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Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 22–24 | Summary



Chapter 22

Mr. Tulkinghorn is enjoying a glass of 50-year-old port with Mr. Snagsby. Snagsby is repeating something he reported to Tulkinghorn the night before: Jo's story about the veiled woman. Snagsby stops talking when he realizes there's another "gentleman" in the room. It's Mr. Bucket, a "detective officer" Tulkinghorn wants to investigate the matter. Bucket wants Snagsby to help him find Jo and reassures Snagsby the boy won't be hurt; he'll just be asked a few questions and "paid for his trouble." On the way out, Bucket asks whether Snagsby knows "a very good sort of person of the name of Gridley"; Snagsby doesn't, and the detective explains that Gridley's temper has led him to threaten "some respectable people" and is now avoiding a warrant Bucket has issued for him.

As they walk, Snagsby notices how stealthy and observant Bucket is. In Tom-all-Alone's, a constable joins them. The streets are "deep in black mud and corrupt water" and stink. They pass "the fever houses," and the constable explains that for months people here have been dying "like sheep with the rot." Snagsby feels like he can't breathe. After speaking to a number of people, they conclude Jo must be known as Toughy and that he has gone to the doctor's on an errand for someone. While waiting for him, Bucket looks around and finds two drunk men and their wives. The men are brickmakers, and the women are Jenny and Liz. They have walked to London from St. Albans looking for work for their husbands. Liz is holding a baby, and Bucket asks about him. Jenny kisses the child, and Bucket remarks she seems "as fond of it as if [she] were the mother." Jenny explains she lost "one like it." Liz says, "Better so. Much better to think of dead than alive, Jenny! Much better!" Bucket finds this attitude "unnatural," but Liz talks about what the boy's future will be—beaten by his father, seeing his mother beaten, and "perhaps to stray wild." She thinks, if that happens, she'll probably wish he'd died like Jenny's baby. Mr. Snagsby "coughs his cough of sympathy." Then Jo arrives with the medicine. Mr. Snagsby leaves half a crown on the table, and Mr. Bucket takes Jo to Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Jo recognizes the lady standing in Mr. Tulkinghorn's room. He recognizes her veil, bonnet, and gown. But when the woman removes a glove, her rings are different, and her hands are not as white and delicate. When the woman speaks, her voice is different, too. Bucket gives Jo five shillings and escorts him out. Tulkinghorn enters, and the woman raises her veil. It's Hortense. She asks Tulkinghorn to help her get another job, and Bucket shows her out. Then Bucket accompanies Snagsby to the door, reminding him not to tell anyone what he's seen tonight.

Chapter 23

Esther Summerson, Ada Clare, and John Jarndyce stay with Lawrence Boythorn for six weeks. One day before they return to Bleak House an odd thing happens; Hortense comes to see Esther and says she would like "the honor of being [Esther's] domestic." Esther politely refuses, but Hortense is insistent, saying she would do it "for nothing" and "serve [Esther] well." Eventually, though, she leaves—but not without examining Esther closely. They do not see her again.

Richard Carstone has been visiting regularly. Esther worries because he seems to be spending all his energy studying the Jarndyce case. He attends court every day and spends time with Miss Flite. Mr. Jarndyce seems concerned as well since he often complains "of the east wind" and spends a lot of time in the growlery. Esther decides to meet Richard when she goes up to London to see Caddy Jellyby. Esther and Richard discuss the case. He has "not the least doubt" it will be settled. Then he tells her he has gotten into debt through gambling. He cries, which touches Esther deeply, but she is still more deeply affected when he says, "We shall come on for a final hearing and get judgment in our favor, and then you and Ada shall see what I can really be!" Esther asks when he expects to complete his law training, and he says he has worn himself out working on Jarndyce and Jarndyce and has "had enough of" the law. Now he wants to become an army officer. Everything he says worries Esther, and she warns him "not to put any trust in Chancery."

Next Esther sees Caddy, who explains why she wanted to meet Esther. Caddy has spoken with Prince Turveydrop about Esther's advice that Caddy tell her mother about her engagement to Prince. She told Prince she was sure Esther would want him to tell his father. Prince is afraid Mr. Turveydrop will be upset by this news and has delayed telling him for weeks. He thinks it would be better if Esther were present when he divulges their plans. She agrees, and they go to the dancing school, where Prince takes them to his father's "private apartment." There, Prince takes Caddy's hand and announces he loves her and they "are engaged." Mr. Turveydrop is aghast, calling this "an arrow launched at [his] brain." He groans and sobs. Prince assures him they "will devote [them]selves to making [his] life agreeable." Mr. Turveydrop allows himself to be convinced and hopes they will consider his house their home. Esther observes they are as grateful "as if, instead of quartering himself upon them for the rest of his life, he were making some munificent sacrifice in their favor."

Esther and Caddy leave, and Esther keeps her thoughts about Mr. Turveydrop to herself so as not to dampen Caddy's joy. When they arrive at the Jellybys', they find the house is for rent. Mr. Jellyby has declared bankruptcy. He's in the dining room trying to understand his finances, but completely "speechless and insensible." They go upstairs to see Mrs. Jellyby, who is too busy to think about her husband's problems. She complains that Caddy is gone so much she has had to hire a boy to help her. Caddy announces she's engaged to Prince Turveydrop and wants to bring him to visit her mother. Mrs. Jellyby is too busy with African matters to care much; she just sees this as another imposition on her time. Esther and Caddy, who "would far rather have been scolded than treated with such indifference," go downstairs and play with the children. They hear Mr. Jellyby trying to throw himself out the window "whenever he made any new attempt to understand his affairs."

At Bleak House, Esther relates Caddy's news to Ada and Jarndyce. Later in her room she's surprised when Charley Neckett comes to the door. Mr. Jarndyce has hired her as Esther's maid. Tom, Charley says, is at school, and Mrs. Blinder is tending Emma. Mr. Jarndyce told the children to always remember he did all of this "for the love of" Esther.

Chapter 24

Richard Carstone tells John Jarndyce he has decided he wants to leave the law and become an army officer. After long discussions with Conversation Kenge and negotiations in Chancery, Richard is granted leave to apply to become an ensign in the Horse Guards and begins his training. His commission comes through several months later, and he is posted to a regiment in Ireland. Richard rushes to Bleak House with the news. For an hour he remains "closeted" with Mr. Jarndyce, who then asks Ada Clare and Esther Summerson to join them. Richard looks "mortified and angry"; the two men are in the midst of a heated disagreement about Ada. Richard, Jarndyce says, will have to stick to the army; no further changes are possible because Richard has now spent the last of his money on his commission. When Richard suggests he might get a settlement from Jarndyce one day, Jarndyce passionately warns him against having any hopes of it. He has advised Richard and now advises Ada to "relinquish ... any tie but [their] relationship" as cousins. Richard interprets this as Jarndyce having lost confidence in him, but Jarndyce denies this. Jarndyce again reminds the two they are young and should "leave all else to time, truth, and steadfastness." Ada accepts this advice and reassures Richard she doesn't think he'll "fall in love with anybody else" but wants him to be happy "in all things." She will miss him and hopes he "will sometimes think a little of" her. After this, Esther says, "an estrangement began to arise between" Richard and Jarndyce—at least on Richard's side.

Esther and Jarndyce go up to London for a week with Richard before his departure. Richard is continuing his fencing practice, and his trainer is Mr. George, whom Jarndyce already knows. One day Mr. George arrives before Richard is ready, so he waits with Jarndyce and Esther. Jarndyce wonders how Richard is progressing with his shooting and fencing. Mr. George replies he is "pretty good" but would be better if he gave "his full mind to it." After looking at Esther several times, he asks her name again. Though he doesn't recognize her name, he feels he's seen her before. Mr. Jarndyce asks him about his business and what sort of people practice there. "All sorts," says Mr. George, including Frenchwomen. He has even had a Chancery suitor, Mr. Gridley, who has become a friend of his. The two men discuss Gridley, who "is in hiding" from the law.

Richard is to leave in the evening so in the afternoon he and Esther go to court, where Jarndyce and Jarndyce is on the schedule. Esther finds it "incredible" that the atmosphere in Chancery is so relaxed and ceremonious while the lives affected by it are so rough, miserable, and hopeless. They meet Miss Flite and Conversation Kenge, each of whom chats with them and shows them around. Then the Jarndyce case is called, and there is "a buzz, and a laugh, and ... a bringing in of great heaps, and piles, and bags and bags full of papers." Esther counts 23 "gentlemen" involved in the case, who quarrel and laugh while discussing "some bill of costs" until it is "referred back for the present" and all the papers are "bundled up again before the clerks ha[ve] finished bringing them in." Mr. Guppy approaches Esther and Richard and says there's a woman who knows Esther and wants to shake hands. It's Mrs. Rachael, who is "very little altered." When Esther addresses her as Mrs. Rachael, the woman corrects her; she's married, and her name is Chadband. Then they spy Mr. George, who is looking for Miss Flite. He confides that Mr. Gridley is actually "hiding at [his] place" and "is on his last march"; Gridley wants to see Miss Flite. Miss Flite leaves with them. Esther sends a sealed note to Mr. Jarndyce explaining "where [they] were gone and why."

At the door of the shooting gallery, they meet "a very respectable old gentleman with grey hair" who has come to "visit a sick man." Phil Squod opens the door, and everyone goes inside. The old gentleman takes off his hat and seems to "vanish," leaving "another and quite a different man in his place." It's Mr. Bucket, and he's here to serve a warrant on Mr. Gridley. Bucket allows Mr. George to take Miss Flite to Mr. Gridley first. Then Mr. Gridley asks to see Richard and Esther. Mr. Jarndyce arrives and goes with them. Mr. Gridley and Miss Flite are sitting side by side. Mr. Gridley, who looks very pale and weak, says the "tie of many years of suffering between" him and Miss Flite "is the only tie [of his] that Chancery has not broken." Bucket tells Gridley he'd feel better if he came with Bucket and had "a good angry argument before the magistrates." Mr. George and Bucket are whispering their shared concerns about Gridley's condition when Miss Flite suddenly screams. Mr. Gridley is dead.


Bleak House is sometimes referred to as one of the earliest detective novels. Several characters—notably Mr. Tulkinghorn, Mr. Guppy, and even Krook in his way—are already involved in their own investigations. Chapter 22 introduces Mr. Bucket, who is actually a professional detective—English fiction's first. Dickens probably based Mr. Bucket's style and mannerisms on an actual detective, Inspector Charles Field, whom he'd shadowed and written about in the magazine Household Words. Field was an inspector and also chief of the Detective Branch (referred to by the name of its location, Scotland Yard) of London's Metropolitan Police. In 1851, when he was writing Bleak House, Dickens considered Field "discretion itself, and accustomed to the most delicate missions"; he also remarked on how "polite and considerate" Field was. These are all characteristics of Mr. Bucket, who in Chapter 22 reminds Mr. Snagsby to be discreet; manages to appear out of nowhere and move deceptively through the streets; and treats not only Snagsby but also Jo, Jenny, and Liz with politeness and consideration. When he reappears in Chapter 24, Bucket seems to be able to transform himself into a completely different person just by putting on or taking off a hat. He is stealthy and scarily intelligent, but he is also compassionate. This shows in his treatment of Liz and Jenny in Chapter 22 and of Mr. Gridley in Chapter 24. Bucket also takes care to stay informed. Even though Mr. Snagsby, who lives not far from Tom-all-Alone's had no idea of the conditions there or the illness affecting the slum, Bucket knows and uses this visit to ask the constable for the latest on the fever epidemic.

The epidemic affecting Tom-all-Alone's may be typhus, a lice-born disease that spread rapidly in crowded, dirty conditions. There were intermittent epidemics of typhus throughout Europe in the 19th century.

Chapter 24 marks a turning point regarding Richard. On a practical level, he leaves his study of the law and becomes an officer in the Horse Guard. Oddly, this is the very profession Mr. Jarndyce first suggested to him. But things are changing inside Richard as well. He has studied the Jarndyce case thoroughly, and, although he still maintains the case will be settled, Esther sees his "handsome young face" looks "worn." It is likely at least some of his optimism is for show. But the most serious change in Richard relates to his relationship with Mr. Jarndyce. Even though Richard often shows a deep understanding of his own character flaws, he cannot bear any hint of criticism from others, especially from Jarndyce, to whom he owes so much. And he interprets Jarndyce's advice that Richard and Ada consider each other merely cousins and not engaged as a lack of confidence in him. In fact, Jarndyce is merely aware they are two young people who are about to spend a lot of time apart; he doesn't want them to feel imprisoned in a relationship they might grow out of. During their disagreement, Richard speaks angrily, but Jarndyce speaks calmly and affectionately. Sadly, as Esther says, this is the beginning of a growing "estrangement ... between them."

Meanwhile, Esther is dealing with her own separation from Woodcourt though she mentions it only indirectly: "And I looked up at the stars, and thought about travelers in distant countries and the stars they saw, and hoped I might always be so blest and happy as to be useful to some one in my small way" (Chapter 23).

In these chapters a seemingly unimportant character keeps turning up in unexpected circumstances: Hortense, the lady's maid Lady Dedlock has replaced with pretty young Rosa. First in Chapter 22 she is revealed to be the woman in Mr. Tulkinghorn's office wearing the same dress, hat, and veil as the woman Jo showed around Tom-all-Alone's. But she is not the woman. Apparently, that woman was someone with whiter hands and a different voice—but with access to the clothes Hortense is wearing. Then in Chapter 23 she tries hard to get Esther to hire her as a lady's maid; in fact, she'll even work for nothing, she says. This makes no sense since she seemed to need work when talking with Mr. Tulkinghorn in the preceding chapter. The oddness of her visit is compounded by her mention of some "oath" she has taken and means to keep. In Chapter 24 Hortense appears again, although only in a mention. Apparently she has been practicing her marksmanship at Mr. George's shooting gallery. These three references awaken readers' curiosity about Hortense and suggest she has a significant role to play in the story.

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