Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Bleak House can help.

Bleak House: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Richard often visits Esther and Ada, and he seems very cheerful. Esther thinks it is a shame, however, that Richard has so little discipline and thinks that he relies too much on talent and charm rather than hard work. She thinks that the Chancery suit, too, has made him careless and that he is rather like a gambler.
Despite all of the warnings he’s received, Richard places all of his hopes in the Chancery suit. Instead of cultivating a career—in case the suit is unsuccessful, or his inheritance is small—he relies entirely on these hopes for future wealth.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
One night, Mr. and Mrs. Badger join them for dinner, and Mrs. Badger observes that Richard does not enjoy his work and that, unlike Mr. Woodcourt, Richard does not have the patience or dedication required to make a success of himself. Ada anxiously asks if Mr. Badger agrees. and Mr. Badger says that he trusts Mrs. Badger’s opinion because she has been married to two great men. Mrs. Badger chimes in to say that her previous husbands believed that, if you are going to do something, it is better to put your all into it than to do things half-heartedly.
The Badger’s insinuate that they no longer want Richard as an apprentice because he is not serious about the profession and, therefore, it is a waste of his time as well as theirs. Mrs. Badger has lived with men who were dedicated to their professions and understands that discipline is required to be a success in any field.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
The next evening, Richard comes to visit Esther and Ada, and they tell him what the Badgers said. Richard seems unconcerned and admits that he does not care much about his profession. Ada appears downhearted but does not wish to trouble Richard. Esther tries to persuade Richard to take his career seriously, but he dislikes the hard work. He thinks perhaps he should try something else, and Esther and Ada encourage him to try and discover his passion.
Ada knows that, if she is to marry Richard, she will be reliant on him financially. She does not want to destroy his hopes, however, even if she fears that they are based on an illusion. Esther and Ada hope that if he can find something, he enjoys then he will be able to dedicate himself to this.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Richard tells them that he wants to study law, and that he has been to see Mr. Kenge to find out how Jarndyce and Jarndyce progresses. Esther and Ada are worried that he will pin his hopes on the case, but Richard assures them he will not and that he will take his law career seriously.
Esther and Ada worry that Richard’s interest in law is just an excuse to get closer to Jarndyce and Jarndyce, rather than an attempt to make a career for himself separate from the lawsuit.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Get the entire Bleak House LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bleak House PDF
Esther and Ada encourage him to tell Mr. Jarndyce about this change of profession and Richard agrees. Mr. Jarndyce takes this news graciously and assures Ada that he thinks no less of Richard because of this change. Esther thinks that Mr. Jarndyce looks worried, however. Esther tries to go to bed, but she feels miserable and decides to stay up and work. She goes to the Growlery to get some of her work things and finds Mr. Jarndyce still up.
Richard is an honest and naïve character. He does not try to hide his change of career from Mr. Jarndyce, but he also does not take his future seriously. It seems that both Esther and Mr. Jarndyce foresee that Richard’s careless behavior will end in tragedy.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Esther sits down with him and asks him what is wrong. Mr. Jarndyce says that she would not understand but agrees to tell her something of her origins instead. He tells her that nine years ago, he received a letter from her aunt, Miss Barbary, which told him about a little girl whom she had raised in secret to hide a familial shame. He worried for the child and agreed to become her guardian, though he never met Miss Barbary. Esther recalls her aunt’s unkind words and, again, tentatively thanks Mr. Jarndyce for his kindness. She says that he is like a father to her, but Mr. Jarndyce seems strangely depressed and sends her off to bed.
Miss Barbary has hidden Esther away to protect her mother’s reputation. Her mother’s disgrace has been passed on to Esther because children in this period were blamed for their parents’ sins and illegitimate children, like Esther, were considered inherently corrupt because they were born out of wedlock.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
The next day, Mr. Woodcourt comes to visit and brings his mother, Mrs. Woodcourt. Mr. Woodcourt has plans to travel to China and has come to say goodbye. His mother is Welsh and tells them that their family hails from a noble line of Welsh ancestors. She further insinuates that her son must marry someone who is of high social standing and Esther wonders why she feels the need to mention this. Mr. Woodcourt also seems a little embarrassed by his mother and bids Esther a courteous farewell.
Mrs. Woodcourt suspects that Esther is in love with her son and stresses his noble lineage as a hint to Esther that she is not good enough to marry him.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Esther keeps herself busy for the rest of the day and is surprised when Caddy comes to see her. Caddy gives Esther a bunch of flowers, and Esther thinks that they are Caddy’s and that Prince given them to her. Caddy, however, tells Esther that the flowers were left for her at Miss Flite’s house by someone who was in a rush to board a ship. Ada teases Esther when she hears this.
Esther is very humble and struggles to believe it when people show her affection, so she is quick to assume that the flowers are meant for somebody else.
Themes
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon