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Bleak House

Charles Dickens

Chapters 21–25

Chapters 16–20

Chapters 21–25, page 2

page 1 of 3

Summary: Chapter 21, “The Smallweed Family”

The narrator describes the home of Mr. Smallweed, whose first name is Bart. There have been no true children in the Smallweed family for several generations—all of the children act like adults. Only Mr. Smallweed’s grandmother acts childlike because she is so old. His grandfather is old too, and even though his body is falling apart, his mind is active. The grandfather’s father was obsessed with money, which he wound up losing. The family motto is to “go out early and marry late,” and the grandfather became a clerk in a scrivener’s office when he was twelve. His son is the father of Bart and his twin sister, Judy. There is no amusement in the Smallweed home. Grandfather Smallweed sits in a chair, a drawer under which is reported to hold a large fortune. He and Grandmother Smallweed bicker endlessly.

Judy has never played with toys, and she doesn’t know how to laugh. Bart also never engaged in childish pastimes. Judy calls for the maid, Charley, and reprimands her for no reason. Bart comes home, and Grandfather Smallweed praises him for having someone else pay for lunch. The two grandparents, Judy, and Bart have tea. Grandfather Smallweed discusses Bart and Judy’s parents, who died a long time ago.

Judy is slated to enter the flower business, and Bart is supposed to go into law with the money Grandfather Smallweed has saved. Both twins are impatient for their grandfather to die. Judy calls Charley and gives her some tea, then quickly sends her back to work.

George arrives at the Smallweed home. He asks Grandfather Smallweed for a pipe, referring to an agreement they have—a pipe out of two months’ interest. He gives Grandfather Smallweed the money, then he smokes the pipe. He asks if Grandfather Smallweed just sits there all day. Grandfather Smallweed says he hates reading.

The two men discuss Grandfather Smallweed’s friend in the city, who lent George some money. Grandfather Smallweed says he knows this friend will be hard on George if the money is not repaid. He then swears at Grandmother Smallweed and asks George to shake him out of it. George does so.

Grandfather Smallweed asks if George has relatives who can help him pay off the loan, but he says he doesn’t want to do that. Grandfather Smallweed says he regrets that George was not willing to be “made.” Judy enters the room, and George seems fascinated by her. The two men then talk about a business opportunity from long ago that George never engaged in. George discusses Captain Hawdon, who never repaid money he owed to Grandfather Smallweed, wound up poor, and was perhaps intentionally drowned.

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