Bleak House – Chapters 46–50

Summary: Chapter 46, “Stop him!”
The narrator says that Tom-all-Alone’s is dark and menacing.
In a sort of surreal meditation, he says that Tom is asleep, but
that a lot of fuss has been made about him in Parliament, where
people discuss how to get him off the street or what else to do
with him. The narrator says that Tom gets revenge by contaminating
everything around him.
Morning arrives. Mr. Woodcourt walks around Tom-all-Alone’s and
sees a woman sitting on a stoop. He sees a bruise on her forehead
and bandages it, then asks if her husband is a brickmaker because
he believes brickmakers are violent. She says her husband will be
looking for her. He asks if she has a baby, and she says no, although
her friend Liz has one that she thinks of as her own.
Woodcourt moves on and soon sees a wretched young boy
running toward him, whom he thinks he recognizes. A woman is running
after the boy, yelling for someone to stop him. Woodcourt grabs
him, thinking he has stolen the woman’s money. When the woman rushes
up, she exclaims excitedly that she has finally found Jo. Jo admits
that he once saw Woodcourt when he spoke about the dead lodger in
front of the coroner. Woodcourt asks the woman if Jo robbed her,
and she says no; rather, he has been very kind to her. She says
that a woman took Jo home with her to care of him when he was sick,
but that Jo ran away. She says that the woman then became sick herself
and lost her beauty. Woodcourt is speechless.
When he recovers, he asks Jo why he left the house. Jo
says he never knew a woman had been caring for him and that he would never
have done anything to hurt her. He says someone took him away, but
he won’t name the man, fearful that he’ll find out since he seems
to be everywhere. Jo says this man gave him money and told him to
“move on.” Woodcourt tells Jo he’ll find him a place to hide. Woodcourt
and Jo set off.
Summary: Chapter 47, “Jo’s Will”
Woodcourt and Jo stop for breakfast, and Woodcourt puts
his hand on Jo’s chest, telling him to breathe. He can’t breathe
easily. Jo then tells Woodcourt about his recent adventures, including
the story about the woman in the veil whom he led to the graveyard.
They approach Krook’s old shop. Miss Flite isn’t there anymore;
Judy Smallweed tells him she now lives with a Mrs. Blinder in Bell
Yard. Woodcourt and Jo find her, and she greets Woodcourt happily.
She tells Woodcourt that Jo can hide with “General George,” and
she leads them to George’s Shooting Gallery. Woodcourt tells George that
Jo needs a place to hide, since he fears a man who seems to be everywhere.
Woodcourt tells George that the man hunting for Jo is Inspector
Bucket. George responds that Jo is welcome to stay with him and
Phil. Woodcourt warns George that Jo is ill and may not get better.
George introduces Jo to Phil, saying that Phil once lived on the
street too. George tells Woodcourt that he is certain that Bucket took
Jo to Tulkinghorn when he scuttled him away from Bleak House. George
asserts that Tulkinghorn is a bad person.
Woodcourt visits Mr. Snagsby. Snagsby, uneasy, tells Woodcourt to
speak quietly so that Mrs. Snagsby doesn’t hear them. Snagsby says
that although he’s never had a secret, he’s always getting involved
in other people’s secrets. He says that someone has instructed him
not to talk about Jo. But he agrees to visit Jo.
Jo is happy to see Snagsby and asks him to write out the
facts of what happened after Jo has moved on as far as he can go,
so that other people know he never meant to cause any harm. Snagsby agrees.
The narrator says that Snagsby and Jo will never meet again.
When Woodcourt visits Jo, Jo is worse. Woodcourt leads
Jo in a prayer, and Jo soon dies.
Summary: Chapter 48, “Closing in”
The narrator says that the Dedlocks are in their London
home, and that Lady Dedlock is, as usual, still much revered and
the center of attention. Tulkinghorn doesn’t reveal her secret,
and no one suspects he has any power over her. Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock
has decided to disregard their agreement and take action of her
own. She tells Rosa that it’s time for her to leave. Rosa is distraught,
but Lady Dedlock has already arranged for Mr. Rouncewell to pick
her up. She goes to tell Sir Leicester that she has dismissed Rosa;
Tulkinghorn is with him, and she tells him to stay. When Mr. Rouncewell arrives,
Lady Dedlock announces to him that she has decided Rosa must leave
her. He agrees to take Rosa with him. Rosa comes in, upset, and
Lady Dedlock coldly says goodbye to her.
Later, Tulkinghorn speaks to Lady Dedlock alone and tells
her she has violated their agreement. He thinks getting rid of Rosa
will raise suspicions. He says that Lady Dedlock’s secret is actually
his secret, since he has taken it on to protect Sir Leicester and
his family. Lady Dedlock says she wanted to protect Rosa. Tulkinghorn
says he will now proceed of his own accord and that she will receive
no other notice of what he will do. She asks him when he will tell
Sir Leicester, but he won’t give her a specific answer. He leaves.
The narrator says that Lady Dedlock goes walking in the
garden alone that night. Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is at home. The
narrator describes the nighttime scene, then suddenly asks, “What’s
that?” A gunshot has been heard. The narrator says that Tulkinghorn
doesn’t go to the window to investigate. He says that the painted
Roman on the ceiling, which has always been pointing aimlessly,
is now pointing at Tulkinghorn’s dead body—he has been shot through
the heart.
Summary: Chapter 49, “Dutiful Friendship”
The narrator describes Mrs. Bagnet’s birthday celebration.
Mr. Bagnet prepares an elaborate dinner and tells Mrs. Bagnet that
George will surely visit. She says she fears George may be about
to resume his wandering ways, but Mr. Bagnet disagrees. At dinnertime, George
arrives. He is pale and tells the Bagnets that the young boy he’d
taken in has died. Later, Bucket arrives, saying he spotted George
through the window. The Bagnets’ two daughters greet him excitedly,
instantly enraptured with him. Mrs. Bagnet tells him that George
is upset, but George won’t explain. Mrs. Bagnet asks if Bucket has
a family; he has a wife but no children. Bucket suddenly compliments
the Bagnets’ backyard and asks if there’s any way out of it; there
isn’t.
The Bagnets’ son, Woolwich, entertains them with the fife. Bucket
continues to be congenial and warm, livening up the evening immensely,
and George begins to like him. When George eventually gets up to
leave, Bucket gets up to leave with him. Before going, Bucket asks
Mr. Bagnet the price of a violoncello and says he’ll return tomorrow
to look at a few.
George and Bucket walk down the street with their arms
linked. Suddenly, Bucket roughly pushes George into a public house
and arrests him. George is flabbergasted. Bucket says he is arrested
for the murder of Tulkinghorn, which happened last night. George
is horrified to realize that he was there last night. Bucket says
he knows George was often there, that they often quarreled, and
that one time Tulkinghorn called George a “threatening, murderous, dangerous”
man. Bucket says Sir Leicester is offering a reward to anyone who
finds the murderer. He puts handcuffs on George and leads him away.
Summary: Chapter 50, “Esther’s Narrative”
Esther gets a letter from Caddy, who now has a rather
strange-looking baby and is in poor health. Caddy says that good
things always happen to her when she’s with Esther. Esther begins
visiting Caddy in London every day. Mr. Jarndyce says they should
live in London for a while so that she can visit more easily. He
suggests that Woodcourt become Caddy’s doctor, and Esther agrees.
She finally tells Ada she’s going to marry Mr. Jarndyce.
Esther spends a great deal of time with Caddy, who insists
to everyone that she is getting better even though she is very sick.
She actually does begin to get better, however, when Woodcourt becomes
her doctor. Esther sees Woodcourt very often and is certain that
he still pities her.
She begins to notice a change in Ada and suspects that
she’s upset about Esther’s plans to marry Mr. Jarndyce.
As Caddy recovers, Mr. Jarndyce talks to Esther about
how wonderful Woodcourt is and how he wishes he could make Woodcourt rich.
He speculates that Woodcourt may take another trip and suspects
that Woodcourt has been disappointed in some way.
One night, Ada begins crying and tells Esther she doesn’t
know how she can speak to her and Mr. Jarndyce. Esther, thinking
this is because of their impending marriage, assures Ada of their
affection for her and their happily planned future. She notices
that Ada falls asleep with one hand under her pillow.
Analysis: Chapters 46–50
In Bleak House, Dickens gives his characters
unusual names that evoke aspects of their personality or role in
the novel. For example, Esther’s last name, Summerson, evokes images
of warmth and happiness, both of which aptly describe Esther’s interactions
with all those around her. Ada Clare is indeed “clear” in her affections
for Richard Carstone, who, like his surname suggests, is stony and obstinate.
Allan Woodcourt “would” indeed “court” Esther. Mr. Snagsby often
finds himself getting “snagged” in other people’s messes. The “lock”
in the Dedlock name suggests the secret that Lady Dedlock has kept
for so long, and her little-referred-to first name, Honoria, suggests
the core of goodness that exists despite her guilt over her past
transgressions. Skimpole, as his name clearly denotes, “skimps”
on money and gets it from others. Inspector Bucket is a repository
of facts and knowledge, as a bucket is a repository of water. And
little Jo is as insignificant in the larger world, just as his diminutive
two-letter name would suggest. Other names are associated with sounds
or rhyming words in an equally evocative manner. Tulkinghorn, for
instance, evokes the sneaky word “skulk,” which Tulkinghorn indeed
does as he gathers secrets. The “horn” of his name also suggests
his desire or intention to reveal those secrets. Far from being
cloying or pedantic, the names Dickens uses add texture and humor
to the novel and reveal the close attention Dickens pays to every
aspect of a character, however minor.
Lady Dedlock dismisses Rosa to protect her from any future
disgrace, not because she’s unhappy with her. Rosa has served as
a kind of daughter for Lady Dedlock. The kindness and affection
with which she treats Rosa is much different from the haughty, cold
manner in which she treats Mademoiselle Hortense, revealing that
she views Rosa quite differently, as more than just a maid or attendant. Lady
Dedlock, not given to warmth or physicality, at one point puts her
hand on Rosa’s shoulder, which enrages Mademoiselle Hortense, who
was never touched at all. This demonstrative gesture suggests the
maternal instincts buried deep within Lady Dedlock, which become
clear when she emotionally embraces Esther and reveals their relationship.
Even though dismissing Rosa seems to be cruel, it’s actually the
kindest thing Lady Dedlock can do. If Rosa is tainted by Lady Dedlock’s
secret, her chances for a good marriage to the boy she loves will
be ruined. Lady Dedlock could never help, protect, or nurture her
own daughter, and she is perhaps trying to compensate for her past
failures by protecting Rosa.
Jo’s death is a truly bleak moment, and the narrator takes
the time to moralize about the injustice of his death. So few people
ever treated Jo with kindness, who was forced to spend his life
moving on from one place to the next, never welcome anywhere. The
few times when he is welcomed end only in trouble or death. Krook’s
lodger, for example, one of the people who treated Jo kindly, dies.
When Jo is protected in the Bleak House stable, he is taken away
in the middle of the night and forced back out on the street. At
George’s Shooting Gallery he finds a safe place from the all-knowing,
all-seeing man who he believes is chasing him, but here his sickness
overtakes him. When he dies, the narrator grandly proclaims his
death to the world: “Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. . . .
Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And
dying thus around us every day.” Sarcasm in evident in these lines:
if we are born with compassion, it makes no sense for us to let children
die on the street. The narrator sweeps all of us up in his final statement
by using the inclusive “us,” implicating us in Jo’s death, as though
we could have taken steps to stop it ourselves.