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Bleak House

Charles Dickens

Chapters 61–67

Chapters 56–60

Important Quotations Explained

Summary: Chapter 61, “A Discovery”

Esther says that she can never forget the days when she visited Ada. She says she visits every day and often finds Skimpole there. She decides to confront him about his perpetual gaiety, which she feels is inappropriate given Ada’s dismal situation. When she does, however, he says there’s no way he can understand such worldly affairs. With twisted logic, he says he doesn’t want to give anyone pain, and so he’ll stay away from Ada and Richard. Esther then confronts him about the fact that he took money to show Bucket where Jo was hiding. She tells Skimpole he betrayed Mr. Jarndyce. Skimpole says he can’t be bribed and gives Esther a lengthy explanation of what happened. Esther never sees Skimpole again, but she tells us that he died five years after these events and that he had published a book about his life, in which he says that Mr. Jarndyce is selfish.

Esther says she will now tell part of her story that she found quite unexpected. Richard is getting worse, distracted only by Woodcourt. Woodcourt walks Esther home one night and confesses that he still loves her. Even though Esther had thought he’d pitied her, he’d actually been looking at her with love. Esther thinks Woodcourt is too late, and she explains that she is to marry Mr. Jarndyce. She says she will always remember his love for her and that it will make feel her better. Esther cries when he leaves, but she feels that she’ll be able to go move on more easily than Woodcourt.

Summary: Chapter 62, “Another Discovery”

Esther says she avoids everyone that night. The next day she asks Mr. Jarndyce if she has neglected any of her duties since she finds it strange that they haven’t spoken of their marriage. Mr. Jarndyce suggests they marry in a month, and Esther agrees.

Bucket arrives with Smallweed. He tells Mr. Jarndyce and Esther that Smallweed inherited Krook’s property and found a Jarndyce will. Bucket says he convinced Smallweed to come forward with the will and assured him that he’d be rewarded. Smallweed gives the will to Bucket, who gives it to Mr. Jarndyce. Mr. Jarndyce assures Smallweed he’ll reward him for it if it proves to have any worth. Smallweed and Bucket leave, and Mr. Jarndyce and Esther go to Lincoln’s Inn to see Mr. Kenge. Kenge studies the will and says it’s dated later than any other will under consideration in the suit. Kenge says that it decreases Mr. Jarndyce’s share but that it raises Ada’s and Richard’s shares. Vholes appears, reads the will, and agrees it’s important. Kenge says the case will be up again next month.

Summary: Chapter 63, “Steel and Iron”

The narrator says that George’s Shooting Gallery is closed now and that George lives at Chesney Wold. George rides into the iron country and seeks out the Rouncewells, who are well known in the town. A workman points George in the right direction to the Rouncewells’ factory. When George reaches the factory, he meets his brother’s son, who leads George to his brother. He doesn’t immediately identify himself, but his brother quickly recognizes him. His brother says they must celebrate their reunion and that a celebration has already been planned for his son Watt, who is going to be married. George accompanies them to their house and meets his nieces and Rosa.

The next day, the brother tells George how he might join the business, but George asks him to promise that he’ll get Mrs. Rouncewell to remove George from her will. He doesn’t want his brother’s and nieces’ inheritance to be reduced because of him, a wayward son. His brother refuses and says his mother will never agree. George assures him that their fortunes will not be reduced and that he’ll give up any part of the will he receives. He also says he can’t join the iron business.

Before George leaves, he asks his brother to read a letter he’s written. It’s to Esther, and it explains that he received a letter from Bucket that had been addressed to him by “a certain person” and was found among this certain person’s papers. He wants Esther to know that the letter was a list of instructions from overseas about how he should go about sending a letter, which had been enclosed, to a young woman in England. George says that he gave up the letter because he thought it was needed only as a handwriting sample and that he never meant to cause any harm. George also says that if he’d known “a certain unfortunate gentleman” was alive, he would have helped him, but this person had been reported drowned.

George sends the letter and returns to Chesney Wold.

Summary: Chapter 64, “Esther’s Narrative”

Esther says that Mr. Jarndyce gives her some money for her to begin planning the wedding, which she wants to be very private. She tells Mrs. Woodcourt she’s getting married, and Mrs. Woodcourt approves. Esther feels some hope for the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, and she understands that the marriage won’t take place until after the case next appears in court.

Mr. Jarndyce goes to Yorkshire to help Woodcourt with some business. He writes Esther a letter and tells her to meet him in the country, giving her all the travel details. Esther reflects that she speculated on what he wanted, but that she never even came close to being right. When she arrives at the hotel, Mr. Jarndyce tells her that he bought Woodcourt a house out of gratitude for all he’s done for them and that he needs her help in fixing it up. In tears, Esther agrees. She cries more later that night, hoping that she is crying out of happiness.

The next day, Mr. Jarndyce takes Esther to the house. The gardens are laid out exactly like the gardens at Bleak House, and the inside of the house reflects all of Esther’s tastes and habits. Then he shows her the name of the house: Bleak House. He sits her down and explains that even though he’d always intended to marry her and was happy that she’d agreed to marry him, he suspected their marriage wouldn’t really make her happy. He says that he understood this fully when Mr. Woodcourt returned. He says that he has once again resumed his role as her guardian and father. He says that Woodcourt confessed his feelings for Esther to him, not knowing that Mr. Jarndyce had already proposed. To prove Esther’s virtue, Mr. Jarndyce confided in Mrs. Woodcourt that he knew Esther would marry Mr. Jarndyce anyway, despite the fact that she loved Mr. Woodcourt. He’d asked Mrs. Woodcourt to observe Esther to see if this was true.

Mr. Jarndyce says that he knew Mr. Woodcourt would confess his feelings to Esther and had even agreed he should. He was surprised and pleased by Esther’s response to Woodcourt. Woodcourt appears, and Mr. Jarndyce gives Esther to him, telling them never to thank him.

The next day, Woodcourt makes the announcement to Ada and Richard, while Esther stays home with Mr. Jarndyce. While they’d been away, Guppy had called three times, and Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce that Guppy had proposed and then rescinded it. Guppy arrives again with his mother and Mr. Weevle. Guppy renews his proposal, thinking himself highly magnanimous. Mr. Jarndyce, laughing, rejects it on Esther’s behalf and dismisses the visitors.

Summary: Chapter 65, “Beginning the World”

Esther tells us that the term begins, and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case comes up. On her way to court, Esther sees Caddy in a carriage and stops to talk. They are late for court, and there’s much commotion when they finally arrive because Jarndyce and Jarndyce has ended for good. When they see Mr. Kenge and Mr. Vholes, they find out that the entire estate has been used up in legal costs. Woodcourt goes to see Richard, and Esther goes home to tell Mr. Jarndyce what has happened. Then they join Woodcourt at Richard and Ada’s.

When they arrive, they find out that Woodcourt had found Richard at the court, nearly unconscious in a corner. He tried to yell at the judge but had a mouth full of blood. Now at home, he is lying on the couch. Although all of them talk about the future, Esther knows he will die. Richard says he wants to see Woodcourt and Esther’s house and that he must “begin the world.” Then he dies. Later, Miss Flite comes over and tells Esther that she has freed all of her birds.

Summary: Chapter 66, “Down in Lincolnshire”

The narrator says that Chesney Wold is now very quiet. Sir Leicester is still alive, but very sick. The feud with Boythorn still continues, but Boythorn now does it as a way of cheering Sir Leicester up. Phil now lives in a lodge on the grounds, maintaining the stables. Mrs. Rouncewell and George still care for Sir Leicester. There are visitors, including Bagnet. Much of the house is closed. Volumnia is still there, but the other cousins come only rarely. The house is so quiet and dismal that people are afraid to walk in it alone.

Summary: Chapter 67, “The Close of Esther’s Narrative”

Esther says that she has been married for seven years now. She says that her story is nearly over and that she’ll soon separate from the “unknown friend” she’s been writing to. She says that Ada stays with her for many weeks with her baby boy and that the baby helped Ada to heal. Esther herself has two daughters. She tells us about other people in her life, including Charley, who is married; Charley’s siblings, Emma, who is now her maid, and Tom, who’s been apprenticed to the miller; and Caddy, who is successful and a good mother. Esther and Woodcourt added a Growlery to their house for Mr. Jarndyce, but she says that the wind is never in the east now. Esther says that Woodcourt is a successful doctor and that she’s respected as a doctor’s wife.

Esther says that recently she looked in the mirror and told Woodcourt she couldn’t imagine him loving her any more than he does, even if she were still beautiful. He says she is more beautiful than ever. She says she isn’t sure of this, but that everyone around her is beautiful. She ends her story in the middle of a sentence, beginning to speculate on something that she never articulates.

Analysis: Chapters 61–67

The insidious, endlessly droning Chancery suit comes to a somewhat abrupt ending in chapter 65, rendering even more absurd the generations of people who have sacrificed their lives for it. Just like that, Jarndyce and Jarndyce ends in its ridiculous, anticlimactic way, but it claims one final victim before dissolving. Strangely, Richard dies immediately after the suit ends, as though the suit had been his lifeblood or as if he and the lawsuit had been one and the same. Indeed, the abundance of cannibalistic images of Mr. Vholes suggests that the suit and Richard existed in a kind of reciprocal life-giving relationship. Once the final will is discovered, both the suit and Richard dissolve. Dickens concludes the novel shortly after the suit ends, suggesting that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit serves as a kind of structural backbone to the story.

Esther’s happy conclusion stands in stark contrast to the dismal conclusion of the narrator’s portion of the novel, in which he describes hollow, creepy Chesney Wold and the eclectic collection of people who populate it. Whereas the two Bleak Houses are lively, full of children, friends, and love, Chesney Wold is so desolate that people are afraid to walk through its rooms alone. While the two Bleak Houses restore happiness to the grieving Ada, Chesney Wold drives a maid to depression and, eventually, sudden departure. Even the people themselves in each world fall on vastly different sides of the divide between life and death. The Bleak Houses shelter those who are young and robust, while Chesney Wold contains more than its share of the infirm. There is Sir Leicester, who never fully recovered from his ailments; Phil, the crippled former soldier; Boythorn, nearby, with his eternally broken heart; Volumnia, fading from her coquettish glory; and, occasionally, a collection of dispirited cousins. Only Mrs. Rouncewell and George seem to hold much peace or vibrant energy. A true path of victims concludes the novel, a result of the narrative drive to reach the conclusion of Bleak House.

Even though Richard’s death darkens the final portions of Bleak House, Esther’s narrative ends rather happily with a wedding and a birth among Esther’s close, nurturing circle. A series of surprises brings Esther and Woodcourt together and reveals that people have been conspiring behind Esther’s back to ensure her happiness. While the transition of Mr. Jarndyce from guardian/father to intended husband and back to guardian/father may make modern readers a bit queasy, the notions of loyalty, steadfastness, and devotion are the only issues at play here. Ada gives birth to a son, who revives his mother in the way Ada hoped he would revive Richard. Along with Esther’s two daughters, the baby boy, named Richard, form a trio that mirrors the trio of Esther, Ada, and Richard, who arrived at Bleak House so long ago. The new Bleak House is, in a sense, an offspring as well. The “birth” of this new Bleak House and the births of children who inhabit both houses provide a sense of renewal and new beginnings after hundreds of pages filled with so much despair.

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