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 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
They have not gone far in the cab when George realizes that they are on their way to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s. They carry Mr. Smallweed upstairs and wait for Mr. Tulkinghorn in his office. Mr. Tulkinghorn enters, and Mr. Smallweed introduces him to George. Mr. Tulkinghorn explains to George that knows he was in Captain Hawdon’s service while the Captain was ill. He says that he will give George a reward if he can produce Captain Hawdon’s handwriting, but that he will not press him to do so. He wants Captain Hawdon’s writing to compare it with another sample.
Mr. Tulkinghorn disguises his motives very well. He does not seem eager, nor does he plead with George to give him the letter. Instead, he acts as though it is a matter of little importance to him. This makes Mr. Tulkinghorn seem powerful because it suggests that he can easily procure the handwriting another way—even though George has the document, Mr. Tulkinghorn still makes himself seem like the more powerful and better-positioned of the two.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
George listens to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s proposal and resolutely decides he wants nothing to do with the business. Mr. Smallweed begins to swear at George and George becomes confused and asks Mr. Tulkinghorn why he wants the Captain’s handwriting. Mr. Tulkinghorn assures George that he will not damage the Captain’s reputation. George says he knows this is true because Captain Hawdon is deceased. Mr. Tulkinghorn seems surprised at this and George grows more confused and says that he is “not a man of business.”
George is not taken in by Mr. Tulkinghorn’s suave proposal; he senses that the lawyer is up to no good. It is unclear whether Mr. Tulkinghorn’s surprise is genuine or not. In proclaiming that he is “not a man of business,” George implies that he is an honorable man and likes things to be straightforward and out in the open. He is not cunning like Mr. Tulkinghorn and cannot see through underhand tricks.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
At last George says that he will answer Mr. Tulkinghorn later, if he may be allowed to consult a friend. Mr. Tulkinghorn placidly agrees to this and George offers to carry Mr. Smallweed downstairs. Mr. Smallweed, however, addresses the lawyer in a low voice and tells him that George has the writing sample in his coat. Mr. Tulkinghorn tells him firmly that he will have nothing to do with violence and dismisses Mr. Smallweed, who George carries down the stairs.
George does not trust his own judgement in matters of business. True to character, Mr. Smallweed tries to encourage Mr. Tulkinghorn to take the letter by force. Mr. Smallweed is a bully who tries to get others to commit violence for him, but Mr. Tulkinghorn is much too clever to do anything that would damage his respectable reputation. George carries Mr. Smallweed, despite the man’s rudeness to him, which shows his honorable character.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Once outside, George breaks away from Mr. Smallweed and makes his way to Elephant and Castle. He passes a music shop and approaches a woman who is washing cabbage in a tub outside. George thinks fondly that this is always how he finds her. The woman is Mrs. Bagnet. When she finally looks up and sees George, she exclaims that she wishes he were far away because he always gets her husband, Mr. Bagnet, into trouble. George takes this good humoredly and greets the woman.
Elephant and Castle is a district in London. Mrs. Bagnet is a practical woman who cares about order and cleanliness. She teases George and suggests that he is a bad influence on her husband, but it also seems that she is very pleased to see him.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Get the entire Bleak House LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bleak House PDF
Mrs. Bagnet laments that George never married as she leads him into the house; he is always such a wanderer, she complains. Mrs. Bagnet’s daughters, Quebec and Malta, rush happily to meet George as he enters. As she prepares dinner, Mrs. Bagnet tells George that Mr. Bagnet and their eldest son, Woolwich, get on very well with their music business. George grows thoughtful and muses by the fire.
Mrs. Bagnet’s children are named after the places they were born, suggesting that Mrs. Bagnet has traveled the world as an army wife. The Bagnet family have clearly given up traveling, however, and have settled in London to run their business.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Mr. Bagnet and Woolwich return. Mr. Bagnet is an old soldier, like George, and has a very upright bearing. George says that he has come to ask Mr. Bagnet’s advice and Mr. Bagnet says he is happy to give it, but only after George has joined them for dinner. While Mrs. Bagnet finishes the food, George and Mr. Bagnet go outside to smoke. They both agree that Mrs. Bagnet is a fine woman, although Mr. Bagnet never tells her just how fine because “discipline must be maintained.”
It is implied that George and Mr. Bagnet have served together and became friends in the army. Mr. Bagnet’s devotion to and pride in his wife is very touching. Although he pretends that he is still a disciplined army man who will not shower his wife with praise, Mr. Bagnet clearly appreciates his wife.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Dinner is served in a very regimented manner, and after they have eaten, George and the Bagnets talk. George tells them of his dilemma and addresses himself to Mr. Bagnet, although he knows Mrs. Bagnet will answer. When George is finished, Mrs. Bagnet tells him to have nothing to do with affairs that are not out in the open.
Although they are no longer part of the army, the Bagnets still live according to a very orderly and rigid schedule. This is the opposite of George, who is a drifter, and who totally lacks discipline when it is not forced upon him as it is in the army. Mrs. Bagnet confirms what George already feels to be true.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
George leaves the Bagnets’ home and returns to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s. Mr. Tulkinghorn answers the door and asks George if he has changed his mind. George says that he has not, and Mr. Tulkinghorn asks if he is the man who hid Gridley. George admits this, and Mr. Tulkinghorn becomes flustered. Mr. Tulkinghorn says that he never would have let George into his house if he had known of George’s connections with dangerous criminals. George is affronted and leaves when Mr. Tulkinghorn slams the door in his face a moment later.
The lawyers are afraid of Gridley because he was a violent and aggressive man who hated the court. Earlier in the novel, George told Esther that Gridley did not trust himself with weapons in case he killed someone in court. Mr. Tulkinghorn seems to be aware of this—and the damage that fraternizing with the wrong people could do to his reputation—and uncharacteristically loses his composure.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon