When Esther, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce return to Lincolnshire, Mrs. Woodcourt comes to visit them. She takes an interest in Esther and tells her a lot about the Welsh history of the Woodcourt line. She watches Esther carefully and explains—to Esther’s confusion—that, because of his heritage, Mr. Woodcourt cannot marry whomever he pleases. When Esther tries to change the subject, Mrs. Woodcourt asks her what she thinks of her son. Esther says that she thinks him very kind and diligent, and Mrs. Woodcourt confirms that this is true but complains that he is a terrible flirt.
Mrs. Woodcourt thinks Esther is in love with her son and tries to explain to her, indirectly, that she cannot marry him because he is of noble birth while Esther is not. Mrs. Woodcourt tries to convince Esther that Mr. Woodcourt’s attentions are not specifically directed at her but are minor flirtations that he directs at many women. All of this suggests that Mr. Woodcourt is in indeed love with Esther, and his mother wants to sabotage the potential relationship.
Mrs. Woodcourt then asks Esther if she intends to marry and, when Esther expresses surprise, Mrs. Woodcourt predicts that Esther will marry very well to a man who is much older than her. Esther feels uncomfortable with these conversations but likes Mrs. Woodcourt and wants the old lady to like her, too.
Mrs. Woodcourt seems to suggest that Mr. Jarndyce is in love with Esther and subtly tries to direct Esther towards him. That Esther so badly wants Mrs. Woodcourt to like her suggests that Esther does, in fact, harbor feelings for the woman’s son.
After Mrs. Woodcourt’s departure, Caddy comes to stay and asks Ada and Esther to help her plan her wedding and to be her bridesmaids. Mr. Jellyby has recovered from bankruptcy and become friends with Mr. Turveydrop. Caddy and Prince have now agreed to live with Mr. Turveydrop when they are married. Caddy worries that she has had no example from her mother and is unprepared to be a wife, so Esther suggests that she should stay with them and learn the basics of housekeeping.
Dickens showcases a traditional 19th-century view of women and seems to feel that women’s virtues lie in tending to the home and being good wives to their husbands. He is disparaging about the female social campaigners in the novel partially because they neglect their homes and their domestic duties.
On the evening before Caddy’s wedding, Esther and Ada go with her to Mrs. Jellyby’s and try to make the house, and Mrs. Jellyby herself, look presentable. Mr. Jellyby cries when he sees them and tearfully tells Caddy, as he watches her tidy up, that she must never “have a mission.” Caddy agrees that her mother’s missions have ruined their home.
Mr. Jellyby believes that Mrs. Jellyby’s fanatical philanthropy has destroyed their home and family. This reflects a typical 19th-century view that a woman should maintain the home and support her husband, who should be in charge of financial and professional affairs, and that to distort this order leads to disaster.
Caddy looks very happy and pleasant for her wedding, and they arrange a meal for the wedding party. Mrs. Jellyby’s philanthropist friends are all present and Esther arranges food for the children. The philanthropists talk devotedly about their own missions all evening and ignore everything else. Before Caddy leaves with her new husband, she begs her mother to take care of the family, but Mrs. Jellyby seems bemused and distracted and does not understand Caddy’s plea. The couple will spend a week away on their honeymoon. Before they leave, they comfort Mr. Turveydrop and tell him he will not have to be without them long. He advises them to come home soon because it will be bad for the business if they stay away too long.
The philanthropists are self-obsessed and do not listen to other people’s ideas. This suggests that this type of philanthropy is all for show and more about drawing praise and attention to oneself rather than truly helping people. Mr. Turveydrop also only thinks about himself and his comfortable lifestyle, which relies on his son’s work to continue, rather than about Caddy and Prince’s happiness.
Esther is shocked by the blasé attitude of Mr. Turveydrop and Mrs. Jellyby but is even more surprised when Mr. Jellyby suddenly seizes her and thanks her for her help with the wedding. As she drives away in Mr. Jarndyce’s carriage, Esther asks her guardian if he approves of the marriage. Mr. Jarndyce assures her he does. Ada agrees, and Esther is very happy for Caddy and Prince.
Mr. Jellyby thanks Esther because Esther has shown the qualities which were associated with “good” women in the 19th century. She has put other people before herself and been domestically organized and diligent. Dickens’s narrow view of women reflects mainstream opinion in the mid-19th century.