Bleak House

Bleak House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 57-59


Bucket and Esther search in vain for Lady Dedlock. They stop at the police station and go through the docks, looking for her. At St Alban's they learn, in a tea shop, that a woman like Lady Dedlock has passed on ahead.

As they search for Lady Dedlock, Esther and Bucket discuss the plot. A further mystery is cleared up when Bucket admits that he removed Jo from Bleak House stables to keep Lady Dedlock's secret quiet. Also, Esther learns that Skimpole accepted a bribe to help Bucket.

They look for Jenny, who they think might have seen Lady Dedlock. Jenny redirects them back into the city of London.

Meanwhile, Sir Leicester waits, ill in bed, for the return of Lady Dedlock. He repeatedly says that they are on "unaltered terms," and that he wants her back no matter what. The fashionable gossip is in a flurry about the Dedlocks.

George Rouncewell comes back to the Dedlock house to see his mother, and helps greatly with Sir Leicester. They remember being much younger men at Chesney Wold together, and there is a kind of friendship between them. George is employed in helping Sir Leicester move, get up, and generally "patrol" the house, waiting for Lady Dedlock's return. Mrs. Rouncewell fortells that Lady Dedlock will never return.

In Chapter 59, Esther and Bucket rush back to London in the middle of the night They search the poorer streets of London, but they pass into Chancery lane and meet, serendipidously, Allan Woodcourt, who has been tending to Richard (Richard is not considered ill, simply tired and drawn). Bucket takes them to Snagsby's, to get a letter from Guster.

Allan fetches the letter from Guster, who, predictaby, is having a fit. The detective, who has become the voice of reason for all people, now lectures Mrs. Snagsby on the futility of being jealous of Mr. Snagsby. The letter obtained, Esther reads that her mother has chosen the place she wants to die. Guster says she had met a very ill-dressed woman (Lady Dedlock in Jenny's clothes) who asked to find the pauper's burying ground where Nemo was laid to rest.

Bucket and Esther rush to the gate of the burying ground, and find a body that looks like Jenny's. However, is is Lady Dedlock, already dead. Esther is unbelieving at first, but she must believe when she turns the face to her and sees it is her mother's.


This is a typical ride-to-the-rescue Victorian plot device, but the rescuers arrive too late. Esther is dragged about by the kindly Bucket, giving Dickens the opportunity both to sustain suspense over three chapters and to reveal many mysteries through their conversation: how Bucket solved the murder, how he has been quietly influencing events for a long time (like the removal of Jo), etc. Through these revelations, Skimpole is exposed again as a heartless sponger, and Bucket is set up as a fount of wisdom about humankind.

Sir Leicester has a touching, but restrained, reunion with George, and the remembrance of them both as younger men comforts him. Sir Leicester has made the biggest transformation of any character in the novel, from bigoted and hidebound aristocrat to loving, infirm, forgiving husband. George finally seems to feel at home, and has hope for his own life for the first time in ages. He has never been a man of the city, truly, as he told Phil Squod back in the shooting gallery, and would like very much to go back to the country.

Yet another Dickensian coincidence occurs as Allan shows up at just the right moment moves the plot along. Guster, however, as a main character in an important plot point is a surprise. It is to be hoped that Bucket's advice to Mrs. Snagsby will be heeded.

The finding of Lady Dedlock already dead is a forgone conclusion. She had essentially committed suicide by exposure, out of shame and despair. Esther is at once moved and saddened, but one cannot help thinking that perhaps she saw her mother as selfish. She could have lived and been some kind of mother to Esther, if she had chosen.

Indeed, her death is to a great degree unnecessary, as she is wholly exonorated of murder and wholly forgiven by Sir Leicester at the time. We wonder whether Lady Dedlock is driven as much by an unrelenting draw toward tragedy -- a personal need to suffer, die, and escape the burdens of her stoic front -- as by actual pressures of shame and disgrace. Her death, ironically, seems somewhat selfish in this light: a final melodramatic escape to cap a life of steely, staged, miserable restraint. It thus mirrors to some degree Krook's spontaneous combustion.

Dickens wraps up this part of the story, with its confusing story threads, admirably. We are left with Esther's loss of her mother, and the only suspense left (except he romantic suspense concerning Jarndyce and Woodcourt) is in how Esther will bear it.