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Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Chapters 60–62 | Summary



Chapter 60

In Chapter 60 John Jarndyce tells Esther Summerson they will be staying in London so they can be near Ada Clare and keep tabs on Richard Carstone. Allan Woodcourt has been coming every morning to talk with Jarndyce; he is worried about Richard but does not think he is physically ill.

Jarndyce asks Mrs. Woodcourt to stay with them, and she accepts the invitation. He wonders how Esther likes her. She finds her less disagreeable this time than last but would still like her to leave. But Jarndyce says it's convenient for Allan Woodcourt; he can visit her often. Despite her misgivings, Esther agrees to let Mrs. Woodcourt stay longer. Esther asks whether Woodcourt has decided to try working abroad again, but Jarndyce thinks he won't. He thinks Woodcourt will get a position as a doctor for the poor in Yorkshire.

Richard is using Ada's money to pay for his lawyer, Mr. Vholes, and it is "melting away." Ada is quieter than she used to be, but "cheerful and hopeful." Miss Flite visits them every Monday evening. One Monday Esther meets Miss Flite leaving as Esther arrives. Miss Flite says Richard "has had a long day in court" and is still with Mr. Vholes, whom Miss Flite considers a "dangerous man." Miss Flite also confides to Esther that she has made Richard the executor of her will. Before Mr. Gridley's death, she had intended to appoint him. Also, Miss Flite has added two more birds to her collection and calls them the Wards in Jarndyce. She runs through the names of her birds, looking troubled. When Richard arrives a few minutes later, Mr. Vholes is with him, having been invited to dinner. While Richard and Ada see about the meal, Mr. Vholes talks with Esther about Richard. Esther has the impression Richard is "wasting away beneath the eyes of this adviser and [Vholes has] something of the vampire in him." Vholes tells Esther he considers Richard and Ada's marriage "ill-advised." As they eat, Esther observes Richard and finds his "youth and youthful beauty [has] all fallen away." He barely eats and is irritable. Shortly after dinner, Vholes returns to his office, and Richard says so often what a "good fellow" Vholes is that Esther thinks he has "begun to doubt" his lawyer.

Later Mr. Woodcourt joins them and takes Richard out for a walk, leaving Esther and Ada alone together. Ada says she married Richard thinking she might manage to convince him to stop following the Jarndyce case so closely; but even if she hadn't harbored that hope, she would still have married him. But now she thinks she may have something "with greater power than mine to show him his true course and win him back." She likes to think of a future when his daughter or son will take pride in Richard as a father. But sometimes she experiences a "dread ... that he may not live to see his child."

Chapter 61

Esther Summerson has seen Harold Skimpole several times when she visited Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. She worries he will take more money from Richard and his "careless gaiety [is] too inconsistent with ... the depths of Ada's life." Ada agrees. So Esther goes to Mr. Skimpole's to ask him to stop visiting the young couple. Before she can manage to state her request, he "anticipate[s] it," saying he goes nowhere where he will find pain for himself or cause it for others, so there is no reason for him to go there again. Oddly, he reduces the definition of pain to financial pain. Esther tells Skimpole she was "surprised to learn" he knew who took Jo away from Bleak House and "accepted a present on that occasion." She feels it was wrong "to betray [John Jarndyce's] confidence for a bribe." But Skimpole says he can't be bribed because he attaches no value to money and argues Bucket was "blamable" for offering him money; all he did was place his trust in Bucket and take it. He then walks Esther and Charley Neckett home.

This is the last time Esther sees Skimpole. His relationship with Jarndyce cools due to Skimpole's continuing to prey on Richard. Five years later Skimpole dies, leaving a diary that is published claiming he was a child victimized by society, including Jarndyce, whom he characterizes as "the incarnation of selfishness."

Richard's condition continues to worsen. Soon only Esther and Allan Woodcourt call on him and Ada. Sometimes Jarndyce meets Esther nearby and walks home with her. One night she is late leaving to meet Jarndyce; Woodcourt walks her to the meeting place, but Jarndyce is not there. They wait 30 minutes; then Woodcourt walks her home. When they arrive, both Jarndyce and Mrs. Woodcourt are out. Woodcourt seizes the opportunity to declare his love for Esther. All Esther can think is "too late." She tells him she "is not free to think of" his love because she is promised to Jarndyce. They say goodnight to each other and goodbye to any talk of a future together.

Chapter 62

Esther Summerson goes to her room, takes out John Jarndyce's proposal letter, and sleeps with it on her pillow. In the morning she tells her guardian she is ready to be "mistress of Bleak House" whenever he wants. He suggests "next month," and she agrees.

Mr. Bucket comes in at that moment; he has brought Grandfather Smallweed with him. Smallweed has taken over Krook's "premises" and has found something among the many papers there—"a paper with the signature of Jarndyce to it." It's a will, and Bucket recommended it be given "to this present Mr. Jarndyce" in the hope that "if it should prove to be valuable," Smallweed will receive a reward. Bucket insists Smallweed hand over the paper. It's "singed upon the outside and a little burnt at the edges, as if it had long ago been thrown upon a fire and hastily snatched off again." Jarndyce says he'll look into the value of the paper and reward Smallweed if it is warranted. Jarndyce doesn't look at the paper and doesn't intend to; he'll give it to his solicitor. Bucket leaves, taking Smallweed with him.

Jarndyce and Esther go to see Conversation Kenge and give him the paper. It is a valid will made later than any other in the case. Kenge sends William Guppy to fetch Mr. Vholes and then explains the will reduces John Jarndyce's inheritance and increases Ada Clare's and Richard Carstone's. Vholes arrives, and Kenge shows him the paper. The two men agree it is "a very remarkable document" and "will be an unexpected and interesting feature" when court resumes the following month.


Because Esther is writing her segments of the story years after the events, she already knows what is going on, but readers don't. The character generally tries to keep readers from knowing things she didn't know at the time the events took place. In Chapter 61 she makes an exception when she explains what will happen with Harold Skimpole. Not only does she say the friendship between him and Jarndyce will end, but she says he will die in five years and leave a diary saying how "selfish" Jarndyce and others were toward him. In this way, Esther can drop Skimpole from the rest of the novel. Since he has no role in the events, this makes sense. But readers would wonder about him if he just disappeared, so Dickens makes sure they have that information to wrap up loose ends. Also, the information Esther gives confirms what she, Mr. Bucket, and readers already know—Skimpole is completely self-centered and cares nothing for others. In fact, he doesn't even like other people; he just uses them. Anyone who tries to get him to take any responsibility becomes "selfish."

Esther's opening to Chapter 60 is more typical. She says Mr. Jarndyce has invited Mrs. Woodcourt to stay with them in London. It seems an odd thing for him to do especially since Esther has just lost her mother and is ill from the shock and probably from the physical and mental stress of the hunt for Lady Dedlock. After all, Esther and Mrs. Woodcourt didn't particularly get along before. Moreover, they have no particular relationship. Still she does say they're getting along better now, and Jarndyce says Mrs. Woodcourt is fond of Esther. Perhaps he invited her because Allan Woodcourt spends a lot of time there; he says he sees Woodcourt every morning. But if that's the reason, why doesn't Esther the narrator say so? She's being secretive for some reason, which is often the case where Woodcourt is concerned. It sounds like Jarndyce has arranged for Woodcourt to get a job offer in Yorkshire, a poor region well north of London and St. Albans, although again Esther doesn't say this explicitly.

Then in Chapter 61 something very atypical happens. Jarndyce arranges to meet Esther to walk her home from Ada and Richard's but doesn't turn up. This means Woodcourt has to walk her home. When they arrive, both Jarndyce and Mrs. Woodcourt are out, and the two young people are alone. Where is Charley Neckett? Apparently she is out also or has gone to bed early. This gives Allan the opportunity to declare his love for Esther. Of course she is engaged to Jarndyce and can't officially return his love no matter how much she wants to. In all of this, Esther does not express any concern about Jarndyce standing her up; nor does she worry about him or anyone else in the household. She knows the future, and readers can guess this was a setup arranged by Jarndyce to leave Esther and Allan alone together. At the end of the chapter, Esther cries and says it is out of the "triumph" of hearing him say he loves her. Is she kidding herself when she says her path will be easier than his? Or is she—typically—trying to buck herself up and put aside her sorrow?

In the morning Esther finally pushes Jarndyce to set a date for her to become "mistress of Bleak House," and he does. They agree to marry in a month. At no point do they begin to use first names, as would be normal between an engaged couple. Nor do they share a romantic kiss. It's a very odd way for a man in love to act. Yet, he does love her; both readers and Esther suspected that long before he proposed.

Jarndyce is consistent in one thing, anyway—his refusal to become involved with the Jarndyce case. He won't even read the paper Smallweed discovers. When Kenge says the will leaves him less and his two young cousins more, he is perfectly content; he would be content to inherit nothing to benefit Richard and Ada. This is the generous, open-hearted John Jarndyce readers know.

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