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Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 25–27 | Summary



Chapter 25

Mrs. Snagsby realizes something is troubling Mr. Snagsby. He is irritable and distracted; he's having nightmares. It all centers on Mr. Bucket. Snagsby feels guilty for keeping secrets from his "little woman" and can't meet her eye. Mrs. Snagsby's suspicion turns to jealousy, and she starts checking his pockets, reading his letters, examining the shop finances, spying on him, and generally "putting ... this and that together by the wrong end." She connects Snagsby's secrets with Nemo and with Jo and decides Snagsby is the one who told Jo not to go see Mr. Chadband. She gloats because she knows Chadband met Jo yesterday and threatened him with the police if he did not come to see Chadband tomorrow night. The meeting takes place in the Snagsbys' drawing room with the entire household in attendance, including Guster and the apprentices. Jo and Snagsby glance at each other, and Mrs. Snagsby knows—her husband is Jo's father.

Mr. Chadband starts sermonizing and takes Jo's arm, saying, "My human boy, come forward!" Jo demands, "You let me alone." Chadband forces Jo onto a stool, and starts talking, staring directly at Mr. Snagsby. Snagsby is confused, especially by a "mysterious look" Mrs. Snagsby gives him just as Mr. Chadband says Jo has no parents. In his confusion, he can't answer the questions Chadband asks him. Chadband begins defining "Terewth" by questioning whether things are "Terewth." He asks if it would be "Terewth" if Snagsby saw an elephant and told his wife he'd seen an eel; Mrs. Snagsby is "in tears." Chadband asks if it would be "Terewth" if Jo's parents "cast him forth" and then went back to their everyday lives; Mrs. Snagsby shrieks until she becomes "cataleptic" and has to be carried to bed.

Jo, who had fallen asleep during the minister's sermonizing wakes up, realizes Mr. Snagsby isn't "going to say nothink to me tonight," and heads for the door. As he passes Guster, she hands him her supper and asks about his parents. He says he "never know'd nothing about 'em." Guster says it was the same with her. Mr. Snagsby finds Jo then and gives him half a crown, saying he did right "to say nothing about the lady the other night." Mrs. Snagsby has followed him stealthily and continues to do so from then on.

Chapter 26

It's a cold morning in Leicester Square when Mr. George and Phil Squod get up. Phil tells the "commander" his life story. He was a parish orphan. At eight he ran off with a tinker and worked with him for many years. The tinker drank himself to death, and Phil took over the business, which covered only certain poor neighborhoods in London. But it didn't go well. Most of the tinker's income had come from renting out rooms to other tinkers and their wives, whom he kept entertained with his songs as well. But Phil couldn't sing, and, what's worse, he was clumsy and covered with scars that made him unattractive, so the other tinkers' wives "complained of" him. It was after Phil had been injured in an explosion that Mr. George met him. George commented Phil had "been in the wars" and asked what accident he'd "met with." They talked, and Phil came to work for Mr. George. Together the two men get the gallery ready for customers, and Phil sets to work cleaning the guns.

Grandfather Smallweed arrives unannounced, accompanied by his granddaughter, Judy Smallweed. Mr. Smallweed gets a shock when he sees Phil approaching with a gun in his hand and asks Mr. George to send him away. The old man tries to make small talk, but Mr. George tells him to get to the point. Mr. Smallweed then asks George to put down the sword he's carrying; he's worried Mr. George might kill him to "[pay] off old scores." It takes a great deal of prompting, but Smallweed eventually comes to the point. His "friend in the city" has lent money to Richard Carstone, and Carstone's friends have paid it back. Based on his pay, his "chance in a lawsuit," and his "chance in a wife," the "friend" would like to do business with Richard again. Smallweed then changes the topic "from the ensign to the captain," meaning Captain Hawdon. He refuses to believe Hawdon is dead. He says a lawyer is looking into the matter and wants a sample of Hawdon's handwriting to compare with a sample he already has. Mr. George says he might or might not have a sample, but he won't show it to anyone "without knowing why." Smallweed asks Mr. George to come with him to see the lawyer. Mr. George gets a paper out of a locked cupboard, puts it in his breast pocket, and has Phil carry Mr. Smallweed to his cab.

Chapter 27

The cab takes Grandfather Smallweed, Judy Smallweed, and Mr. George to Mr. Tulkinghorn's office in Lincoln's Inn Fields. While waiting for Tulkinghorn, Mr. George examines the room. He notices a portrait of "Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet and Manor of Chesney Wold." When Mr. Tulkinghorn arrives, he is glad to see Smallweed has brought "the sergeant" who once "served under Captain Hawdon." He offers Mr. George "three, four, five guineas" or more if he can provide some of the captain's handwriting for him to compare with handwriting he has. He even hands Mr. George "the affidavit in Jarndyce and Jarndyce" so George can "judge for [him]self" if they are similar. However Mr. George doesn't look at the document at all, but "continues to look at the lawyer with an air of troubled meditation." Finally he stands up and says he wants "nothing to do with this." He returns the affidavit to Tulkinghorn's table. Mr. Smallweed is agitated and insistent; Mr. Tulkinghorn is polite and seemingly indifferent. Mr. George asks why Tulkinghorn wants "to see the captain's hand." Tulkinghorn will not say, but assures George there would be no "injury" to the Captain. Mr. George replies that the captain is dead, but Mr. Tulkinghorn seems unconvinced. Mr. George offers to consult with a friend who is an old soldier, and Smallweed urges him to do so. Before they leave, the old man confides to the lawyer that Mr. George has the desired sample in his pocket, but Tulkinghorn will not resort to "violence" to get it. Mr. George carries Smallweed downstairs, puts him in his cab, and then goes on his errand.

After crossing the river at Blackfriars Bridge, Mr. George marches to a shop selling musical instruments. There he banters with Mrs. Bagnet and hugs her daughters, Quebec Bagnet and Malta Bagnet, who call him "Bluffy." He asks about his godson, Woolwich Bagnet, and learns he has gotten a job playing the fife in a theater where his father is playing bassoon. Woolwich and his father, Matthew Bagnet, arrive home. When Matthew hears George wants advice, he insists they have dinner first. After that the advice will come from Mrs. Bagnet, who is the one with "the head." Matthew says it was his wife who got him to leave the artillery and learn several instruments. Mr. George explains the situation and is advised not "to be a party to nothing underhanded or mysterious."

Later, as he walks back, Mr. George fights off loneliness with the thought he is better off unmarried and camping on the floor of his gallery. He returns to Tulkinghorn's and says he has not changed his mind. Tulkinghorn asks whether he is the man who hid Mr. Gridley, and George confirms he is. Tulkinghorn calls Gridley "a threatening, murderous, dangerous fellow." As he leaves, George passes a clerk on the stairs and realizes with chagrin that the clerk will take Tulkinghorn's words as describing himself.


Mr. Chadband loves to hear himself talk, but what does he talk about? Generally, he fixes on a particular word or phrase and appears to explore its meaning through a hard-to-follow stream of consciousness including a series of questions. What he is saying tends to be obvious, but he dresses it up in exaggerated words, ornate style, and overblown gestures. As a result, listeners like Mr. Snagsby, who are at once logical and insecure, feel they must have missed something and hesitate to answer his demanding questions. For example, Jo has nothing, so Chadband says he is "devoid" of a series of things. His free association goes from "parents" and "relations" to "flocks and herds" and "gold and silver." This sounds vaguely biblical, as do the fragments of biblical quotes he sprinkles into his sermonizing, so it might impress some listeners. It only confuses Mr. Snagsby, though, who knows full well Jo is a poor orphan, which would be the logical answer when Chadband asks why Jo is "devoid of these possessions." When Snagsby, thinking this is too obvious, says he doesn't know why, Chadband gets to move on to mention something else Jo is devoid of—"the light of Terewth." This is still more confusing because it takes listeners time to realize it is nothing more than a mispronunciation of "truth." He draws it out to sound more impressive.

It is only by chance that Mr. Chadband's eyes settled on Mr. Snagsby and his topic came around to truth. But as he expands on the subject, it plays into Mrs. Snagsby's strange assumption that her husband is Jo's father. This, of course, would require him to have had an affair some years ago. Since she keeps Mr. Snagsby under her thumb most of the time, it's hard to imagine when this might have taken place, but she did catch him sneaking in after his excursion with Mr. Bucket and he has been very secretive since that night. Still, that would not explain how Jo was conceived years earlier.

Chapters 26 and 27 bring up several more unanswered questions. Both chapters focus on Mr. George. Like John Jarndyce, he is a generous man. Since he hasn't got any money, he is generous in other ways, such as taking in Phil Squod simply because the man was poor and injured. He is also an honorable man, who won't betray a friend and comrade even if the friend is (he believes) long dead. Readers also learn something about his past. He was raised in the country and hasn't seen his mother for many years. They also learn he gets along well with children, especially with Matthew Bagnet's family, whom he has known since he and Matthew served together. After spending the evening with them, he feels a bit lonely. Readers may wonder whether there was once a woman he particularly cared for. If there was, could that woman have been Mrs. Bagnet—or someone else? Mr. George's identity and his past form another mystery to be solved as Bleak House continues.

In Chapter 27 readers learn a little more about Mr. Tulkinghorn. The narrator hints Tulkinghorn is "contemptuous" of the "peerage," with whom he has frequent business and social dealings. During what must be a frustrating meeting with Mr. George, he continues to seem indifferent, often busying himself with writing letters. But that night, when Mr. George returns, he unexpectedly shows emotion about Mr. Gridley, calling him "a threatening, murderous, dangerous fellow." As he says this, his voice is "unusually high," and he then slams the door. Here is yet another mystery: why is the thought of Mr. Gridley, who is dead, after all, so upsetting to the usually imperturbable lawyer?

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