Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Krook appears behind Mr. Tulkinghorn and asks what the matter is. He goes to fetch a candle and Mr. Tulkinghorn waits for him on the stairs. When he returns and they enter the room, they discover that Nemo is dead. Krook sends Miss Flite for a doctor and two medical men return with her. One is an older, Scottish man while the other is young and dark. They confirm that Nemo is dead, and the older man departs.
Nemo, it seems, has died of an opium overdose. The young doctor will later be revealed as Mr. Woodcourt, who will become a significant character as the novel unfolds.
Themes
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Krook complains that Nemo owes him several weeks’ rent. The young surgeon says that he saw Nemo when he was alive and that, although the man was poor, he had the look of someone who had once been rich and who had suffered a “fall.” Krook replies that he knows nothing about the man. Mr. Tulkinghorn stands in the corner and it is impossible to tell what he thinks of these events. He does suggest, however, that they send for Mr. Snagsby, as he sometimes gave the man work.
Krook only thinks about money and not about the humanity of his tenants. Mr. Tulkinghorn appears unobtrusive and inscrutable, but he is really calculating and subtly manipulates the situation so that he can learn Nemo’s identity from Mr. Snagsby, who he knows has dealt with the writer.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Mr. Snagsby arrives, and Mr. Tulkinghorn asks him if he knows anything of the deceased writer, but Mr. Snagsby can only tell them that he appeared about a year ago and came to the stationers shop to look for writing work. Mrs. Snagsby, he says, took a liking to the man and insisted upon giving him work. Mr. Tulkinghorn asks Krook to look over the room for any important papers that Nemo may have kept, but Krook tells him that he cannot read.
Mr. Tulkinghorn wants Krook to look for the papers in his presence. He naturally wants any important documents for himself, but he will not risk his reputation by trying to steal them; instead, he hides his intentions in plain sight and appears to be honest and transparent.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Mr. Tulkinghorn then directs Mr. Snagsby to inspect the room and draws his attention to an old chest which Mr. Tulkinghorn stands in front of. They search the room and the chest and find nothing of value, before Krook sends Miss Flite to fetch the beadle. Mr. Tulkinghorn leaves to go home.
Although Mr. Tulkinghorn stands right beside the chest, he pretends that he has only just noticed it so that Mr. Snagsby will open it for him. Mr. Tulkinghorn leaves others to investigate and only watches so that he can use any information, but no responsibility can be placed upon him.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
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Groups of people begin to gather in the street to find out what has happened. The neighbors gossip together and seem to enjoy the excitement. The beadle arrives and begins to conduct his investigation. The police arrive too and disperse the crowds, who begin to lose interest and drift off. The beadle concludes his work in Nemo’s apartment, where the body still lies and where a coffin is now placed. No one can identify where Nemo has come from or say anything about his past.
Just as fashionable people gossip about the Dedlocks, poor people in this street gossip about Nemo’s death. This loosely connects Lady Dedlock and Nemo, who, it transpires, once knew each other. A beadle is an old-fashioned church official, reminding readers that they are in Dickens’s Victorian world.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
The coroner arrives the next morning and the death is still the talk of the street. An inquest is held, which Mr. Tulkinghorn attends. A neighbor named Mrs. Piper, who has been very suspicious of Nemo because of the rumor that he sold himself to the devil, presents evidence. She tells the jury that he used to talk to a boy who sweeps the streets around Chancery and the Coroner calls for someone to fetch the boy.
Mrs. Piper cannot really tell the court anything and has only heard superstition and rumor about the deceased.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
The boy, Jo, is summoned but cannot tell the jury anything about himself—he is an orphan with no home and no education—and cannot tell them anything about Nemo except that he was a poor, friendless man who was always kind to Jo and sometimes gave him money. The death is ruled as accidental and dismissed. As Jo leaves the court, Mr. Snagsby gives him a half-crown. That night the singers and actors of the local troupe perform a piece about the mysterious death.
Jo has no education whatsoever and cannot express himself well. He has no knowledge about his own origins and only knows what he has experienced, a life of poverty and destitution. This was not uncommon in the 19th century, and cities like London teemed with unknown souls who had grown up anonymously in workhouses or just on the street. Mr. Snagsby is a sympathetic man and is kind to Jo because he sees that he is poor.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
At Mr. Snagsby’s shop, Guster has seizures all night and keeps the household awake. Meanwhile, Nemo’s body is taken to a crowded cemetery. It is a filthy, unhygienic place where people fear to go and where disease and “corruption” linger around the graves like a spirit. Only one figure approaches the grave: Jo, the street sweeper.
Burial grounds for the poor were notoriously unhygienic and poorly maintained. These cemeteries spread disease because the dead were inadequately covered and heaped together in graves. It seems that Jo remembers Nemo and pays him this respect because Nemo has been kind to him.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon