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Bleak House

Charles Dickens

Chapters 46–50

Chapters 41–45

Chapters 51–55

Summary: Chapter 46, “Stop him!”

The narrator says that Tom-all-Alone’s is dark and menacing. In a sort of surreal meditation, he says that Tom is asleep, but that a lot of fuss has been made about him in Parliament, where people discuss how to get him off the street or what else to do with him. The narrator says that Tom gets revenge by contaminating everything around him.

Morning arrives. Mr. Woodcourt walks around Tom-all-Alone’s and sees a woman sitting on a stoop. He sees a bruise on her forehead and bandages it, then asks if her husband is a brickmaker because he believes brickmakers are violent. She says her husband will be looking for her. He asks if she has a baby, and she says no, although her friend Liz has one that she thinks of as her own.

Woodcourt moves on and soon sees a wretched young boy running toward him, whom he thinks he recognizes. A woman is running after the boy, yelling for someone to stop him. Woodcourt grabs him, thinking he has stolen the woman’s money. When the woman rushes up, she exclaims excitedly that she has finally found Jo. Jo admits that he once saw Woodcourt when he spoke about the dead lodger in front of the coroner. Woodcourt asks the woman if Jo robbed her, and she says no; rather, he has been very kind to her. She says that a woman took Jo home with her to care of him when he was sick, but that Jo ran away. She says that the woman then became sick herself and lost her beauty. Woodcourt is speechless.

When he recovers, he asks Jo why he left the house. Jo says he never knew a woman had been caring for him and that he would never have done anything to hurt her. He says someone took him away, but he won’t name the man, fearful that he’ll find out since he seems to be everywhere. Jo says this man gave him money and told him to “move on.” Woodcourt tells Jo he’ll find him a place to hide. Woodcourt and Jo set off.

Summary: Chapter 47, “Jo’s Will”

Woodcourt and Jo stop for breakfast, and Woodcourt puts his hand on Jo’s chest, telling him to breathe. He can’t breathe easily. Jo then tells Woodcourt about his recent adventures, including the story about the woman in the veil whom he led to the graveyard. They approach Krook’s old shop. Miss Flite isn’t there anymore; Judy Smallweed tells him she now lives with a Mrs. Blinder in Bell Yard. Woodcourt and Jo find her, and she greets Woodcourt happily. She tells Woodcourt that Jo can hide with “General George,” and she leads them to George’s Shooting Gallery. Woodcourt tells George that Jo needs a place to hide, since he fears a man who seems to be everywhere. Woodcourt tells George that the man hunting for Jo is Inspector Bucket. George responds that Jo is welcome to stay with him and Phil. Woodcourt warns George that Jo is ill and may not get better. George introduces Jo to Phil, saying that Phil once lived on the street too. George tells Woodcourt that he is certain that Bucket took Jo to Tulkinghorn when he scuttled him away from Bleak House. George asserts that Tulkinghorn is a bad person.

Woodcourt visits Mr. Snagsby. Snagsby, uneasy, tells Woodcourt to speak quietly so that Mrs. Snagsby doesn’t hear them. Snagsby says that although he’s never had a secret, he’s always getting involved in other people’s secrets. He says that someone has instructed him not to talk about Jo. But he agrees to visit Jo.

Jo is happy to see Snagsby and asks him to write out the facts of what happened after Jo has moved on as far as he can go, so that other people know he never meant to cause any harm. Snagsby agrees. The narrator says that Snagsby and Jo will never meet again.

When Woodcourt visits Jo, Jo is worse. Woodcourt leads Jo in a prayer, and Jo soon dies.

Summary: Chapter 48, “Closing in”

The narrator says that the Dedlocks are in their London home, and that Lady Dedlock is, as usual, still much revered and the center of attention. Tulkinghorn doesn’t reveal her secret, and no one suspects he has any power over her. Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock has decided to disregard their agreement and take action of her own. She tells Rosa that it’s time for her to leave. Rosa is distraught, but Lady Dedlock has already arranged for Mr. Rouncewell to pick her up. She goes to tell Sir Leicester that she has dismissed Rosa; Tulkinghorn is with him, and she tells him to stay. When Mr. Rouncewell arrives, Lady Dedlock announces to him that she has decided Rosa must leave her. He agrees to take Rosa with him. Rosa comes in, upset, and Lady Dedlock coldly says goodbye to her.

Later, Tulkinghorn speaks to Lady Dedlock alone and tells her she has violated their agreement. He thinks getting rid of Rosa will raise suspicions. He says that Lady Dedlock’s secret is actually his secret, since he has taken it on to protect Sir Leicester and his family. Lady Dedlock says she wanted to protect Rosa. Tulkinghorn says he will now proceed of his own accord and that she will receive no other notice of what he will do. She asks him when he will tell Sir Leicester, but he won’t give her a specific answer. He leaves.

The narrator says that Lady Dedlock goes walking in the garden alone that night. Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is at home. The narrator describes the nighttime scene, then suddenly asks, “What’s that?” A gunshot has been heard. The narrator says that Tulkinghorn doesn’t go to the window to investigate. He says that the painted Roman on the ceiling, which has always been pointing aimlessly, is now pointing at Tulkinghorn’s dead body—he has been shot through the heart.

Summary: Chapter 49, “Dutiful Friendship”

The narrator describes Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday celebration. Mr. Bagnet prepares an elaborate dinner and tells Mrs. Bagnet that George will surely visit. She says she fears George may be about to resume his wandering ways, but Mr. Bagnet disagrees. At dinnertime, George arrives. He is pale and tells the Bagnets that the young boy he’d taken in has died. Later, Bucket arrives, saying he spotted George through the window. The Bagnets’ two daughters greet him excitedly, instantly enraptured with him. Mrs. Bagnet tells him that George is upset, but George won’t explain. Mrs. Bagnet asks if Bucket has a family; he has a wife but no children. Bucket suddenly compliments the Bagnets’ backyard and asks if there’s any way out of it; there isn’t.

The Bagnets’ son, Woolwich, entertains them with the fife. Bucket continues to be congenial and warm, livening up the evening immensely, and George begins to like him. When George eventually gets up to leave, Bucket gets up to leave with him. Before going, Bucket asks Mr. Bagnet the price of a violoncello and says he’ll return tomorrow to look at a few.

George and Bucket walk down the street with their arms linked. Suddenly, Bucket roughly pushes George into a public house and arrests him. George is flabbergasted. Bucket says he is arrested for the murder of Tulkinghorn, which happened last night. George is horrified to realize that he was there last night. Bucket says he knows George was often there, that they often quarreled, and that one time Tulkinghorn called George a “threatening, murderous, dangerous” man. Bucket says Sir Leicester is offering a reward to anyone who finds the murderer. He puts handcuffs on George and leads him away.

Summary: Chapter 50, “Esther’s Narrative”

Esther gets a letter from Caddy, who now has a rather strange-looking baby and is in poor health. Caddy says that good things always happen to her when she’s with Esther. Esther begins visiting Caddy in London every day. Mr. Jarndyce says they should live in London for a while so that she can visit more easily. He suggests that Woodcourt become Caddy’s doctor, and Esther agrees. She finally tells Ada she’s going to marry Mr. Jarndyce.

Esther spends a great deal of time with Caddy, who insists to everyone that she is getting better even though she is very sick. She actually does begin to get better, however, when Woodcourt becomes her doctor. Esther sees Woodcourt very often and is certain that he still pities her.

She begins to notice a change in Ada and suspects that she’s upset about Esther’s plans to marry Mr. Jarndyce.

As Caddy recovers, Mr. Jarndyce talks to Esther about how wonderful Woodcourt is and how he wishes he could make Woodcourt rich. He speculates that Woodcourt may take another trip and suspects that Woodcourt has been disappointed in some way.

One night, Ada begins crying and tells Esther she doesn’t know how she can speak to her and Mr. Jarndyce. Esther, thinking this is because of their impending marriage, assures Ada of their affection for her and their happily planned future. She notices that Ada falls asleep with one hand under her pillow.

Analysis: Chapters 46–50

In Bleak House, Dickens gives his characters unusual names that evoke aspects of their personality or role in the novel. For example, Esther’s last name, Summerson, evokes images of warmth and happiness, both of which aptly describe Esther’s interactions with all those around her. Ada Clare is indeed “clear” in her affections for Richard Carstone, who, like his surname suggests, is stony and obstinate. Allan Woodcourt “would” indeed “court” Esther. Mr. Snagsby often finds himself getting “snagged” in other people’s messes. The “lock” in the Dedlock name suggests the secret that Lady Dedlock has kept for so long, and her little-referred-to first name, Honoria, suggests the core of goodness that exists despite her guilt over her past transgressions. Skimpole, as his name clearly denotes, “skimps” on money and gets it from others. Inspector Bucket is a repository of facts and knowledge, as a bucket is a repository of water. And little Jo is as insignificant in the larger world, just as his diminutive two-letter name would suggest. Other names are associated with sounds or rhyming words in an equally evocative manner. Tulkinghorn, for instance, evokes the sneaky word “skulk,” which Tulkinghorn indeed does as he gathers secrets. The “horn” of his name also suggests his desire or intention to reveal those secrets. Far from being cloying or pedantic, the names Dickens uses add texture and humor to the novel and reveal the close attention Dickens pays to every aspect of a character, however minor.

Lady Dedlock dismisses Rosa to protect her from any future disgrace, not because she’s unhappy with her. Rosa has served as a kind of daughter for Lady Dedlock. The kindness and affection with which she treats Rosa is much different from the haughty, cold manner in which she treats Mademoiselle Hortense, revealing that she views Rosa quite differently, as more than just a maid or attendant. Lady Dedlock, not given to warmth or physicality, at one point puts her hand on Rosa’s shoulder, which enrages Mademoiselle Hortense, who was never touched at all. This demonstrative gesture suggests the maternal instincts buried deep within Lady Dedlock, which become clear when she emotionally embraces Esther and reveals their relationship. Even though dismissing Rosa seems to be cruel, it’s actually the kindest thing Lady Dedlock can do. If Rosa is tainted by Lady Dedlock’s secret, her chances for a good marriage to the boy she loves will be ruined. Lady Dedlock could never help, protect, or nurture her own daughter, and she is perhaps trying to compensate for her past failures by protecting Rosa.

Jo’s death is a truly bleak moment, and the narrator takes the time to moralize about the injustice of his death. So few people ever treated Jo with kindness, who was forced to spend his life moving on from one place to the next, never welcome anywhere. The few times when he is welcomed end only in trouble or death. Krook’s lodger, for example, one of the people who treated Jo kindly, dies. When Jo is protected in the Bleak House stable, he is taken away in the middle of the night and forced back out on the street. At George’s Shooting Gallery he finds a safe place from the all-knowing, all-seeing man who he believes is chasing him, but here his sickness overtakes him. When he dies, the narrator grandly proclaims his death to the world: “Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. . . . Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.” Sarcasm in evident in these lines: if we are born with compassion, it makes no sense for us to let children die on the street. The narrator sweeps all of us up in his final statement by using the inclusive “us,” implicating us in Jo’s death, as though we could have taken steps to stop it ourselves.

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