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 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is the summer and Chancery is on its annual vacation, which lasts several months and, during which, the lawyers go abroad. The cases are suspended, and the clients can make no progress with their suits. The clerks are bored and have no work. Miraculously, the country carries on while its legal system grinds temporarily to a halt. Chancery Lane boils in the heat and fills up with stray dogs looking for shade. Krook sits outside of his shop and teaches himself to read on the pavement.
The fact that the Chancery court can take such a long holiday suggests that it is not vital to the running of the country and that it does not treat its cases as urgent.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
In Mr. Snagsby’s house, they prepare to have guests. Mr. Chadband, a minister, and his wife, Mrs. Chadband, are friends of Mrs. Snagsby, who is a staunchly religious woman. Guster lays out tea in the drawing room—for Mr. Chadband eats a great deal—and Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby await their guests’ arrival.
The Snagsbys and the Chadbands are often used as comic relief characters throughout the novel, and their exploits provide comedic counterparts to the central action of the novel.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
The guests arrive slightly late, much to the dismay of Mr. Snagsby, who is hungry. Mr. Chadband is a large but simpering man with very oily hair and skin. He makes a long speech as he enters, blessing the Snagsbys’ house. Once inside, he launches into his sermon but is interrupted by Guster, who tells them that the cabman who drove the Chadbands to the Snagsbys’ needs to be paid. Mr. Chadband allows Mrs. Chadband to pay and makes a great show of his generosity.
Mr. Chadband is a minister, but his oily appearance and his large appetite suggest that he is untrustworthy and not as spiritual as he tries to appear. It is implied that Mr. Chadband has tried to cheat the cabman, further suggesting he duplicity. Mrs. Snagsby, who is taken in by him, is clearly very gullible and naïve.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
The party begins to eat—after Mr. Chadband has made a long, pious speech about the food—and Mr. Chadband demolishes the platter set before him. Guster enters the room once more, drops a plate on Mr. Chadband’s head by accident, and stammeringly tells Mr. Snagsby that he is needed in the shop. Mr. Snagsby finds Jo in the shop, in tears because he has been asked to “move on” by a policeman, who is with him.
Guster is an unfortunate character but also provides comic relief as the Snagsbys’ hapless maid, who is made more careless by her mistress’s constant rebukes.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Get the entire Bleak House LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bleak House PDF
Jo insists desperately that he has nowhere to “move on” to, and the policeman says that this is not his business. He asks Mr. Snagsby if he knows the boy and Mrs. Snagsby, who has been listening on the stairs, screams that he does not. She rushes downstairs and into the room and Mr. and Mrs. Chadband also join them. The policeman says that, when he arrested Jo, the boy said that he knew Mr. Snagsby and a young man who was in the vicinity confirmed this.
The policeman, who is Mr. Bucket, does not feel a social responsibility towards Jo and simply does his job by moving him on. Dickens suggests that this is ridiculous way to treat homeless people as they have nowhere to move on to.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
The young man, Mr. Guppy, arrives at this moment and joins the conversation. He greets Mr. Snagsby and tells him that he thought he’d better intervene on Jo’s behalf. The policeman knows that Jo lives in Tom-all-Alone’s—a notoriously criminal area—and wants to know where Jo got the money he has. Jo, who is very upset, tells them that a mysterious lady gave him the money to show her the burial ground where Nemo was interred.
Jo earned the money from Lady Dedlock, when she asked him to lead her to the burial ground where Nemo was laid to rest. However, Mr. Bucket—clearly prejudiced towards poor people—assumes Jo has stolen the money because he is impoverished and has little means of earning money.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
The constable is skeptical about Jo’s story but leaves him with Mr. Snagsby. Jo’s story has piqued Mr. Guppy’s interest, and he wishes to interrogate the boy. Mrs. Snagsby invites Mr. Guppy upstairs, and Mr. Guppy politely agrees and takes Jo up with him. Mr. Guppy is introduced to the Chadbands. When she hears that Mr. Guppy works for Kenge and Carboy’s, Mrs. Chadband tells him that, before her marriage, she was the maid of a young child, named Esther Summerson, who was sent by Kenge and Carboy’s.
It seems that Mr. Guppy is interested in Esther’s history and suspects her connection with Lady Dedlock, which is perhaps why he wants to talk to Jo. He feels that, if he can learn something about Esther’s past, he may be able to use this to his own advantage. Mrs. Chadband reveals herself to be Miss Barbary’s old maid, Mrs. Rachael.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Mr. Guppy announces that he, too, knows Esther and begins to ingratiate himself to Mrs. Chadband. Mr. Chadband then begins to soliloquize on the spiritual nature of Jo, who is very confused by the whole thing, and lectures Jo about his amazing potential. Jo understands nothing of this speech and listens miserably. Mr. Chadband concludes this speech by telling Jo that he can leave, but that he must return the next day for instruction. Jo shuffles off and Mr. Snagsby slips him some scraps from the table as he goes.
Mr. Guppy also wants to press Mrs. Chadband for Esther’s history. Mr. Chadband’s speech is lost on Jo because Jo has not even had a basic education. Mr. Chadband does not really care about educating Jo but about making himself appear pious and charitable. Mr. Snagsby helps Jo in a far more concrete, immediate way by giving the boy some food.
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