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Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 48–49 | Summary



Chapter 48

As Chapter 48 opens, Sir Leicester Dedlock and Lady Honoria Dedlock are at their house in London. Lady Dedlock is haughtier and more beautiful than ever. Mr. Tulkinghorn is as silent as ever. One morning, Lady Dedlock tells Rosa she has written to Mr. Rouncewell to come and take Rosa away. She has done this because she wants Rosa to be happy. Rosa cries. That afternoon, Mr. Rouncewell arrives and is shown in to see Lady Dedlock and Sir Leicester; Mr. Tulkinghorn is also there. Rouncewell finds Lady Dedlock colder and more distant than the last time they met. She asks whether his son has conquered his "fancy" for Rosa; Mr. Rouncewell thinks not. In that case, Lady Dedlock says, Rosa "had better go." It is agreed Mr. Rouncewell will take Rosa with him immediately. They send Mercury to fetch the girl, who arrives upset and red-eyed. Tulkinghorn remarks that she seems to be "crying at going away." Rouncewell says she's "inexperienced" and "knows no better." Rosa "sobs out" how happy she was with Lady Dedlock, Rouncewell gently calls her a "silly little puss," and Lady Dedlock says with seeming indifference, "There, there, child! You are a good girl. Go away!" Mr. Rouncewell leaves, taking Rosa with him.

That night Sir Leicester is busy with political matters, so Lady Dedlock has dinner alone in her room. Mr. Tulkinghorn asks if she will "receive him." He is displeased she has acted out of character, which he feels is not in keeping with their agreement. He now thinks she is "not to be trusted." He doesn't understand how Rosa had so much "importance or value" that Lady Dedlock would risk everything for her. Tulkinghorn thinks, "This woman understands me," and she "is a study." Neither speaks for a long time. Tulkinghorn finally says their agreement is now "void" but refuses to say when he will tell Sir Leicester the truth about her. Perhaps tomorrow. After he leaves, Lady Dedlock is restless and goes out for a walk. She says she will be gone an hour or more.

Tulkinghorn goes home. He crosses "a little prison-like yard" on his way to the wine cellar and thinks what a fine, quiet night it is. Shortly, though, the quiet is disturbed by the sound of a gunshot. Pedestrians pause, dogs bark, and people look out their windows, but nothing can be seen. Soon everything is quiet again. Early the next morning, Mr. Tulkinghorn's body is discovered face down on the floor. He has been "shot through the heart."

Chapter 49

It is Mrs. Bagnet's birthday—the one day she is forbidden from cooking, cleaning, or doing any work at all. The family takes care of everything. After the Bagnets eat the barely edible meal Matthew has cooked, Mrs. Bagnet has to sit still and watch the family clean up, which they manage to do on time. Mr. George is expected at 4:30 p.m.

George is on time, but Mrs. Bagnet soon realizes he looks pale with shock. He tells them Jo has died and apologizes because "it's not birthday talk." Then he gives the "old girl" a brooch as a present. She loves it and asks him to "fasten it on." His hand is shaking so much, though, that he cannot manage, and Mrs. Bagnet fastens it herself. George says Jo's death made him think of Mr. Gridley, and then he thought of "a flinty old rascal who had to do with both"—referring to Mr. Tulkinghorn. After a pipe or two, George relaxes, and Matthew proposes his annual toast.

Unexpectedly, Mr. Bucket appears in the doorway. He asks George how he's doing, heartily greets the family, and admires and even kisses the children. Mr. Bucket is welcomed to the gathering, and he endears himself to the entire Bagnet family, complimenting Mrs. Bagnet on her youthful looks, making comments on the house and yard (while making sure the yard has no exit), asking Woolwich to play the fife, and even singing a song for everyone. George begins to cheer up, and Matthew invites Bucket to next year's celebration. Bucket takes a note of the date. When George stands up to leave, so does Bucket.

On the way back Bucket keeps his arm through George's. As they're passing a pub, he pulls George in, leads him into a parlor, and closes the door behind them. He is taking George into custody, he says, and wants to know if George has "heard of a murder." Bucket says Tulkinghorn was shot last night and he suspects George might have done it. Where was George at 10:00 p.m. last night, he wants to know. George realizes he was there, in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Bucket says George and Tulkinghorn have been heard arguing. Sir Leicester has offered 100 guineas' reward, and Bucket would like to earn it. George agrees to come quietly and holds out his hands to be cuffed. Bucket drapes a cloak around George's shoulders so no one can see the handcuffs and pulls his hat down lower so his face is hidden. Then the two men continue their walk.


From the moment Lady Dedlock meets Rosa, she treats her with affection and kindness. Readers learned early that Lady Dedlock has a longing for children; whenever she sees children with their parents, she becomes restless. When she makes Rosa her personal maid—which puts the proud professional lady's maid Hortense out of a job—her ladyship begins treating Rosa almost as if she were her own daughter. Rosa becomes a surrogate child for the daughter Lady Dedlock believes died as a newborn. Even after she learns Esther is that daughter, she continues to feel maternal toward Rosa. So when Rosa comes under threat from Mr. Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock puts Rosa's happiness ahead of her own and ships her off to be schooled by Mr. Rouncewell and ultimately to marry Watt, whom Rosa loves. Lady Dedlock is aware this may trigger punishment from Tulkinghorn, but she knows the lawyer may give away her secret at any time even if she keeps Rosa with her. No matter the cost to herself, she wants to make sure Rosa is safe from the fate Tulkinghorn warned against in the little fable he told Sir Leicester in Chapter 40. The real Lady Dedlock is a very different person from her public persona of haughtiness and boredom.

As Chapter 48 moves toward its climactic ending—Tulkinghorn's murder—Dickens makes liberal use of foreshadowing. The "famous clock" in the Dedlocks' home tells the lawyer the correct time but, according to the narrator, should have said "Don't go home." Tulkinghorn then remarks to his watch, which is two minutes off, "At this rate, you won't last my time." This is a more subtle example of foreshadowing; the watch is very likely to outlast him since the lawyer's remaining time can be measured in hours. The narrator suggests the watch should have "ticked" the same reply: "Don't go home." The following paragraphs continue in this vein. No one and nothing he passes says, "Don't go home," either. When he gets home, none of the figures in the painting on his ceiling say to him, "Don't come here!"

Chapter 49 reveals more about Mr. Bucket—or seems to. The question is whether readers can believe he is what he claims to be. He is either an accomplished actor or a very friendly man. Bucket turns up at the Bagnets' using the excuse of looking for a violoncello for a friend; since he arranges to come back the next morning to look at instruments, that may be true. But it's also possible he won't return at all. The detective quickly ingratiates himself with the Bagnets, complimenting Mrs. Bagnet and delighting the children; he tells jokes and sings songs. Even Mr. George finds himself liking the detective. Is it all an act? Or is Bucket capable of being sincerely jovial and friendly even though he's planning to arrest his new friend, Mr. George, as a murder suspect? Bucket enjoys the children and tells the Bagnets how much he and his wife wanted children. Does he really like children so much? Is he really childless? Even his earlier treatment of Jo doesn't supply an answer. Bucket helped Jo by taking him to the hospital, but his warning to stay away from London left Jo terrified. When Mr. Bucket arrests George, he has brought along a cloak so people will not see the handcuffs; he has even brought a second pair of handcuffs in case the first pair is too tight. He seems to be a good detective and an honorable and considerate man, but it's still hard to know how much to believe or how to interpret his motivations.

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