Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Tulkinghorn sits beside the open window in his office, underneath the painting of Allegory. The air is very hot and stuffy, and dust blows in from the street. He drinks a glass of fine wine, which he keeps in his cellar, and Mr. Snagsby sits opposite him at his desk. Mr. Snagsby tells Mr. Tulkinghorn that he has not told his wife where he is because she has a wild imagination and tends to become fixated on ideas once they are in her head.
Mr. Snagsby does not want to lie to his wife, but he feels that he must. It seems that even if he is honest, she does not believe him and thinks that he is lying anyway.
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Mr. Tulkinghorn offers Mr. Snagsby a glass of wine, and Mr. Snagsby repeats Jo’s statement for Mr. Tulkinghorn. When he is finished, Mr. Snagsby is startled to find that there is another man with them in the room. Mr. Tulkinghorn tells him that this man is a policeman named Mr. Bucket. Mr. Bucket asks Mr. Snagsby if he will come with him to Tom-all-Alone’s and help him find Jo. Mr. Snagsby hesitates but Mr. Bucket reassures him that he means Jo no harm and only wants to talk to him.
It’s implied that Mr. Tulkinghorn has asked Mr. Snagsby for Jo’s statement about the mysterious veiled woman, and that Mr. Tulkinghorn wishes to have Jo brought to him so that he can question him further. Mr. Bucket is a very skilled detective as he is excellent at concealing himself. This passage also makes it clear that Mr. Snagsby cares about Jo and feels loyal towards him.
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When Mr. Snagsby hears this, he agrees to go with the inspector. Mr. Bucket takes him aside and suggests that Mr. Snagsby is a worldly gentleman and, therefore, he expects Mr. Snagsby will keep little excursion to himself. There is a dispute over some inheritance, he says, that Jo may know something about. Mr. Snagsby agrees to keep quiet and the two men set off together. On the way out, Inspector Bucket asks Mr. Snagsby if he knows anyone with the name of Gridley, but Mr. Snagsby does not. Inspector Bucket says it is not important; it is only that he has a warrant for Gridley’s arrest.
Mr. Bucket suggests that Mr. Snagsby keep the meeting a secret in a way that makes it seem like it was Mr. Snagsby’s idea. This is very flattering and an effective way to manipulate people, which speaks to Mr. Bucket’s skill as a detective.
Themes
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The pair walk through the city, and when they reach Tom-all-Alone’s, another policeman joins them. Mr. Snagsby notices that Mr. Bucket never walks entirely in a straight line and that he makes himself appear inconspicuous. They move down into an unsanitary slum, and Mr. Snagsby draws back in horror as a cart passes which carries the bodies of people who have died of fever.
Middle-class Victorians experienced significant improvements in living standards during this period. Therefore, it is not strange that Mr. Snagsby, who has a successful career in trade, is shocked by the squalor and destitution which still existed in parts of the city.
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Eventually, they hear from one of Mr. Bucket’s many informants—who emerge now and then from dark street corners—that Jo (who is also known as “the Tough subject”) has gone to a doctor to fetch medicine for a woman who is ill. He will come back, however, so Mr. Bucket decides to wait. They enter a small apartment in which there are two men, both drunk, and two women, who lie on the floor. They call each other Liz and Jenny, and Jenny cradles Liz’s baby. The men tell Mr. Bucket that they have come from Hertfordshire to find work.
Mr. Bucket mingles with people from all classes and all social groups and easily puts people at ease so that they will give him information. He has sources everywhere and is constantly on the lookout for clues and evidence. This is the brickmaker’s family whom Esther and Ada met outside London, when they were at Bleak House. The family has traveled to London to find work but are still desperately poor.
Themes
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While they wait for Jo, Liz tells Jenny that, although she loves the child, she sometimes wishes it would die. Mr. Bucket sternly asks her what she means, and Liz sighs and tells him to look round the room. She believes the child has no hope of a good life or future. Mr. Snagsby, who has waited outside, coughs to tell Mr. Bucket that Jo has arrived and, once Jo has given the medicine to Liz, Mr. Bucket leads him and Mr. Snagsby back to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s apartment.
Liz’s speech is very similar to the one that the brickmaker gives Mrs. Pardiggle, in which he explains that it is pointless to change his ways because he is so poor. Although Liz loves her child, she knows that it will have a bad life and will probably never escape poverty, because it will have no education, no money, and no social advantage.
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When they arrive and take Jo upstairs, he suddenly recoils and announces that “the lady” is there. A woman, veiled and dressed in black, stands in Mr. Tulkinghorn’s room. Mr. Bucket asks Jo how he knows it is the same woman, and Jo says that he recognizes the dress. The woman lifts her hand and Jo says that this is not the hand of the woman who paid him to go to the cemetery because she wears no rings.
Mr. Tulkinghorn has hired Mademoiselle Hortense to dress up as Lady Dedlock, in the veiled dress she wore to visit Jo, in order to ascertain her identity. Mademoiselle Hortense knows that Lady Dedlock always wears her rings and holds up her hand to gauge Jo’s reaction.
Themes
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Mr. Bucket pays Jo and sends him away. When he has gone, the woman lifts her veil—it is Mademoiselle Hortense. Mr. Tulkinghorn thanks her for her service and dismisses her too. Mr. Bucket confirms that Jo has been consistent in his story. He thanks Mr. Snagsby and allows him to go; Mr. Snagsby is worried that his wife will be anxious. When he returns home, still rather confused about the night’s events, he finds that Mrs. Snagsby has sent the police out looking for him and is sure he has been murdered.
Mr. Bucket is a fair man and rewards Jo for his trouble. Mademoiselle Hortense works with Mr. Tulkinghorn against Lady Dedlock. She wishes to conspire against her mistress, whom she hates, and sees the lawyer as someone who will help her do this. Meanwhile, Mrs. Snagsby is very imaginative and always jumps to the worst conclusion.
Themes
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Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon