Bleak House

Bleak House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 20-22


Continuing in London during the long vacation, Mr. Guppy and Richard Carstone work alone in the offies at Kenge and Carboy's. As Guppy is very suspicious of anyone who enters into the employ of his firm, he instantly dislikes and surveils Richard. But Richard only spends his time on Jarndyce & Jarndyce, and since Guppy knows that is a fruitless pursuit, he is somewhat comforted.

Bart Smallweed is introduced, a 15 year old boy about the law offices, who very much wishes to be a clerk like Mr. Guppy. Guppy is somewhat indulgent of his small, strange admirer. Mr. Jobling, an unemployed law writer, is entertained by Guppy, with Bart, at a restaurant, where they discuss Jobling's lodging prospects, and Bart shows stupendous alacrity at adding up sums of money.

The party goes to Krook's where the old man is placated with liquor, and the room that Nemo formerly occupied is examined and found acceptable. Krook has cleaned it and put some furniture in it. The fact that Jobling (also called Tony, and Mr. Weevle for some reason by Guppy to Krook) is connected with Kenge and Carboy's through Guppy and the Jarndyce case is enough to recommend him as a lodger.

Chapter 21 takes place in the Smallweed household in an "ill-favoured" part of London. The family consists of Grandfather Smallweed, a paralytic usurer, Grandmother Smallweed, somewhat of an imbecile, and the twins Bart and Judy, their grandchildren. The entire famiy is grasping, greedy, untutored in any of the finer arts, violent and vulgar.

Into this house the young girl Charley Neckett has been brought to be a maid, and she is sorely overworked and maltreated. She is given the leftover slops for her tea, and generally considered to be a slave to be squeezed for every bit of work possible.

A visitor arrives, Mr. George Rouncewell, who is making a payment on a debt he owes to Grandfather Smallweed. Mr. Smallweed is a usurer, and the interest on the debt is very high. Mr. George, a bluff, hearty ex-soldier, is polite enough but his disdain for the grasping and sordid family is obvious. With him is Phil Squod, his very loyal servant in the shooting gallery that he runs. Phil is odd and disfigured, but we are to understand that he is a good man, like his master.

Mr. George, after attending a play, returns to his place of business, George's Shooting Gallery. We learn that Phil Squod was a foundling, left in gutter as a baby.

In Chapter 22, Mr Tulkinhorn dines in his rooms with Mr. Snagsby, who is concious of the honor. Mr. Bucket, a police Inspector, is lurking in the shadows of the room

(at Tulkinhorn's request), and comes forward to hear the story that Jo related to Mr. Snagsby about the veiled lady.

Mr. Bucket erroneously believes that some money was due to Mr. Nemo, and the "female," as he calls her, was up to some kind of fraud or larceny to get that money.

Mr. Bucket takes Mr. Snagsby down to Tom-all-Alone's to find Jo. There they meet the two brickmakers' wives from St Alban's, Jenny and Liz, and Jenny holds Liz's new baby in her arms. Mr. Bucket admires the young child, and they discuss how Jenny's baby had died. Liz despairs, however, of any chance for her own child, since he will be beaten by his father, and see his mother beaten, and become hard. There is a pathetic scene where Snagsby fancies that the brickmaker's baby is very like the Christ child with the halo around his head. The world has gotten no better for these two battered women.

Jo arrives, standing in a similar halo of light in the doorway. He fears he will be taken in for some crime, but Mr. Snagsby assures him that it is only a "job that he will be paid for." Snagsby gives him a half a crown, and they take him to Tulkinghorn's office.

Immediately upon entering the office Jo believes the he sees the veiled lady. He knows the veil and the dress she is wearing. But when the lady speaks and Jo sees her hands he changes his mind, and says she is not the lady. The disguised Lady is Mademoiselle Hortense, who has been dismissed by Lady Dedlock in favor of Rosa. Mademoiselle Hortense reminds Tulkinghorn that she no longer has a position, and extracts his recommendation for her, and then leaves. Snagsby goes home confused, and Jo is paid 5 shillings by Bucket and goes home.


The ominious obsession of Richard and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case increases, with the dusty silence and heat of the long vacation intensifying the feeling of impending doom. Guppy consorts with other young men of the law, and through him we learn of the Smallweed family.

The Smallweeds are another completely dysfunctional family, but rather than being spoiled by philanthropy they are spoiled by greed. Grandfather Smallweed is a vicious man who rules his family and household hard. Mr. George is, while a strong and healthy man, still a victim of not only the society which causes him to have to borrow money, but also the ruinous interest of Smallweed. Phil Squod is an adult parallel of Jo -- a foundling who, while disfigured, has found a kind of family with Mr. George, and a place to live and work.

The strange episode of Tulkinghorn with the lady's maid is still cryptic to the reader, but when Jo recognizes the dress the reader is lead to believe that, when dismissed by Lady Dedlock, out of revenge Mademoiselle Hortense goes to Tulkinghorn to tell him of the disguise that Lady Dedlock wore to do her errand with Jo. Jo's recognition of the clothing confirms it.

The pathetic scene in Tom-all-Alone's is a continuation of the one begun in St Alban's. Liz has a baby now, to which Jenny transfers her affections because her own baby died. The hopelessness of their lives, the brutishness of their husbands, and the utter lack of prospects for their children is fully illustrated in a few words of conversation with the not-unsympathetic Bucket.

Dickens is slowly springing the trap that Tulkinghorn has lain for Lady Dedlock. He has had two wisps of suspicion now -- the interest in the handwriting, and the faint possibility of a recognition when she passed him in the street, veiled, but up until now Tulkinghorn has had no proof. It is clear that Tulkinghorn doesn't yet know what Lady Dedlock's secret is, but he is definitely aware that she has a secret. Since he is so contemplative and tenacious, there is no doubt in the reader that he will discover it.