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Bleak House

Charles Dickens

Chapters 11–15

Chapters 6–10

Chapters 16–20

Summary: Chapter 11, “Our Dear Brother”

Krook joins Mr. Tulkinghorn in Nemo’s room, and they realize he is dead. Miss Flite, the mad old woman who is also one of Krook’s lodgers, arrives and calls for a doctor, who confirms that Nemo is dead. A young surgeon with a dark complexion says that Nemo bought opium from him and that he died of an overdose. Mr. Tulkinghorn stands close to the dead lodger’s coat, seemingly unconcerned with what’s going on around him.

Snagsby arrives, but he knows nothing about Nemo. He sends for a policeman, also known as a beadle. He says that Mrs. Snagsby had been the one to hire Nemo and that she had seen something in his manner that suggested she should help him. Snagsby looks around the room and sees the coat, and Mr. Tulkinghorn acts like he’s never seen it before. The beadle arrives, arousing the neighbors’ interest, but there is nothing anyone can do.

In court the next day, the coroner asks questions of certain neighbors as part of the investigation into Nemo’s death, but no one knows anything useful. A homeless child named Jo takes the stand and says that Nemo had given him money and lodging in the past. After the court session ends, Mr. Snagsby gives Jo a half-crown coin.

At home, Mr. Snagsby’s housekeeper, Guster, has several seizures from the upsets of the day.

Summary: Chapter 12, “On the Watch”

The narrator describes the rainy scene at Chesney Wold. Lady Dedlock and Sir Leicester are returning from Paris. Lady Dedlock couldn’t wait to leave Paris because she was so bored, a common complaint. In the carriage, Sir Leicester tells Lady Dedlock while looking through his mail that Mr. Tulkinghorn sends his greetings and has something to tell her when she returns.

At Chesney Wold, Mrs. Rouncewell introduces Rosa to Lady Dedlock, who thinks Rosa is beautiful and strokes her cheek before going upstairs. Later, Lady Dedlock’s maid, a Frenchwoman named Hortense, is bitterly jealous of Rosa. Hortense has worked for Lady Dedlock for five years, but Lady Dedlock has always distanced herself from Hortense.

Lady Dedlock and Sir Leicester invite many people to Chesney Wold to spend a week or two. Every night, Lady Dedlock asks if Mr. Tulkinghorn has arrived yet; he tends to arrive unannounced and goes straight to the tower room that is always reserved for him. Mr. Tulkinghorn eventually does arrive. The narrator describes Tulkinghorn as looking as though he has secrets everywhere in his body.

Mr. Tulkinghorn discusses the lawsuit concerning Mr. Boythorn with Sir Leicester. Sir Leicester is unwilling to compromise in any way. Lady Dedlock asks Mr. Tulkinghorn what he wanted to tell her, and he says it has to do with some handwriting she had asked him about—when he went in search of the writer, he found him dead. They discuss the man and the fact that no one knew anything about him. During this conversation, Lady Dedlock and Mr. Tulkinghorn never look away from each other but seem to take little note of each other in the days that follow.

Summary: Chapter 13, “Esther’s Narrative”

Esther says that she, Richard, and Mr. Jarndyce have many conversations about what Richard should become. Esther worries that his unstable upbringing has made him indecisive. Richard is indifferent and goes along with whatever they suggest, eventually deciding to pursue medicine. Mr. Jarndyce tries to talk to him seriously about it, but Richard doesn’t change his mind. Various guests support Richard’s decision, including Mr. Boythorn and Mr. Kenge. Mr. Kenge promises to arrange a place for Richard to study medicine with his cousin.

Mr. Guppy has begun following Esther around the city, and she spots him whenever she goes to the theater. He makes her very uncomfortable, but she decides that there is nothing she can do about it.

Mr. Kenge’s cousin, Mr. Bayham Badger, agrees to oversee Richard’s studies. Everyone goes to dinner at Mr. Badger’s house. Mr. Badger brags about being Mrs. Badger’s third husband, after Captain Swosser and Professor Dingo. Both spouses extol the former husbands liberally throughout dinner.

At home later that night, Ada confesses a secret to Esther: she and Richard are in love. Esther isn’t surprised at all. Richard confides in her as well, and Esther observes that both really love her. Esther tells the news to Mr. Jarndyce, who approves but advises caution.

Offhandedly, Esther remarks that a young surgeon with a dark complexion attended the Badgers’ dinner as well and that she found him quite nice.

Summary: Chapter 14, “Deportment”

Richard begins his new career, but both he and Ada discuss the future, and all their plans include Esther. Richard is certain that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit is going to make him and Ada rich.

In London, Mr. Jarndyce, Esther, and Ada visit Mrs. Jellyby, but she isn’t home. The next day Miss Jellyby visits them, along with a very mismatched Peepy. Mr. Jarndyce complains of the wind. Miss Jellyby is very unhappy and complains about her parents. She asserts that she won’t marry Mr. Quale and reveals that she is secretly engaged to someone else. She tells Esther that after Esther’s initial visit to the Jellyby home, Miss Jellyby was determined to become less awkward and so began taking dance lessons at Mr. Turveydrop’s Academy. There, she fell in love with the younger Mr. Turveydrop, whose name is Prince. She says that his father, the elder Mr. Turveydrop, is famous for his deportment. Esther promises to go with her to the dance academy and meet her new love.

At the academy, Esther meets both Turveydrops, and Miss Jellyby begins her dance lesson. Esther talks to the elder Mr. Turveydrop, who is extremely distinguished and talks incessantly about the importance of deportment. Later, Miss Jellyby tells Esther that Prince isn’t very scholarly but that it doesn’t matter. Esther suggests that she and Miss Jellyby continue to discuss all this. Together, they go to visit Miss Flite, the old woman who lives above Krook’s shop. Miss Jellyby points out another lodger’s room and tells Esther there was a sudden death there. They meet Mr. Jarndyce and Ada there.

Miss Flite is with a doctor, Mr. Woodcourt, who explains that Miss Flite was upset by the death that had occurred. Miss Flite tells them that she is fortunate because Mr. Guppy gives her money regularly and that she expects a judgment from the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case soon. Krook shows up and introduces himself to Mr. Jarndyce. He then names all of Miss Flite’s birds. Krook acts like he has a secret that he wants to reveal and tries to get Mr. Jarndyce to stay longer, but finally Mr. Jarndyce and the others leave. As they walk out, Krook reveals that he is teaching himself to read and write, and that he fears someone else will teach him incorrectly. Mr. Woodcourt assures Mr. Jarndyce that Krook isn’t crazy.

Esther informs us that Mr. Woodcourt is the surgeon who had been at dinner at the Badgers’ house. She suggests that Ada teases her about something but dismisses it as unimportant.

Summary: Chapter 15, “Bell Yard”

In London, Mr. Quale follows Mrs. Pardiggle everywhere and gushes over her. Another man, Mr. Gusher, accompanies them as well. All of them excitedly discuss various charities. Mr. Jarndyce is annoyed by their blustery do-gooding and complains about the wind for weeks.

Mr. Skimpole lives in London and visits Mr. Jarndyce, Esther, and Ada. He discusses how silly it is that his doctor and butcher are demanding payment. Mr. Skimpole brings up Mr. Boythorn, whom Mr. Jarndyce has promised to visit in Lincolnshire. Mr. Skimpole doesn’t like Mr. Boythorn very much.

Mr. Skimpole tells them that his debt collector has been arrested, calling him Coavinses (the name of a debtors’ prison), and that his new debt collector has taken possession of Mr. Skimpole’s house. Mr. Jarndyce agrees to visit the place where the former debt collector lived. First, they stop at Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, where Mr. Jarndyce inquires about a “follower” (someone who follows and arrests debtors) who has died. The man’s name was Neckett. They then go to an alley called Bell Yard where they find the chandler’s shop where Neckett had lived. The woman there gives Esther a key to the apartment, where they find two Neckett children locked inside. The little boy, Tom, is watching the baby, Emma, and he says they are waiting for their sister, Charlotte. Charlotte arrives and is just thirteen, yet she is the sole caretaker of the little family. Mr. Jarndyce, Ada, and Esther are appalled. The woman from downstairs, Mrs. Blinder, tells them that Charlotte has done the best she could since the parents died.

Mrs. Blinder reveals that she lets the children stay there without paying rent. Another lodger, Mr. Gridley, is also kind to the children. Mr. Gridley arrives and tells Mr. Jarndyce about an endless lawsuit he is involved with that has declined into a case about costs. He is enraged, but he is still gentle with the children. Charlotte leaves for work.

Analysis: Chapters 11–15

As Bleak House progresses, the layers of secrets grow deeper, and it seems as though nearly every character is hiding something. In chapter 11, for example, Mr. Tulkinghorn stays mysteriously close to the dead lodger’s coat, but he never reveals why and we don’t know if he takes anything from the coat before leaving. After Nemo’s cause-of-death trial, Mr. Snagsby gives little Jo some money and tells him to keep quiet if he ever sees Mr. Snagsby with “a lady,” which suggests that Mr. Snagsby has a secret too. In chapter 12, the interactions between Lady Dedlock and Mr. Tulkinghorn suggest that something is going on, and the narrator says that Mr. Tulkinghorn “carries family secrets in every limb of his body.” In chapter 14, Krook seems “tormented” by a secret he holds, though he says nothing. Esther is sometimes the confidante who gets to hear secrets, such as Ada’s revelation that she and Richard are in love. Esther has so far proven to be a conscientious narrator, yet beginning in chapter 13, when she casually tells us that she “omitted to mention” a young surgeon who attended the Badgers’ dinner, she reveals that she may have a secret of her own as well.

Although Esther is a thorough narrator, detailed in her descriptions and recollections, she is not necessarily a reliable one. In earlier chapters, she has shown herself to be all too willing to paint herself in a complimentary light, never omitting others’ praises or affections for her. In chapter 13, however, when she blatantly neglects to mention the young surgeon at the Badgers’ dinner, she shows herself to be unreliable, perhaps more concerned with keeping her own secrets private than with telling the entire story. At the end of chapter 14, she leaves out information again when she tells us that she has not mentioned that the young surgeon is actually Mr. Woodcourt, Miss Flite’s doctor. Then, when Ada begins to tease her, Esther simply cuts her off and tells us that what Ada said doesn’t matter. Here we begin to see that even though we must rely on Esther to lead us through this meandering tale, we must also understand that she may not be telling us the whole story.

Orphaned, courageous children seem to be everywhere in Bleak House, and their presence lends an atmosphere of genuine pathos to the novel. For example, Jo, the street urchin who testifies that the dead lodger was very good to him, is shunned by society and must fend for himself. A man who had shown him kindness is dead, and Jo has no real outlet for his mourning, nor any real way of expressing how he feels. He knows only simple truths, such as that “a broom’s a broom” and “it’s wicked to tell a lie.” All he gets in return for his honesty is a coin from Mr. Snagsby, on the condition that he keep quiet if he sees something he shouldn’t. The Neckett children are orphans as well, and although they have each other and Mr. Gridley, the brunt of the caretaking falls to young Charlotte. She too values hard work and believes it’s the only way to survive. These and other children seem to exist in a bleak universe parallel to the adult world of the novel. Although some of the portraits Dickens draws of children are comical, such as of the put-upon Pardiggle children, more often the children are in genuine distress.

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