucket search through the streets of London, they run across Mr. Woodcourt, who joins them. They go to Mr. Snagsby’s, where Mr. Bucket acquires a letter he believes will be helpful. A woman who was going...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapters 60-63 Summary
After her search for Lady Dedlock, Esther becomes ill but not seriously. Mr. Jarndyce proposes that they stay in London so Esther can see Ada more often. He asks her casually if she likes Mrs. Woodcourt. Esther replies that she does, but she feels inward misgivings. She learns that Mr. Woodcourt will not be going overseas again but will take a post in Yorkshire, in the north of England.
Esther sees Ada daily but thinks Richard is getting worse. Mr. Vholes continues to prey upon him. She meets Miss Flite, who tells her that she has made Richard her executor because he has been at Chancery so much. Miss Flite confesses that she does not like Mr. Vholes. At dinner, Mr. Vholes tells Esther that he thinks Richard’s marriage to Ada is unwise and has caused Richard’s financial prospects to continue to spiral downward. When Richard praises Mr. Vholes to excess, Esther believes he is beginning to have doubts about him. Mr. Woodcourt arrives and goes walking with Richard. Ada tells Esther that she knew when she married Richard that life would not be easy, but now she has real fears. She has become pregnant, but she is afraid that Richard will not live to see their child.
Esther confronts Skimpole with the harm he has caused Richard. She states that afterward she never saw him again. He died five years later, leaving behind a diary that was published as a model of self-justification but condemnation of the “selfishness” of the Jarndyce case. Mr. Woodcourt continues to visit Richard, who is getting progressively worse. Mr. Woodcourt confesses to Esther that she is his beloved, though he knows she is to marry Mr. Jarndyce. He promises that she will be ever dear to him, even though she is married to another. Esther breaks down in tears. The next morning, Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce that she is ready to be married, and Mr. Jarndyce suggests that they wed the next month.
Mr. Bucket arrives with Grandfather Smallweed, who tells Mr. Jarndyce that he inherited Mr. Krook’s property. Among the papers found in desks is a will related to Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Although it decreases Mr. Jarndyce’s interest in the case, it significantly increases that of Richard and Ada. He takes the will to Mr. Kenge, who decides it is important and will bring it before the next Court, the following month.
Mr. George travels to the north country to seek out his brother. He initially introduces himself as “Mr. Steel,” but his...
(The entire section is 556 words.)
Chapters 64-67 Summary
Mr. Jarndyce gives Esther two hundred pounds to prepare for their wedding. He then leaves for Yorkshire in the north of England on business, but he soon writes to Esther and asks her to join him. At her arrival, Mr. Jarndyce tells her that he has wished to express his gratitude to and admiration for Mr. Woodcourt by buying him a home. There has been no adequate housekeeper to prepare the house, so Mr. Jarndyce sent for Esther. When he takes her to the house, it is revealed that he has named it Bleak House—and Esther is to be its mistress. He tells her that, though he always intended to marry her since she was made his ward, he knows she is really in love with Woodcourt. He now returns to his place as her guardian and father figure. Esther feels grateful for his kindness and prepares to marry Woodcourt the following month. On their return to the south of England, Mr. Guppy comes, along with his mother and Mr. Weevle (whose real name is revealed to be Mr. Jobling), to once again propose marriage to Esther. On Esther’s behalf, Mr. Jarndyce rejects his proposal.
When Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes up again before Chancery, this time with the new will, the case ends with Richard and Ada as the beneficiaries. However, the entire estate has been consumed in court costs. Woodcourt sends Esther home, to meet him later at Richard and Ada’s. When she arrives, she finds Richard prostrate on the sofa. He had attended court but was carried out with blood coming from his mouth. Mr. Jarndyce arrives, and he and Richard are reconciled. Richard admits his foolishness and apologizes to Ada for marrying her into a life of poverty. He dies, and Miss Flite arrives to tearfully announce that she has released all her birds, as she promised to do when Jarndyce and Jarndyce was solved.
At Chesney Wold, Sir Leicester struggles on despite the debilitation caused by the stroke. Lady Dedlock is entombed in a mausoleum on the grounds. George and Phil live on the grounds; George is Sir Leicester’s constant attendant. Volumnia also resides at Chesney Wold—one of the few relatives who now come. Much of the house is shut up; it has ceased to be the fashionable abode it once was.
Seven years pass. Ada gives birth to a boy, whom she names after his father, and returns to Bleak House with Mr. Jarndyce as her guardian. Charley grows up and marries the miller. Caddy Jellyby prospers; her daughter is revealed to be deaf and mute. Mrs. Jellyby is...
(The entire section is 490 words.)