Bleak House

Bleak House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-7


Caddy Jellyby has spent the night in Esther and Ada's room, sleeping near Esther in a fit of despair. Before breakfast, she proposes a walk, and all the young people agree. Esther again shows kindness to Peepy, washing him and putting him to sleep in her bed. Esther, Ada, Caddy, and Richard take their first walk about London.

They soon meet Miss Flite again, who begs them to come to her lodgings. They go and visit Krook's rag-and-bottle shop, above which is Miss Flite's room. As they enter, Esther sees a legal handwritten advertisement for Mr. Nemo, requesting work as a law writer (copyist). Neither Esther nor we yet know it, but she is looking at the handwriting of her father and entering the house where he lives.

The group meets Mr. Krook, who is obsessed with Chancery documents. He rambles on about the Jarndyce suit, mentioning the names Barbary, Clare, and Dedlock, giving Esther, unaware, two more names of her mysterious parentage. They see Miss Flite's bare and sad room, and Richard surreptitiously leaves some money for her. They return to the Jellyby house, much affected by the sad states to which Chancery can reduce people.

In Chapter 6, the long awaited meeting with Mr. Jarndyce happens at his home, Bleak House. He is described as a handsome, robust man in his 50s -- exceedingly kindly, genteel, and self-effacing. He has a little quirk of mentioning the "east wind" whenever something he doesn't like is brought up. The three young people instantly like and feel affection for their mutual benefactor.

A "perfect child" is abruptly introduced -- the parasitic poet, Mr. Skimpole. The three young people are instantly brought into his inbroglios when the bailiff, a man called Neckett, arrives and demands payment of a debt. Richard and Esther come to the rescue, and, upon learning of it, Mr. Jarndyce warns them not to give money to Skimpole.

At the end of the day, Esther is given the keys to the household, the mark of the housekeeper of Bleak House. She is excited and honored to have this position. She sets up residence in a room adjoining Ada's, with a sitting room in between, and everything in the house is to the young people's liking.

Chapter 7 is back in Chesney Wold. Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock have left for Paris. The rain continues, and Mrs. Rouncewell, the aged housekeeper, is introduced. She is instructing a young village girl of considerable beauty in the ways of housekeeping and maid's work in a great house. Mrs. Rouncewell's grandson, Watt, who loves Rosa, is visiting.

In the midst of the rain a couple of visitors come to see the house, but are told it "isn't the day". They persist, and are admitted, by using Mr. Tulkinghorn's name. Mr. Guppy and his friend are brought through the house, and Mr. Guppy admires a portrait of Lady Dedlock. He exclaims that he must have seen the subject somewhere before. Guppy, who had met Esther Summerson briefly in London at Kenge and Carboy's, is unconsciously remembering Lady Dedlock's resemblence to Esther. Guppy leaves a bit perplexed.

Mrs. Rouncewell had refused to tell the family ghost story, but now recounts it to her grandson and her charge, Rosa. The Ghost's Walk is a terraced walk outside the house, and an eerie footstep is often heard echoing from it. It is supposed that two hundred years ago, a previous Lady Dedlock had sabotaged horses meant for Cavaliers fighting Cromwellian forces. She had lamed them, and, upon being discovered, was lamed herself by her husband in a struggle. She was limping on the terrace and fell and died, and she vowed to haunt the terrace until "the pride of the house is tumbled." Watt and Rosa can still hear the phantom footsteps.


The coincidence of Esther arriving at the home of her unknown father on her only day in London is an extraordinarily bold plot device by Dickens. The fact that the extreme unlikelihood of this event occurring is made more plausible by the fact that the reader does not know that Nemo is Esther's father, and neither are his lodging or his occupation known. The smaller coincidence, of Krook rattling off three important names in the Jarndyce suit, which are also important names to Esther (namely Clare, which is Ada's name; Barbary, which is Esther's unknown mother's maiden name; and Dedlock, which is the said mother's married name) is also softened, since the reader and Esther do not know the significance of the names Barbary and Dedlock yet. This sort of blatantly unlikely plot manipulation is easily assimilated by the reader hundreds of pages later, and the coincidence does not seem so unlikely. It is neatly done. The visit to Miss Flite's sad little room is more significant to Esther than she will know for some time.

Dickens also firmly emphasizes Esther's female virtues by her tender kindnesses to the pathetic Peepy. Dickens returns to the neglected boy, which is a perhaps a recollection of himself during the hard times in his childhood, in the person of Jo later on in the novel. The neglected boys are signs for all the neglected and misused people of England, and are exceedingly affecting portraits to the reader because they are so well-drawn and believable.

Krook's shop is meant to be an almost completely undisguised symbol of the Court of Chancery. Krook is even called jocularly the Lord High Chancellor by his neighbors, because of his obsession with documents and the vast disorderedness of his shop. "All's fish that comes to my net" Krook says, and things go into Krook's shop and never come out. This tendency to swallow documents and lives captures exactly Dickens' commentary on the useless consumption and lack of justice in Chancery.

Miss Flite's little birds are introduced but not yet named, and her extreme poverty is shown as another wasteful result of the whole Chancery system. In this episode in Krook's shop, too, we learn of John Jarndyce's cousin Tom's suicide over the Jarndyce suit.

In Chapter 6, Bleak House becomes a haven of rest, order, and happiness. The young people are very glad to have found their benefactor and his home to be so inviting and agreeable. But even within the happiness and order of Bleak House an evil resides -- Mr. Skimpole, who appears to be most charming and amusing, raises the spectre of vice and parasitism, waste and selfishness that has been so evident in the descriptions of Chancery. Even in the best of British homes an evil can lurk, Dickens seems to say.

In Chapter 7 at Chesney Wold, the history of the Dedlocks is slightly illuminated. The past baronet appears to have been cruel to his wife, who in her own turn betrayed him, so the reader wonders if there is a parallel with the present baronet and his wife. The fantastic story of the Ghost's Walk is effectively told, in the darkening house on a rainy day.

Another clue as to the interconnectedness of Esther with the Dedlocks and the Chancery suit is dropped when Guppy has a moment of recognition with the portrait of Lady Dedlock. The reader is left hanging as to what the significance of that could be, for the reader doesn't know the exact age of Lady Dedlock, the but the possibility is tantalizingly dangled. Guppy is enforced as an unintentionally rude, lower-middle-class character who tries to be polite, but is nevertheless earnest, clever, and unfailingly honest and direct. He is a good foil to the machinations of Tulkinghorn, the stoicism of Lady Dedlock, and the rigidity of Sir Leicester and even of the good Mrs. Rouncewell.

The recounting of the ghost story sets the stage for a significant event which takes place on the Ghost's Walk, and also gives a feeling of impending doom.