Bleak House

Bleak House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-19


Richard decides against the medical profession, and proposes to go into the law. He is would like to go into apprenticeship at Kenge and Carboy's, but his motivation is to keep an eye on "the forbidden ground" of his Chancery suit, rather than any deep desire for a career as a solicitor. He is also profligate with his money.

Mr. Jarndyce and Esther discuss her past, namely her godmother. Jarndyce doesn't claim to know her godmother, simply stating that he responded to her letter requesting that he become her guardian after her death. Esther is so overcome with gratitude, that she calls Jarndyce "Father", which troubles him.

In Chapter 18, Richard begins at Kenge and Carboy's. The rest of the party leave him in London, and go to visit Mr. Boythorn at his place down in Lincolnshire, which neighbors the Dedlocks' estate.

When the party goes to church, Esther sees not only Rosa, Mrs. Rouncewell, and Mademoiselle Hortense, but also Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock. Esther seems to recognize Lady Dedlock's face, and wonders at the resemblance to her godmother's face. She also vaguely realizes that Lady Dedlock's face resembles her own when seen in the mirror.

Later, Esther, Ada, and John Jarndyce then go for a walk and take refuge in a gamekeeper's lodge when it rains. Lady Dedlock is already there, and Esther experiences another weird feeling upon meeting Lady Dedlock. Lady Dedlock and John Jarndyce are old acquaintances, but it appears Mr. Jarndyce was actually closer to Lady Dedlock's sister. They discuss Lady Dedlock's sister's death, as she "died in retirement." Esther admires Lady Dedlock's beauty and imperious manner. Lady Dedlock is kind and graceful to Ada, but gives not very much attention to Esther.

When the rain stops, both Rosa and Mademoiselle Hortense arrive to attend their mistress. Lady Dedlock slights Hortense by preferring Rosa over her, and Hortense takes her revenge by walking shoeless back to the house over the wet grass. Ada, Esther, and Jarndyce find this very curious, but the gamekeeper and his wife assure them that Hortense is not mad, only "passionate".

Chapter 19 takes place in the summertime in London, during the "long vacation" of the court. Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby have the minister Mr. Chadband and his wife to their house. Outside, an altercation takes place between Jo and a policeman, who is trying to make Jo "move on".

Mr. Guppy, at a loose end during the heat and long vacation, arrives and takes an interest in the proceedings. Money is found on Jo, and he explains that it the change left over from the sovereign given to him by the veiled lady. He explains that she said she was a servant, but acted like a lady, and she inquired into the places put in the newspaper about Nemo's lodging, work, and where he was buried. Once Jo had been employed to show her these things, she gave him the coin and disappeared. Guppy is most interested in this story.

Mr. and Mrs. Chadband meet Guppy, and learn he is in Kenge and Carboy's employ. Mrs. Chadband, who used to be Mrs. Rachael, tells Guppy that she used to be housekeeper for the godmother of Esther Summerson, whose wardship was handled by Kenge and Carboy's. Guppy is intrigued, for it is this same Miss Summerson that he now loves.

Jo is given a little food and a penny, and told to move on. He leaves and goes to sit on the pavement to eat it, and is told to "move on" again.


Richard's decline is becoming more and more obvious. The fact that Ada does not have the either the intelligence or the necessary boldness to counsel Richard against pursuing the matter of Jarndyce and Jarndyce leads us to believe that either Ada is not a very strong character, or has a slight inner inclination toward greed (in that his solving the Jarndyce suit in his favor would benefit her, too). His tenure in Kenge and Carboy's can only bring sorrow, we are lead to believe.

The mystery of Esther's parentage deepens as we learn that Jarndyce, though he claims no knowledge of it, dislikes being called "Father" by Esther. Is this because he is actually her father, or because he knows who her father is? The fact that it is because he loves her in a romantic way is not yet revealed.

The two meetings with Lady Dedlock produce such strange feelings in Esther that there can now be no doubt that the two are closely linked in some way. The cryptic discussion of Lady Dedlock's sister opens the door to speculation if that woman could be Esther's godmother/aunt, and, possibly Esther's mother.

The strange reaction of Hortense to Lady Dedlock's slight is a direct foreshadowing of the revenge she will take later on in the story. Hortense is portrayed as almost maniacally jealous, and with reactions to negative emotions that are separate and different than what most people would expect. By this means, with the added fact of ther foreign birth, Dickens separates her from the rest of humankind. Later, this will give the reader the feeling of a comfortable "Other," when it is revealed that she is Tulkinghorn's murderer.

At the Snagsby's, the black comedy of Guster and the Chadbands shows the artifice and hypocrisy of so much of middle class life. Mrs. Snagsby tries hard to impress the minister and his wife, and is interrupted by her poor maid Guster's "fits." The lack of real concern that the people (other than Mr. Snagsby) have for Jo renders ironic the florid sermonizing done by Mr. Chadband. Mr. Chadband, though seemingly only a plot device to bring Mrs. Chadband, the former Mrs. Rachael, into the picture, is another example of the bad father (like the brickmaker, Mr. Skimpole, and Mr. Turveydrop), though he is a father of the spiritual kind.