Bleak House

Bleak House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-10


Esther and Mr. Jarndyce discuss the Chancery suit, and Esther leans that it is a hopeless muddle, and anything left of the great fortune disputed within it has been consumed by legal costs. The story of Tom Jarndyce is related again; we learn that Bleak House, once called Peaks, took its name during Tom Jarndyce's lifetime because he allowed it to go to rack and ruin. The street of houses in London, which we will learn later is called Tom-all-Alone's, is part of the suit also. Esther learns that Mr. Jarndyce, who begs her to call him Guardian, has a little room he retreats to when he is out of sorts called "The Growlery."

Mrs. Pardiggle and her five miserable sons arrive for a visit. Mrs. Pardiggle is a country version of Mrs. Jellyby, another obsessive and misguided philanthropist who neglects her children in favor of a fashionable charity. She takes the young people to a brickmaker's hovel in the village, and there Ada and Esther witness not only the lives of poverty and filth and despair that the people there live, but also the death of the brickmaker's baby in his mother's (Jenny) lap. The girls are much moved, and Esther significantly covers the tiny corpse with her handkerchief. The young ladies are moved by the downtrodden, beaten brickmakers' wives (Jenny and Liz) comforting each other, and it is contrasted with their bluster and ineffectual do-gooding. They come back later to comfort Jenny.

In Chapter 9 Richard is unsure what to do with his life. Esther and Jarndyce had discussed what he should do for a profession, and the two agree that to ask him what he would like to do would be best. But Richard cannot decide, and it becomes apparent that the spectre of the Chancery suit, though he claims to ignore it, holds a psychic hold on him.

Mr. Boythorn has written Mr. Jandyce a letter, and he is coming for a visit. He arrives and proves to be a boisterous and agreeable companion. We learn that he was once to have been married, but his fiance "died to him." The dispute over the right-of-way between Sir Leicester Dedlock and Boythorn, who are neighbors, is introduced, and Boythorn is voluble in his criticism of the baronet. However, Boythorn is fond of Lady Dedlock.

Mr. Jarndyce writes to Sir Leicester Dedlock, who is a distant relative of Richard, to ask with help placing Richard in the world. He receives no likely help from that quarter.

It becomes obvious to Esther that Ada and Richard have fallen in love. Mr. Guppy arrives at Bleak House on an errand for Kenge and Carboy's. He proposes marriage to Esther, who firmly rejects him.

In Chapter 10 Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby and their law-stationery shop in London are described. Mrs. Snagsby is an awful termagent, and Mr. Snagsby is timid and cowed. They have a maid, Guster, who is prone to fits. It is a pathetic description, for Mr. Snagsby appears to be a decent man.

Mr. Tulkinghorn's London lodgings are described, where "lawyers lie like maggots in nuts". Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to Snagsby's shop to find out who copied out the paper of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in which Lady Dedlock took such an interest. The Coavinses sherrif's officers (bailiff's -- repossesion agents) offices, the firm in which Neckett the debt-collector for Skimpole employed, are nearby.

Mr. Snagsby informs Mr. Tulkinghorn that a man called Nemo (the Latin for "no one"), who lives above Krook's shop, is the copyist. Mr. Snagsby brings Mr. Tulkinghorn to Krook's shop, and Mr. Tulkinghorn goes up to Nemo's room, where he finds him lying on the bed with the scent of opium in the shabby room.


We find Esther settled comfortably at Bleak House, and exploring the possible directions of the four denizens therein. An agreeable pattern of life is established, contrasting with the insitutional paralysis of Chancery and the dreary comfort of the Dedlocks. This peace, however, is soon unsettled by the intrusion of the ("good lady" though Jarndyce calls her) misguided Mrs. Pardiggle. Her introduction serves the novel's themes and plot both, as Esther sees the sadness of poverty and of infant death while, unbeknownst to her, her handkerchief plays a future plot role. Esther even foreshadows a bit when she says that the handkerchief was going to end up in someone else's bosom, rather than over the dead baby. This leads the reader to wondering who that would be.

The discussion of the Chancery suit in juxtaposition with the talk of Richard's future foreshadows Richard's ultimate doom. It is clear that he is has undirected motivations other than his love for Ada.

Mrs. Pardiggle parallels Mrs. Jellyby almost exactly, just in a different setting. Her miserable children are not as attractive, however, as Peepy and Caddy Jellyby. Mr Boythorn is a welcome change from Mrs. Pardiggle, and, in addition to providing diversion, he is yet another coincidental connection to the Dedlock household.

Tulkinghorn and Snagsby's obsession with documents contrasts strongly with the concerns of Esther and Jarndyce, who try remove themselves from the legal world of "signs and tokens" and concentrate on physical, daily, homey realities. This sets up a sort of dualism: "documents" and "signs" on the one hand; domesticity and empathy on the other. The most extreme representative of the first category is probably Nemo, whose very name ("no one") alludes to a total break with reality and a total absorption into the labyrinth of legalese and documents. The aimless stupor of his life, copying and re-copying meaningless and useless legal reports, becomes concrete in his use of opium, which he purchases with the money he earns through copying. This London world of documents, drugs, and poverty (with its apex in the cold splendor of Tulkinghorn's lodging and offices) is the opposite of the country world that Esther and Jarndyce inhabit. No points for guessing which world Dickens prefers.