Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 46–47 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 46

Chapter 46 begins at dawn in Tom-all-Alone's. Allan Woodcourt finds a woman sitting on a doorstep and examines a bad bump on her forehead. It's Jenny. She's waiting for her husband, who "got into trouble last night." Jenny tells Allan they're from St. Albans, and Allan says he knows "something of it." He checks to make sure Jenny has enough money to pay for her room, and they part.

Next, he sees "a youth whose face is hollow and whose eyes have an emaciated glare" and who is dressed in rags. He's trying to avoid being noticed. Allan thinks he's seen the boy before but can't remember where. Soon, he hears people running behind him and turns. The woman is chasing the boy and yells for Woodcourt to "stop him." When they finally corner the boy in a dead-end passage, Jenny calls the boy Jo and cries, "I have found you at last!"

Allan remembers Jo now; he was the boy brought to the inquest to testify about Nemo. Jenny explains Jo was with her in St. Albans when he was very ill. She couldn't keep him, but "a young lady, ... a good friend" took him in but he ran away in the night. Allan "shrinks" from Jo "with a sudden horror." Jenny continues that the "young lady" got sick, too, and "lost her beautiful looks." Allan says he's "heard of" the story and has to compose himself before he can speak. Jenny wonders why he seems to feel such an aversion to the boy. Jo tells them he just got to Tom-all-Alone's that morning. He was going to wait until dark and then go to ask Mr. Snagsby to give him "somethink." Allan pushes him to explain why he left the woman who was so kind to him, and Jo bursts into speech. He didn't know she was sick, he would never have hurt her, and "he'd sooner have had his unfortnet ed chopped off than ever gone a-nigh her." Then he cries and says he "dustn't" say more. Allan insists, and Jo says he "was took away." Jo won't name the person who took him; he believes the man has eyes and ears everywhere. Finally he "whispers a name" to Allan, who wonders what Jo had done. Nothing, says Jo, except not moving on and giving his information at the "inkwhich"; but now he's going to move on "to the berrying ground." The man put Jo in the hospital to get better and then gave him some money and told him to "tramp," but not to come within 40 miles of London. Allan tells Jo he'll find the boy somewhere better to hide and has Jo follow him out of the slum.

Chapter 47

Jo follows Allan Woodcourt through the streets, staying in the shadows on the other side of the road. When Allan finds a breakfast stand, he beckons the boy over and gets him some buttered bread and coffee. But the boy has no appetite. Allan feels his pulse and his chest and then gets him some wine from a tavern, which seems to help. Jo eats some more. Jo tells Allan about "the lady in the veil." Allan decides to go to Miss Flite for advice on where to hide Jo, but finds Krook's shop shut. Judy Smallweed is guarding the door and sends him to Mrs. Blinder's; Miss Flite is living there now.

Miss Flite is delighted to see her "dear physician" and delighted to help him out. She suggests they take Jo to Mr. George's. As she talks about "General George," it turns out he knows Esther Summerson, which seems like a good omen to Allan. At the shooting gallery, Mr. George immediately pegs Allan for a sailor. Allan tells George all he knows about Jo and says Jo wouldn't go to a hospital or a workhouse. He is too afraid of someone he thinks is "everywhere, and cognizant of everything." George asks the man's name, and Allan tells him it's Bucket, the detective. Allan explains Jo needs a place to stay, and Allan will pay for it in advance. Phil Squod comes up to George and winks at him; George offers to let Jo stay with them. He would want money only for the boy's "rations." Allan warns George that Jo's condition is so poor he probably won't recover. Phil takes Jo out to get him a bath and some clothes. Miss Flite leaves to attend court, and Allan goes to get "some restorative medicines." On his return, George tells him that, based on Jo's description, the boy must have been taken to Mr. Tulkinghorn's rooms. Tulkinghorn, he says, is "a confoundedly bad kind of man ... a slow-torturing kind of man." It is Tulkinghorn who now holds George's loan, and Tulkinghorn keeps George "prowling and dangling about him as if [George] was made of the same stone as himself." If there were any chance of a fair fight between them, Tulkinghorn would "go down."

Allan returns later with Mr. Jarndyce, and Jo again tells his story. His breathing is more difficult than earlier. He asks them, if they are passing Mr. Snagsby's "jist to say to Mr. Sangsby that Jo, wot he known once, is a-moving on." Allan goes to Snagsby's, and when Snagsby hears about Jo's health, he says he'll go to see the boy that evening. Jo is happy to see him, and Mr. Snagsby is so "touched" he leaves half a crown for Jo. When Jo tells him how comfortable he is and how sorry he is for what he did, Snagsby leaves another half crown. Jo explains about making Esther sick and says she visited him today and how kind she, Mr. Jarndyce, and Mr. Woodcourt have been. Mr. Snagsby lays down another half crown. Jo wants to know if Snagsby can write "precious large," and the stationer says he can. After Jo dies, he says, he wants Snagsby to write a note to Mr. Woodcourt to say how sorry Jo is and he hopes Mr. Woodcourt, who was crying about it, can forgive him. He thinks he might if the writing is very large. Jo thanks "Mr. Sangsby." Mr. Snagsby leaves another half crown and departs, never to see Jo again.

Several days pass. Phil nurses Jo, and Jarndyce and Woodcourt visit often. Mr. George looks in and chats with the boy as well. The boy wakes up one day to find only the doctor in the room with him. Allan asks if he knows a prayer. Jo says he's heard them, but the people praying always seem to be talking to themselves. The boy nods off and then wakes and says it's time; he wants to go to the burial ground to be buried with Nemo. "By and by," says Allan and promises to have the boy buried there. Allan says a few words of the Lord's Prayer and has Jo repeat them. As they pray, the boy dies.

Analysis

In Chapters 46 and 47 Jo finally experiences kindness without it being taken away from him. When Allan Woodcourt finds him on the street in Tom-all-Alone's, Jo is already close to death. Allan realizes saving him is a long shot. But even a few days of safety, comfort, and companionship—a few days without being "moved on"—is something he has never experienced before. Up until this chapter, Jo has barely managed to keep himself fed; he has lived on the street as long as he can remember. Readers already know Nemo treated him kindly but could give him very little because he was so poor. Jenny and Liz treated him kindly, but also had nothing of their own to give. Snagsby gave what he could, but his wife—a supposedly Christian woman—prevented him from doing more for Jo. Jo's first real chance came when Esther took him in, but Inspector Bucket put an end to that.

Jo himself, once he is settled at the shooting gallery, is happy. He often laughs. It's only the people around him who are sad. But for Jo, things couldn't be better. He's warm, clean, and comfortable; he has access to food and drink; and the people around him offer companionship and even affection. He is treated like a human being. Above all, he knows he's safe: no one will ever tell him to "move on" again.

Bucket himself was not cruel to Jo, of course. The detective paid him for his cooperation in Tulkinghorn's investigation and took him to the hospital, where he recovered from smallpox. But Bucket did nothing to relieve the greater problems—Jo's living conditions and his lack of education or training. So, while Bucket was not on Chadband's level (talking at him rather than giving him material help), he put protecting other considerations before Jo's long-term welfare. What were those considerations? Jo tells Allan that Bucket told him to keep away from London, so readers can infer the detective doesn't want to risk his revealing what he knows about the woman in the veil. But several people already know the story, so why is it so crucial to keep Jo quiet?

Esther herself doesn't appear in these two chapters; she visits Jo but once, and readers know of this visit from Jo, who tells Mr. Snagsby about it, not from the narrator. Readers might speculate that Esther limits her visits because it is hard for her to be around Allan when she knows they can never be together. This may not be Allan's opinion, though. In Chapter 46, when Allan realizes Jo is the boy who infected Esther and then disappeared, he is obviously upset. He even has a hard time looking at Jo or talking to him civilly. It is not until after he realizes Jo didn't leave of his own accord that Allan begins to relax toward the boy. In Chapter 47 Jo tells "Mr. Sangsby" that Woodcourt cried about Esther's illness—and more than once; this is something else the narrator doesn't tell us directly. But readers can certainly infer Allan still cares deeply for Esther.

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