Bleak House – Chapters 26–30

Summary: Chapter 26, “Sharpshooters”
The narrator describes George of the shooting gallery
and his servant, Phil, getting ready for their day. George asks
Phil if he dreamed of the country that night, and Phil says yes.
George tells him that he himself was born and raised in the country.
Phil asks if George’s mother is dead, and George says no, then changes
the subject. George asks Phil how old he is, but Phil doesn’t know.
The two men reminisce about how they met, when George rescued the
crippled Phil from the street.
Grandfather Smallweed and Judy visit George. Grandfather Smallweed
is alarmed by Phil’s handling of the guns in the gallery. He reminds
George that George owes him money. George gets out a pipe and lights
it, distracting Grandfather Smallweed. Then Smallweed tells him
that his friend in the city, Carstone, has done some business with
a student of George’s. George suggests that his friend avoid any
future dealings in that area, and that he thinks the friend has
come to a “dead halt.” Smallweed says that Carstone is still good
for something.
Smallweed then mentions a man named Captain Hawdon and claims
that he’s not dead. A lawyer has been asking about him, requesting
some of Hawdon’s handwriting so he can compare it to some writing
he already has. Smallweed says he has only Hawdon’s signature and
asks George if he has any of Hawdon’s writing that’s more substantial.
George says that he wouldn’t give it to Smallweed even if he did
have some, which he may or may not. Smallweed suggests George visit
the lawyer for himself, and George agrees.
Summary: Chapter 27, “More Old Soldiers than One”
The group arrives at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where they
visit Mr. Tulkinghorn. George sees that Sir Leicester Dedlock is
one of Tulkinghorn’s clients. Tulkinghorn explains to George that
since George once served under Captain Hawdon and was a friend,
he thought George might have some of Hawdon’s handwriting. He will
reward George for anything he provides. George seems troubled and
says he wants nothing to do with any of this. Tulkinghorn refuses
to explain why he wants the handwriting. George says he’ll consult
a soldier friend of his about the matter. Privately, Smallweed tells
Tulkinghorn that he saw George slip some handwriting into his pocket.
George visits Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet in their musical instrument shop.
He greets their two daughters, Quebec and Malta, and asks after
their son, Woolwich. When Mr. Bagnet comes home, they all have dinner.
Later, George tells the Bagnets what’s going on. They tell him to
have nothing to do with it. On his way home, George stops at Tulkinghorn’s
and says that he hasn’t changed his mind. Tulkinghorn asks George
if Gridley was found in his shooting gallery, and George says yes.
Tulkinghorn declares that Gridley was “threatening, murderous, dangerous.”
A clerk who is coming up the stairs hears Tulkinghorn and, seeing
George walk down the stairs, thinks the words are being directed
at him.
Summary, Chapter 28, “The Ironmaster”
The narrator says that Sir Leicester Dedlock, great as
he is, has poor relatives, all of whom are his cousins. Several
of them visit Chesney Wold, which Sir Leicester Dedlock endures
uncomplainingly. One cousin currently staying at Chesney Wold is
Volumnia Dedlock, who is sixty years old and usually receives financial
support from Sir Leicester Dedlock. The narrator also describes
the Honourable Bob Stables, who makes food for livestock. All the
poor cousins who visit revere Lady Dedlock.
One evening, Volumnia mentions that she frequently sees
a pretty girl on the stairs. Sir Leicester says it is Lady Dedlock’s
protégée, Rosa. Volumnia then compliments the housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell.
Sir Leicester tells Volumnia that Mrs. Rouncewell has two sons.
He says that Mr. Tulkinghorn told him that one of Mrs. Rouncewell’s
sons was invited into Parliament but declined. Sir Leicester says
that Mr. Rouncewell is called an “ironmaster.” He tells Lady Dedlock
that this man has requested to speak with them about Rosa.
Mr. Rouncewell comes in. He says that his son is in love
with Rosa and wants to propose marriage. Mr. Rouncewell thinks they are
much too young, but he says that if he does give his consent, Rosa
must leave Chesney Wold. He explains that he isn’t ashamed of Rosa’s
position there, but that he doesn’t want his son to make an unequal
marriage and would want to educate Rosa first. Sir Leicester is
insulted, since Rosa has attended a school he supports. He tells Mr.
Rouncewell that the decision is his to make. Mr. Rouncewell says
he will try to get his son to forget about Rosa.
Later, Lady Dedlock asks Rosa if she is in love. Rosa
says yes and begins to cry. Lady Dedlock comforts her and suggests
she isn’t yet ready to leave Chesney Wold, and Rosa agrees. Lady
Dedlock tells Rosa that she’ll make her happy.
Summary: Chapter 29, “The Young Man”
Chesney Wold is shut up, and the Dedlocks go to their
house in town. Tulkinghorn visits frequently, and the narrator suggests
that Lady Dedlock is afraid of him. One day, Mr. Guppy visits. Sir Leicester
finds out that Lady Dedlock has told Guppy he can visit when he
wants. He leaves Guppy and Lady Dedlock alone. Guppy has apparently
written many letters to Lady Dedlock, and she has finally agreed
to see him. He tells her that he works for Kenge and Carboy, which
is connected to the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, but that he isn’t
here about that. He says that if he had Jarndyce and Jarndyce matters
to discuss, he would have gone to Tulkinghorn, with whom he is acquainted.
This gets Lady Dedlock’s attention.
Guppy requests that Lady Dedlock not complain of this
visit to Kenge and Carboy to Tulkinghorn, and she agrees. He then
asks if Lady Dedlock knows Esther Summerson, and she says she met Esther
last fall. Guppy asks if Esther reminded her of any of her relatives.
Lady Dedlock says no but doesn’t take her eyes off Guppy as he speaks.
Guppy persists and says that he sees a strong resemblance between
Esther and Lady Dedlock—he saw Lady Dedlock’s portrait at Chesney
Wold.
Guppy then says that Esther’s birth and upbringing are
mysteries, and that he hopes to somehow prove that she is part of
Lady Dedlock’s family so that she can be made a party to Jarndyce
and Jarndyce. He is doing all this to try to get Esther to reconsider
his marriage proposal. He tells Lady Dedlock that he has found out
that Esther’s guardian before Mr. Jarndyce was a Miss Barbary.
Lady Dedlock turns pale. She says she did once know a
Miss Barbary, but that, to her knowledge, there was no family connection. Guppy
says that although Miss Barbary said very little, she did tell Esther
that her real name is Esther Hawdon. Lady Dedlock is shocked but
covers it quickly. She says she never heard the name Hawdon. Guppy
then says that the lodger who was found dead at Krook’s was named
Hawdon. After the death, a strange woman followed a young boy to
Hawdon’s grave. Guppy asks if Lady Dedlock would like to see the
boy; she says no. He remarks on the boy’s observation that the woman
had many rings on her fingers. The narrator says that Lady Dedlock
is wearing many diamond rings. Finally, Guppy says that Hawdon left
behind some letters, which he will obtain tomorrow. If the letters
connect Lady Dedlock to all of this, he will bring them to her.
He leaves.
Lady Dedlock falls to her knees. She realizes that Esther
is her daughter, who her sister told her had died at birth.
Summary: Chapter 30, “Esther’s Narrative”
Esther says that a lady named Mrs. Woodcourt has come
to stay for a few days at Bleak House. Mrs. Woodcourt quickly befriends Esther,
which Esther finds annoying. Esther claims not to really know why
she finds her so annoying. Then she says that she does know why,
but that it doesn’t matter. Mrs. Woodcourt tells Esther all about
her son, Allan, and his marriage prospects. She predicts that Esther
will marry someone rich and much older. This all makes Esther uncomfortable,
and sometimes she suspects Mrs. Woodcourt of being “cunning.” Esther
then digresses and wonders why it was so annoying to talk to Mrs.
Woodcourt and yet at the same time wonders why it’s so important
to her that Mrs. Woodcourt like her. She says she’ll explain all
this eventually.
When Mrs. Woodcourt leaves, Caddy Jellyby visits. Caddy
says she is getting married in a month. She and Esther agree that
Caddy should stay at Bleak House for a few weeks so Esther and Ada
can help her make a dress. Esther also helps Caddy learn housekeeping. After
three weeks, Esther goes to stay with Caddy at her new home for
a week. Esther must convince Mrs. Jellyby that the marriage is really
happening and that she must find something to wear. Esther and Caddy
try to clean the Jellyby home, which proves to be a daunting task.
Mr. Jellyby tells Caddy never to have a mission.
The wedding guests include Mr. Jarndyce, the Pardiggles,
Mr. Quayle, and Mr. Quayle’s fiancée, Miss Wisk. Mr. Jarndyce says that
Miss Wisk’s mission is to prove that the only true mission is to make
grand, public resolutions. Miss Wisk also claims that to say that
a woman’s mission is only in the domestic realm is “slander.” Esther
observes that no one with a mission cares for anyone else’s mission.
The wedding complete, Caddy and Prince go on a weeklong vacation.
Mr. Jarndyce and Esther hope the marriage will be successful.
Analysis: Chapters 26–30
The death of Krook’s lodger resurfaces in chapters 26, 27,
and 29, as Dickens picks up the thread of
the death and weaves it back into the story. In chapter 26,
when Grandfather Smallweed approaches George for a fragment of the
lodger’s handwriting, the lodger gets a name—Captain Hawdon—and
is revealed to be at the center of an as-yet-unexplained mystery,
in which his handwriting is key. Tulkinghorn is part of the mystery,
being one of the men who looking for the handwriting, as is Guppy,
who has learned that the lodger and Esther shared the same last
name. While some people are looking for the lodger’s handwriting,
Guppy claims to have it, in the form of a bundle of letters. The
mystery of the lodger propels the story forward and complicates
the relationships between characters.
The third-person narrator adds a twist to the strange
relationship between Lady Dedlock and Tulkinghorn in chapter 29,
when he suggests that Lady Dedlock is afraid of Tulkinghorn. The
narrator makes Tulkinghorn a more ominous character by describing
him as feeling no remorse or pity and perhaps even being cold and
cruel. Even though it seemed possible in previous chapters that
Lady Dedlock and Tulkinghorn were involved in a secret love affair,
their uncomfortable interactions now suggest that something more
sinister is going on. By introducing these new layers to their relationship, the
narrator foreshadows Tulkinghorn’s eventual role in Lady Dedlock’s
life and suggests that Lady Dedlock may indeed have something to
hide. When Guppy visits Lady Dedlock and craftily reveals his connection
to Tulkinghorn, he succeeds in getting Lady Dedlock’s attention.
His own intimations take on a darker shade thanks to the narrator’s
previous descriptions of Tulkinghorn.
Lady Dedlock’s discovery that Esther is actually the daughter
she believed dead is the first true climax of Bleak House and
sets up the primary conflict and storyline of the second half of
the novel. Lady Dedlock—who has seemed so cold, haughty, and privileged—suddenly
becomes much more sympathetic. Not only does she have a secret that
could destroy her reputation and social standing, but she suffered
a traumatic loss long ago. For her, Esther has practically risen
from the grave, and the revelation is so overwhelming that she falls
to her knees. The newly established connection between Esther and
Lady Dedlock complicates everything and makes us question how much
the other characters really know. We know that Guppy is nosing around,
for example, but we aren’t sure how much he knows. The same can
be said for the Frenchwoman, Mademoiselle Hortense. This may also
explain why Lady Dedlock is so afraid of Tulkinghorn—unless she’s
hiding another secret that hasn’t yet been revealed. The revelation
that Esther is Lady Dedlock’s daughter explains why Esther had such
a strange, violent reaction when she first met Lady Dedlock at Chesney
Wold. The revelation also changes the way we view Esther as a narrator.
When we return to her narrative in chapter 30,
we do so with knowledge that she is not yet privy to. And although
Esther is narrating the story from a point in the future, she does
so with a measured pacing. For now, we as readers have secret inside
knowledge.