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 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Throughout the summer, Richard dithers over the change to his career. He is reluctant to give up medicine but also bored and keen to try law. Finally, midway through the summer, he takes a position in Kenge and Carboy’s. Meanwhile, he spends money carelessly and makes little effort to save. Richard rents a flat near his new office and furnishes it extravagantly. He throws himself into his new job and goes to work on Jarndyce and Jarndyce right away. Seeing that there is no more he can do, Mr. Jarndyce reluctantly leaves Richard to it and takes Ada, Esther, and Mr. Skimpole to visit Mr. Boythorn.
Richard lives as though he is already rich, and this suggests that, although he makes a show of building his career, he believes that, one day, Jarndyce and Jarndyce will make him rich.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
On the coach on the way up to Mr. Boythorn’s house, Mr. Skimpole tells them that the landlord has confiscated all of his furniture because he has not paid the rent. He is very unconcerned about it, however, because Mr. Jarndyce let him borrow the furniture in his own name and will, therefore, pay the bill to get it back.
Mr. Skimpole is totally irresponsible and uses other people’s money freely and without a thought. Mr. Jarndyce will now have to reimburse Mr. Skimpole’s landlord.
Themes
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
It is a beautiful summer afternoon when the group arrives in Lincolnshire. They meet Mr. Boythorn, who has ridden out to greet them in his own carriage and find him furious that the cart is late. They must bypass Sir Leicester’s property, because of the feud between the two men. Sir Leicester is in Lincolnshire, at Chesney Wold, but Lady Dedlock is away. Mr. Boythorn calls Sir Leicester all sorts of names but he speaks very respectfully of Lady Dedlock. Mr. Jarndyce asks if they may visit Chesney Wold and Mr. Boythorn says that, as his guests, they may do as they like.
Mr. Boythorn’s anger is part of his personality, and thus the others do not take it too seriously. Mr. Boythorn is honorable because his feud is with Sir Leicester and he does not attack Lady Dedlock on her husband’s behalf. He is also not spiteful and does not wish his guests to be restricted because of his dispute with the neighbor.
Themes
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
As they enter the village, they pass Watt sitting outside a pub. Mr. Boythorn tells them that he works at Chesney Wold and that he is engaged to Rosa, Lady Dedlock’s maid. The house is quaint and the garden is very pretty. The walkway over which Mr. Boythorn and Sir Leicester have been arguing about is at the back of the house and is guarded by a servant and covered with signs, which state that the path belongs to Mr. Boythorn.
Earlier, the novel mentioned that Sir Leicester fenced off the walkway to prevent Mr. Boythorn from using it; now, Mr. Boythorn has covered it with possessive signs (and even has a servant guarding it). Although the men are desperate to have just a little more property in their names, their childish argument is amounting to nothing.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Get the entire Bleak House LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bleak House PDF
The next day is Sunday, and the party attends the local church. The community is small, and Esther observes the congregants as the pews fill up. She notices a very pretty servant girl who is being watched by a sour looking French maid. A respectful hush falls over the congregation which signals that Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock have arrived. Esther looks up and catches Lady Dedlock’s eye. She is startled by the look Lady Dedlock gives her and finds herself, strangely, reminded of her childhood.
The girl is implied to be Rosa, and the maid is Mademoiselle Hortense, who hates Rosa because she is Lady Dedlock’s favorite. Mademoiselle Hortense is a bitter, proud, and spiteful woman who cannot stand to be rejected in this way. The congregation is very respectful of Sir Leicester, emphasizing his prestige and status in high society.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Esther thinks that Lady Dedlock looks like her godmother, and, also, that she looks a little like herself. She is surprised to find the French maid watching her too and tries to compose herself. After the service, the Dedlocks leave the church, and Mr. Skimpole says that he would be very happy to be patronized by such a wealthy man. Mr. Boythorn indignantly tells says that Mr. Skimpole has no principles, but Mr. Skimpole lightly disagrees and says that he sides with anyone who can benefit him. Despite their frequent disagreements, however, Mr. Boythorn and Mr. Skimpole get on well and seem to be entertained by each other.
Esther notices the resemblance between herself and Lady Dedlock and this foreshadows the revelation that Lady Dedlock is her mother. Mademoiselle Hortense suspects that Lady Dedlock has a secret and also notices the resemblance between her mistress and Esther. Meanwhile, Mr. Skimpole has no scruples about who he takes money from and does not care if it comes from a benevolent or a corrupt source.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Ada, Esther, and Mr. Jarndyce often go for walks in the grounds. One day, when they are out in their favorite part of the woods, they are caught in a thunderstorm and rush for shelter in the groundskeeper’s cottage. The lodge is very dark, and the groundskeeper offers Esther and Ada seats in the doorway so that they can watch the rain. They are startled to discover that Lady Dedlock stands behind them, and that she, too, has taken refuge from the storm.
In this passage, fate throws Esther and Lady Dedlock together and brings Lady Dedlock’s secret closer to the surface.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Lady Dedlock warmly introduces herself to Mr. Jarndyce and asks after Richard, whom Mr. Jarndyce wrote to Sir Leicester about. Mr. Jarndyce thanks her and introduces her to Esther and Ada. She greets Ada politely but seems to dislike Esther. Esther, who is fascinated by Lady Dedlock’s beauty and proud manner, is hurt by this.
Despite her cold exterior, Lady Dedlock is clearly a compassionate woman and thinks of Richard, who is a relation of her husband. Lady Dedlock also appears struck by Esther’s resemblance to her and exaggerates her coldness to hide her surprise.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Lady Dedlock talks with Mr. Jarndyce as the storm continues. She thinks that he may have known her sister at one time, and Mr. Jarndyce concedes that he did. As they wait, a carriage approaches the hut. The Frenchwoman, whom Esther saw in church, gets out, followed by the pretty handmaiden. Lady Dedlock is indignant with the French woman and says that she sent for Rosa. She gets into the carriage with Rosa and directs the coach to drive on, leaving the French woman behind.
As Mr. Jarndyce never met the woman who wrote to him about Esther, he does not know that she is also Lady Dedlock’s sister, Miss Barbary, whom he knew at another time. Mademoiselle Hortense tries to ingratiate herself with Lady Dedlock. Lady Dedlock sees through the Frenchwoman, however, and sees that she is spiteful and unpleasant underneath. She leaves the maid behind to punish her pride.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
The French woman watches the carriage go and then, with her face set in a cold, furious scowl, takes off her shoes and begins to march back towards the house. Esther and Ada watch her go, confused. The groundskeeper laughs when he sees this and tells them that Mademoiselle Hortense is extremely proud and cannot bear to be treated as an inferior. His wife suggests that she walks through the wet grass so she can imagine it is blood. The rain lets up soon after this and Esther, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce return to Mr. Boythorn’s house.
This passage suggests that Mademoiselle Hortense removes her shoes so that she might catch a cold from exposure to the elements and possibly die from it. It seems that she intends to die to punish Lady Dedlock, and this demonstrates the strength of Mademoiselle Hortense’s fierce pride and her hatred of her mistress. She mirrors the wife of Sir Morbury Dedlock in the tale of the Ghost’s Walk.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon