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Bleak House

Charles Dickens

Chapters 51–55

Chapters 46–50

Chapters 56–60

Summary: Chapter 51, “Enlightened”

Esther tells us that when Mr. Woodcourt arrives in London he goes directly to Symond’s Inn to get Richard’s address from Mr. Vholes, just as he promised. Before giving Woodcourt Richard’s address, Mr. Vholes insists on telling Woodcourt about Richard’s money problems, how hard he himself is working, and how his purpose is to serve Richard. He then tells Woodcourt that Richard lives next door.

Richard greets Woodcourt warmly. He tells Woodcourt he has done little good lately and that he hopes Woodcourt will accept him as he is. He vehemently asserts that he’s doing his best to look out for Ada’s interests, impressing Woodcourt with his conviction.

Esther suggests that she and Ada visit Richard. Ada hesitates, but agrees. Although Esther believes Ada has never been to Symond’s Inn, Ada knows exactly where it is. Richard is reading Jarndyce and Jarndyce documents when they arrive. He says the suit is going well, but his lack of confidence is painful to Esther. He admits to being exhausted. Ada then confesses that she and Richard have been secretly married for two months and that she will stay with him. Esther is filled with pity for Ada and feels foolish for thinking Ada’s moodiness was connected to her marriage to Mr. Jarndyce. Esther goes home sadly, missing Ada, and goes back to Symond’s Inn later that night, just to listen to their voices at the door.

Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce about the marriage. He says Bleak House is emptying out, and Esther assures him that she will remain to keep it cheerful. She says the letter has made no difference to their relationship.

Summary: Chapter 52, “Obstinacy”

Woodcourt arrives at Bleak House and announces that Tulkinghorn was murdered. Esther remembers how much Lady Dedlock feared him. Woodcourt tells them that George has been accused of the murder. Mr. Jarndyce and Esther can’t believe he did it, but they admit that the facts suggest he did. All three go to see George in prison. Mr. Jarndyce tells George to get a lawyer, but George refuses. He says he would rather represent himself—knowing he is innocent—and be hanged than be acquitted by a lawyer who believes he’s guilty. The Bagnets arrive. Mrs. Bagnet insists that George get a lawyer and tells him he’s being ridiculous. When Esther rises to leave, George tells her it’s strange, because when he left Tulkinghorn’s room on the night of the murder, a woman of the same figure passed him on the stairs. Esther is shocked.

Away from George, Mrs. Bagnet tells Mr. Jarndyce, Woodcourt, and Esther that George has relatives, despite the fact that he thinks he doesn’t. She says they must find his mother and then sets off for Lincolnshire herself.

Summary: Chapter 53, “The Track”

The narrator describes Bucket’s habit of moving his forefinger around his face and ears when mulling something over. Bucket neglects his wife, who is a good detective herself. Only a few people attend Tulkinghorn’s funeral, but there are many empty cars that signify his dead relatives. Bucket meets Mrs. Bucket on the steps of Tulkinghorn’s house, then joins the funeral procession, but he gets out and heads to Sir Leicester’s home. He lets himself in with the key he has been given. The servant, Mercury, gives him a letter that has come for him, one of several that have come over the past day. It says only “Lady Dedlock,” just as the others had. He walks around the house, comparing the handwriting to other letters and papers he finds. He decides to tell Sir Leicester tomorrow.

Later, Sir Leicester asks Bucket if he has anything to tell him, but Bucket says no. Sir Leicester is distraught over Tulkinghorn’s death. Bucket says he’ll have the final pieces of the case figured out very soon.

In the hall, Bucket engages Mercury in conversation about Lady Dedlock. She soon comes home and asks Bucket if he’s found out anything else; then she goes upstairs. When she is gone, Bucket slyly gets Mercury to admit that Lady Dedlock was out walking alone the night of the murder, wearing a fringed veil.

Summary: Chapter 54, “Springing a Mine”

Bucket presents himself to Sir Leicester, locking the door to ensure their privacy. He tells Sir Leicester that the murderer is not George, but a woman. He prepares Sir Leicester for a shock, telling him he must shoulder it bravely. He says that Tulkinghorn distrusted Lady Dedlock because he suspected that she had learned about the existence of her former lover. She had seen some handwriting of his and recognized it. Tulkinghorn suspected Lady Dedlock of visiting this man’s grave after he died, and Bucket had investigated this claim by questioning Mademoiselle Hortense, whose dress Lady Dedlock had worn, and Jo, who had led her to the grave. Bucket says that on the night of the murder, Lady Dedlock had gone to Tulkinghorn’s room, wearing a veil with fringe.

Sir Dedlock is devastated. He asks why Tulkinghorn hadn’t told him this information sooner, and Bucket says he had planned to, once he was ready. There are noises at the door; several people have arrived. Bucket says he fears the news has gotten out and tells Sir Leicester to just nod at whatever he says. Grandfather Smallweed, Mr. Chadband, Mrs. Chadband, and Mrs. Snagsby are all admitted inside. Grandfather Smallweed says that Krook was his brother-in-law, and that after he died, Grandfather Smallweed went through his papers. He found some letters belonging to Krook’s dead lodger, Captain Hawdon, and looked through them before Tulkinghorn got them. They were from the lodger’s lover, Honoria. Grandfather Smallweed says he doesn’t know anyone by the name of Honoria. He wants to know where the letters are and demands that the murder be investigated more thoroughly. Bucket says he will solve the murder and that he has the letters. He shows them to Smallweed, who asks for money.

Mrs. Chadband then reveals that she raised Lady Dedlock’s daughter after Lady Dedlock’s sister claimed the baby was dead.

Mrs. Snagsby speaks up and claims everyone has wronged her, and she goes through a litany of offenses that have little grounding in reality. The group leaves.

Bucket tells Sir Leicester that he’s going to arrest the guilty party immediately. First, though, he calls for Mademoiselle Hortense. He says that she has been his lodger for several weeks and calls her his “angel.” She says she has come to see Lady Dedlock, who isn’t here. Bucket instructs her to sit on the couch. He then arrests her for murder. He tells her to stay quiet, but she spews invectives.

Bucket explains to Sir Leicester that Mademoiselle Hortense had tried to get Tulkinghorn to help her and that he gave her some money. She became Bucket’s lodger while she continued to harass Tulkinghorn and Snagsby. On the night he arrested George, Bucket came home and found Mademoiselle Hortense having dinner with Mrs. Bucket, exaggerating her affection for Mrs. Bucket and her grief over Tulkinghorn. Bucket immediately knew she was guilty, so he laid a trap. He told Mrs. Bucket what he knew and didn’t go back to the house. He and Mrs. Bucket communicated secretly. Mrs. Bucket kept a constant watch on Mademoiselle Hortense. She discovered that Mademoiselle Hortense was trying to frame Lady Dedlock for the murder. The letters saying “Lady Dedlock” were all written by Mademoiselle Hortense.

Bucket says that if he had arrested her last night, he wouldn’t have gotten the weapon. He says that after the funeral, Mademoiselle Hortense suggested to Mrs. Bucket that they go into the country for tea. While there, she disappeared briefly, and Mrs. Bucket suspected she had thrown the weapon into the water. Bucket had the water dragged and found the gun. He soon leaves with Mademoiselle Hortense.

Sir Leicester is very quiet. He looks out the window, then falls to the floor, feeling compassion for Lady Dedlock, not anger.

Summary: Chapter 55, “Flight”

The narrator relates events that happened before Bucket arrested Mademoiselle Hortense. He says that a chaise carrying Mrs. Rouncewell and Mrs. Bagnet makes its way from Lincolnshire to London. Mrs. Rouncewell is stunned because Mrs. Bagnet has figured out that Mrs. Rouncewell is George’s mother. Mrs. Bagnet says she knew George’s mother was alive because of the way he talked about her. One day she asked George why he was moody, and George told her that his mother was Mrs. Rouncewell of Chesney Wold. Mrs. Bagnet tells Mrs. Rouncewell she must help George prove he’s innocent of the murder.

At the prison, mother and son reunite. George apologizes for never writing after he left home and being a vagabond, especially since his brother is so successful. Mrs. Rouncefully forgives him fully. He asks Mrs. Rouncewell not to tell his brother he has returned, and she reluctantly agrees. George tells them that he’s been writing up an account his role in the Tulkinghorn affair. The two women soon leave.

Mrs. Rouncewell goes to the Dedlock home. She finds Lady Dedlock in Tulkinghorn’s turret room and tells her that she’s found her son and that he’s in prison for Tulkinghorn’s muder. She asks for Lady Dedlock’s help and tells her she got a letter last night. She assures Lady Dedlock she told no one about the letter and implores her that if she knows anything to please reveal it and save George. When Mrs. Rouncewell leaves, Lady Dedlock reads the letter, which is actually an article about the murder with her name and the word Murderess written underneath.

Mr. Guppy is announced. He tells Lady Dedlock that Esther had requested that he not take any further steps in investigating her past. He then tells her that Tulkinghorn had been working against him and that Guppy found it difficult not to disobey Esther’s wishes. He asks if Lady Dedlock has received any strange visitors this morning, such as Miss Barbary’s former maid or a man carried in a chair, and she says no. Guppy says they were indeed here. He says he has come to warn her that the letters he thought had been destroyed were not actually destroyed and that those aforementioned visitors were likely here to try and make money from them. Guppy then leaves.

Lady Dedlock understands that her secret is no longer a secret. She leaves a note for Sir Leicester saying that she didn’t murder Tulkinghorn but that she is guilty of everything else. She flees.

Analysis: Chapters 51–55

Ada and Richard’s hasty, secret marriage, along with Esther and Mr. Jarndyce’s engagement, turns the once-happy foursome of Bleak House into two awkward pairings. Though Ada and Richard truly love each other, their alliance is plainly unwise. Richard has reduced himself to debt, a dismal apartment, a relationship with creepy Vholes, and an unhealthy obsession with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit. Ada, young and blooming, is loyal to him but is too distraught to leave the comfort and warmth of Bleak House. Richard, furthermore, is exhausted and sickly. Esther, usually willing to celebrate any happiness, feels pity for Ada, crying for her just as she cried for herself when Mr. Jarndyce had proposed. Both women have loyal partners—romantic in Ada’s case and deeply affectionate in Esther’s—but neither partnership promises complete and total satisfaction.

Inspector Bucket’s elaborate investigation temporarily turns Bleak House into a detective novel. Bucket isn’t a very prominent character until the narrator focuses on him in chapters 53 and 54, when the extent of his knowledge becomes clear. Canny and determined, Tulkinghorn hired Bucket to investigate Lady Dedlock, who Tulkinghorn believed had found her former lover. Bucket has amassed a number of clues, secrets, suspects, motives, and witnesses that seem not only to prove Tulkinghorn’s suspicions but also to unmask Lady Dedlock as a murderer. When Bucket explains what he knows to Sir Leicester, the sprawling pieces of Bleak House—its large group of characters, their many secrets, and the weaving, disparate storylines—finally seem to come together into a cohesive whole. We get the sense that Dickens has been revealing clues slowly throughout the hundreds of pages that have passed so far. When Bucket unexpectedly arrests Mademoiselle Hortense instead of Lady Dedlock, the twist is surprising but somewhat anticlimactic; the violent murder was simply the crime of a jealous maid rather than a passionate act of desperation.

Mrs. Rouncewell’s reunion with George is the second mother-child reunion in the novel, and although the circumstances of the two reunions seem vastly different, they have many similarities. At first the reunions seem more different than similar. Unlike Lady Dedlock, Mrs. Rouncewell has always known her child was alive. Unlike Esther, George knows who his mother is and even where to find her. Yet beneath the surface, there are many similarities. For example, both mother-child pairs were separated because of shame: Esther was taken from Lady Dedlock because of the shameful circumstances of her birth, and George separated himself from Mrs. Rouncewell because he was ashamed of his roving, restless lifestyle. Both Lady Dedlock and Mrs. Rouncewell are also desperate to find their children, even though Mrs. Rouncewell has searched for years and Lady Dedlock has only recently learned Esther is alive. The reunions are also similarly emotional, with many tears and pleas for forgiveness. The intensity of these familial pursuits and reunions reveals the prominence of motherhood as a thematic thread throughout the novel.

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