Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Esther does not see Lady Dedlock again while she is at Mr. Boythorn’s, except in church on Sundays. When she does see her, she has the strange impression that Lady Dedlock is very aware of her presence. Shortly before they return to London, Esther comes home from a walk and finds that Mademoiselle Hortense wants to see her.
Esther feels that Lady Dedlock watches her but does not know why. It is also very strange that Mademoiselle Hortense should want to meet with Esther when she is a total stranger to her.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Mademoiselle Hortense greets Esther passionately and begs her to employ her as a maid. She complains that Lady Dedlock is too proud and that she would be honored to serve Esther. Esther is taken aback by the woman’s intense manner and rejects her offer. Mademoiselle Hortense seems to accept this graciously and Esther is relieved when she leaves the room.
Mademoiselle Hortense clearly suspects the connection between Esther and Lady Dedlock and wishes to work for Esther so that she can find out what she knows and, potentially, ruin Lady Dedlock, which seems to ultimately be her goal.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
When they return to London, they find that Richard has been working hard on Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and that he thinks he is close to unravelling the mystery. He spends his days at the court, often accompanied by Miss Flite. When Esther is alone with Richard, she asks him if he feels “settled” in his career now, but Richard begins to cry and tells Esther that he cannot be “settled” until the suit is complete. He also announces that he has gone into debt. He feels that he is unworthy of Ada, but Esther assures him this is not true.
Richard is delusional and convinces himself that he can solve Jarndyce and Jarndyce alone. His days in court mirror Miss Flite’s and Tom Jarndyce’s gradual descents into madness and suggests that the cycle repeats itself in Richard. Richard is no longer as carefree as he was and begins to worry that he has ruined himself—and his marriage—permanently.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Richard then tells Esther that he has decided to quit the law and to go into the army instead. Esther is shocked and disturbed by this and worries for Richard’s future. She leaves Richard and goes to meet Caddy, who is delighted to see her. Caddy takes her to the dance studio and tells her how things are between her and Prince. She has convinced Prince that he must tell his father of their engagement and hopes that Esther will be present when they do because Mr. Turveydrop has such a high opinion of her.
Richard discards yet another career in the vain hope that he will find his calling elsewhere. Esther feels this is unlikely but keeps this worry to herself so that she does not dampen Richard’s spirits.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
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They find Mr. Turveydrop in his rooms, and Caddy and Prince kneel before him while Esther watches. When Prince tells his father of his engagement, Mr. Turveydrop bursts into tears and seems to be deeply injured. Prince assures his father, however, that he and Caddy intend to take care of him and will work hard to provide him with the lifestyle he is accustomed to. Mr. Turveydrop recovers when he hears this and, resignedly, gives the marriage his blessing.
Prince assumes that his father cries because he is afraid that Caddy and Prince will abandon him. However, Mr. Turveydrop lives an extremely comfortable life through his son’s efforts, and it’s implied that he cries because he is afraid of losing these benefits if his son also has a wife to support. He agrees to the marriage as soon as Prince assures him that this is not the case.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Caddy is amazed by her father-in-law’s generosity and she and Esther set off to tell Mrs. Jellyby of the engagement. When they arrive, they find that Mr. Jellyby has been declared bankrupt and is upstairs with two accountants. Mrs. Jellyby is upstairs, working composedly on her charity projects in Africa. She dismisses Esther’s concern about Mr. Jellyby and complains that Caddy’s departure has forced her to employ a secretary. She wishes that her daughter showed more of an interest in her philanthropic efforts for the improvement of humanity.
Caddy, like Prince, is taken in by Mr. Turveydrop and feels that he does them a favor by allowing them to care for him. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jellyby’s philanthropic efforts abroad have bankrupted her husband. She is so obsessed with these projects, however, that she barely notices how dire the family’s financial situation is. She explains that she has hired an assistant since Caddy left home and this cost has likely contributed to the family’s financial situation.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Mrs. Jellyby regrets that Caddy will not marry Mr. Quale—who is an eminent philanthropist—but Caddy insists she has always hated Mr. Quale. However, Mrs. Jellyby is very calm about the engagement; she feels that Caddy may do as she likes and immediately goes back to sorting her letters. Caddy begins to cry, and Esther is shocked by Mrs. Jellyby’s total indifference. Mrs. Jellyby tells Caddy that she is being silly and wishes her to leave so that she can continue her work.
Mrs. Jellyby does not care about what Caddy wants—she only cares about philanthropy. To her, there is no value in a husband who is not a philanthropist. Mrs. Jellyby is extremely disinterested in her daughter and hurts Caddy’s feelings. She does not even respond to Caddy’s tears but views her daughter as an inconvenience which interrupts her work.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Esther leads Caddy downstairs, where they find the children playing on the floor. Esther comforts Caddy, who is still very upset, and spends a little time entertaining the children. Esther goes home and feels very grateful for the people around her who show her so much care and attention.
The children playing on the floor add to the sense that they are dirty and not looked after. Esther is empathetic with the children, as she, herself, knows how it feels to be neglected, and tries to show them what little care she can.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
When Esther goes to her room, she finds Charley there. Charley explains that she has been hired by Mr. Jarndyce to be Esther’s maid. Esther is overcome with gratitude and Charley bursts into tears because she is so happy. Esther embraces her and agrees to give her lessons, as Mr. Jarndyce has suggested. Charley thanks her on behalf of Tom and Emma. She begs Esther not to cry, but Esther tells her that she cries from happiness too, because she is so grateful to have Charley for a maid.
Mr. Jarndyce has drastically improved Charley, Tom, and Emma’s situation. Instead of Charley having to work for the Smallweeds, who are cruel to her, Mr. Jarndyce arranges for Charley to have a kind mistress, who will educate her. This in turn will allow her to have career prospects in future. Mr. Jarndyce has broken the cycle of poverty in this case through this kind, practical help.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon