Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 50–52 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 50

In Chapter 50 readers learn Caddy Jellyby has a baby daughter named Esther; Caddy's health is "delicate," and the baby is sickly. When Esther Summerson returns to Bleak House from Deal, she gets a note from Caddy, asking her to visit. Esther travels to see her every day for three days. Then John Jarndyce proposes that all of them—Esther, Ada Clare, and himself—go up to London to stay for a while. He also proposes getting Allan Woodcourt to look in on Caddy to offer a second opinion. Getting the feeling Ada still hopes Esther and Allan will become a couple, Esther decides she must tell Ada she is "going to be the mistress of Bleak House." The next day is Ada's birthday, so Esther waits until midnight and then wishes Ada happy birthday and tells her the news.

The following day they move into their usual lodgings in London, and for the next eight or nine weeks, Esther spends most days—and even some nights—looking after Caddy. Ada sometimes goes with her. During their time together, Esther tells Caddy, too, "about Bleak House." Sometimes Prince Turveydrop comes in and plays the violin, sometimes Mrs. Jellyby comes and talks about her African work, and once a day Mr. Turveydrop blesses Caddy with his presence, telling her to think of her own needs before his and then going off to walk in the park and have a "hotel dinner." In the evenings Mr. Jellyby visits, sitting with his head against the wall, staring at the baby. Mr. Woodcourt has become "Caddy's regular attendant." Esther usually goes home while he's there, but she's sure he still feels sorry for her.

Just as Caddy is beginning to recover, Esther notices a change in Ada—a "quiet sorrow." Esther wonders if Ada is sad because of Esther's "Bleak House" news, so she tries to be extra cheerful to show she's happy. About this time, her guardian consults with her about Mr. Woodcourt. He thinks Woodcourt is likely to set off on another journey in order to find better-paying work. As they talk, she looks up and sees Ada is crying. She takes her upstairs and tries to comfort her, not realizing Ada has problems of her own she is keeping from Esther and Jarndyce.

Chapter 51

In Chapter 51 readers find out that upon arriving in London from Deal, Allan Woodcourt goes to Mr. Vholes's office to get Richard Carstone's address. Before divulging the address, Mr. Vholes tells Woodcourt at great length that Richard will need money if Vholes is to continue to work for him in any capacity beyond what would be paid for by the estate. Then he informs Woodcourt that Richard lives next door. Woodcourt finds Richard sitting with a book open in front of him but not reading. Before Richard notices him, Woodcourt observes "the haggardness of his face and the dejection of his manner." As they talk, Richard tells Woodcourt he is obsessed with the Chancery case, but he wants "to see Ada righted" and not only himself. Woodcourt tells Esther Summerson this about the same time she begins looking after Caddy Jellyby. It awakes Esther's concern that Ada's "little property would be absorbed by Mr. Vholes."

On the day after Esther's attempt to comfort Ada, there is still a "shade" between them. Esther suggests they go to see Richard. Surprisingly, Ada hesitates. There are tears in her eyes again. Although they have not been to Richard's before, Ada knows exactly how to get there. They enter without knocking and find Richard "poring over a table with dusty bundles of papers" from the Jarndyce case. Richard tells them Woodcourt was just there and "the place brightens whenever he comes, and darkens whenever he goes again." Richard speaks hopefully about the case, which Esther finds "distressing" because his hopefulness is of a kind that is "hungry and eager, and yet so conscious of being forced and unsustainable." He admits he gets "so tired" of the "weary, weary work."

Ada kneels beside Richard and tells Esther she will be staying with Richard, "her dear husband." They have been married more than two months. Ada sobs and asks if Esther and "cousin John" will forgive her. Esther reassures her. Esther is both happy and sad for them and wonders how she missed the signs. After she leaves, Esther cries, feeling "so desolate to be going home with no hope of seeing her there." Jarndyce is not at home when Esther gets back. Esther tells Charley Neckett about Ada and Richard, and together they walk back to Symond's Inn; Esther wants to assuage her loneliness by silently hovering around Ada for a moment. While they are there, Vholes comes out of his office and looks up at Richard's windows before leaving. When they get home again, Jarndyce is there. He guesses Ada and Richard are married; rather than anger, he feels pity for Ada—for both of them.

Chapter 52

Allan Woodcourt arrives to tell Esther Summerson and John Jarndyce that Mr. George has been arrested for the murder of Sir Leicester Dedlock's lawyer. Esther remembers her mother was afraid of him. None of them believes Mr. George is guilty, but they understand the evidence against him. All three go to visit Mr. George in prison. When they arrive in George's cell, Esther offers him her hand. He realizes immediately that they believe in his innocence. Jarndyce wants to hire a lawyer for George, but George doesn't want one. He doesn't "take kindly to the breed." George tells them Bucket has searched his shooting gallery and will naturally have found a number of guns that have been fired recently. George figures a lawyer would tell him to keep his mouth shut, but he doesn't want to. He wants to tell the truth. If they convict him and hang him anyway, at least he will have been honest. It's a consolation that "no relations will be disgraced ... or made unhappy."

Matthew Bagnet and Mrs. Bagnet arrive with a basket of food. Matthew asks his wife to tell George his opinion, and she says they don't agree with George; he should take all the lawyers "the gentleman recommended." Mrs. Bagnet indicates to Esther that Esther and her friends should leave but wait for her outside. They get up to leave, and Mr. George remarks that when he was outside Tulkinghorn's the night he was murdered, he saw someone who looked so like Esther that he almost spoke to her. The woman was coming downstairs as he went up; she was wearing "a loose black mantle" with "a deep fringe." Esther shudders and feels caught between a sense of obligation and a refusal to believe there was any reason to be afraid.

Outside the prison, the Bagnets join them. Mrs. Bagnet is in tears. She is determined to find George's mother and sets out for Lincolnshire. Jarndyce praises her for being "honest and genuine."

Analysis

As Esther picks up her narrative in Chapter 50, the plot goes back in time. The action in these three chapters runs roughly parallel to the story the narrator told in the last four, Chapters 46 to 49.

The relationship between John Jarndyce and Esther is not what might be expected of a couple who are engaged to be married. For instance, when Esther tells Ada about her engagement, she does not talk about marrying Jarndyce but about becoming "mistress of Bleak House." That is also how Jarndyce phrased his proposal in his letter to Esther. Just what is their relationship? They are clearly affectionate, though the affection on Jarndyce's side seems to be paternal rather than romantic; Esther still describes it as "fatherly." She shows no romantic interest in Jarndyce, either; her motivation for accepting his proposal seems to be gratitude. She still addresses him as "guardian." At the end of Chapter 51, though, Esther seems to be testing the nature of their relationship. She has spent a lot of time observing the affection between Prince and Caddy, which may have changed her expectations about marriage. Also, Ada has suddenly left the household to live with Richard, which means Esther and Jarndyce will be alone together. Esther now seems willing to set their relationship on a different—less platonic and slightly more intimate—footing, telling Jarndyce she "will do all she can to make [Bleak House] happy." However, Jarndyce's reply is given in the same "fatherly" tone as ever, which disappoints Esther and makes her feel inadequate: "I feared I might not quite have been all I had meant to be since the letter and the answer." Did she misread Jarndyce's feelings for her before he wrote the letter? Or has Jarndyce pulled back because he sees how she and Woodcourt feel about each other? Perhaps he was sounding her out about Woodcourt when they talked about Caddy's care, and is now backpedaling so as not to stand in their way. Esther interprets Allan's feelings toward her as pity, but perhaps Jarndyce recognizes them as something very different.

Mr. George frequently says he has "no relations," but the Bagnets know this is untrue. Mrs. Bagnet picked up on George's talk in Chapter 34 with Woolwich about not disappointing his mother and must have asked Matthew for details of their visit to Tulkinghorn's office. When she heard about how George kept his back turned on Mrs. Rouncewell and how his mood shifted after that chance meeting, she put two and two together. Unlike another wife in the story, Mrs. Snagsby, Mrs. Bagnet's addition is accurate, as will be seen in Chapter 55.

George's account of what he saw outside Tulkinghorn's office on the night of the murder provides another suspect. He saw someone who looked like Esther coming down the stairs as he was going up them. It wasn't Esther, so who was it? Readers know Lady Dedlock was out on her own that night, and it has often been remarked by many characters that Esther looks a lot like Lady Dedlock. So was Lady Dedlock there, too? One other person has also been confused with Lady Dedlock: Jo mistook Hortense for his "veiled lady" until she pulled back the veil. Since he saw her figure and not her face, could George have seen the French woman instead? Readers have no idea what she has been up to since her angry encounter with Tulkinghorn in Chapter 42.

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