Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Vholes occupies a dingy, airless office in Symond’s Inn in Chancery Lane. Mr. Vholes is a “highly respectable” man who supports his aged father and three daughters on his reputable income from his position as a lawyer. The process of law reform has slowed in England because people are reluctant to put men like Mr. Vholes out of work. It is the “Vholes” of this world who support the Chancery system and, also, who feed off it.
Although Mr. Vholes’s profession is technically respectable, he is really a parasite who encourages his clients to take up bad cases in order to make money from them. However, people are unwilling to take a stand against people like Mr. Vholes because their work is technically legal and because they always claim that they are just doing their jobs and trying to support their families. This kind of attitude, in Dickens’s view, prevents social reform.
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Richard is in Mr. Vholes’s office and is distraught because another piece of business with his suit has fallen through. Mr. Vholes quietly assures him that though it may seem slow, work is still being done. Richard throws up his hands impatiently and asks Mr. Vholes how he will get through the vacation with no money. Mr. Vholes turns cool at this and tells Richard that, while Richard spends his time frivolously, he will be working tirelessly for Richard’s interests. In the corner of the room, the office cat watches a mouse hole and waits for its prey to appear.
Mr. Vholes constantly encourages Richard to keep on with the case. However, nothing changes in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and although Mr. Vholes claims to work on Richard’s behalf, he really has a vested interest in keeping Richard on as a client for as long as he can, making money off of him all the while. The cat and mouse symbolize the idea that Mr. Vholes preys on Richard’s hopes to make money.
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Richard tries to explain that he does not doubt Mr. Vholes’ integrity, but that it is hard to hold out hope in a long and complicated case like Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Mr. Vholes says that he never encourages his clients to hope and that he has made it clear to Richard that much of the inheritance in the case will be lost. Richard asks how he figures this, and Mr. Vholes insinuates that there are other forces working against Richard. Richard assumes that he refers to Mr. Jarndyce and becomes violently angry at the thought of his guardian. He cannot believe that, once, he would have defended Mr. Jarndyce from any slight.
Mr. Vholes denies all responsibility for the false hope he has given Richard. Although he never explicitly encourages Richard, he implicitly encourages him by implying that he works hard on the case and that it is going well. Mr. Vholes also implicitly suggests that Richard has enemies in the case. Although Mr. Vholes does not name Richard’s guardian, he is does not deny Mr. Jarndyce’s involvement, although he has no evidence of this.
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Mr. Vholes tells Richard that he may rely on him and that he always has Richard’s best interests in mind. He subtly confirms Richard’s view that Mr. Jarndyce has tried to destroy the lawsuit for his own ends. Mr. Vholes is very glad that Mr. Skimpole brought Richard to him as a client so that he can protect Richard in this case. Before Richard leaves, Mr. Vholes reminds him of a fee which is due, and Richard eagerly pays this out.
Mr. Vholes convinces Richard that he cares about him and that he works on his behalf. This distracts Richard from the fees that he pays.
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Richard leaves Mr. Vholes office and wanders in the sunshine outside the court for a short time. Although he is comforted a little by his meeting with the lawyer, he is eaten up with suspense and worry, and it is very soothing to have a tangible enemy in mind in the figure of Mr. Jarndyce. Richard’s clothes are shabby, and his complexion is ruddy and inflamed as he stalks across the courtyard. Mr. Guppy and Mr. Weevle watch him and remark that there may be another case of “combustion” soon. Mr. Guppy says it is Richard’s own fault because he meddled in Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
Away from the court, Richard is in the sunshine because his vision is not clouded by the lawsuit. The Chancery lawsuit is not something that Richard can take on and defeat; it is a large, faceless institution, which has the powers of law and government behind it. Mr. Jarndyce, however, is just one man, and it is easier for Richard to imagine the lawsuit in these terms as this supports his hopes that he can win. Mr. Guppy suggests that Richard will slowly destroy himself.
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Mr. Guppy and Mr. Weevle discuss the Smallweed family; they are still in Krook’s shop and seem to be sifting through all the documents that the old man had stashed there. Mr. Guppy suggests nervously that perhaps the letters were not destroyed after all but are somewhere in the shop. Mr. Weevle thinks this is unlikely and regrets his involvement with the whole affair.
Mr. Guppy is now afraid that someone else will find the letters, and that Esther and Lady Dedlock will suspect him of lying to them; he has promised them both that he will no longer pursue the case.
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The street around Krook’s shop is a hive of gossip and activity and the pub nearby does a roaring trade. Mr. Guppy and Mr. Weevle approach and knock on the shop door. They are admitted and go, squinting, into the shadowy gloom from the bright sunlight outside. Mr. Smallweed is seated at the back of the shop beside a hole in the floor that looks like a grave. Judy digs around inside it and brings up old papers.
The curiosity about Krook’s death has not yet died down. The hole is like a grave, which suggests that it contains things from the past and secrets which people think that they have successfully buried.
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Mr. Weevle says that he has come to empty his room. He and Mr. Guppy are shocked to see Mr. Tulkinghorn in the shadows behind Mr. Smallweed, who gives them a wicked grin and introduces the lawyer as his solicitor. Mr. Guppy suggests that there is much “property” in the shop, but Mr. Smallweed says, with a leer, that it is all worthless. Mr. Guppy and Mr. Weevle slink upstairs to Mr. Weevle’s old room.
Mr. Tulkinghorn does not normally deal with lower-class clients like the Smallweeds and thus must have some special reason for doing so. Mr. Smallweed knows that Mr. Guppy tries to get information from him and dismisses him immediately.
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They find the room cold and gloomy, just as they left it. Mr. Guppy is in the middle of taking down Mr. Weevle’s Great British Beauties collection when Mr. Tulkinghorn appears in the doorway and asks to speak with Mr. Guppy. Mr. Guppy turns red, but Mr. Tulkinghorn suavely explains that he simply wishes to congratulate Mr. Guppy on his recent acquaintance with the Dedlocks. Mr. Guppy defensively replies that his work with any noble person is confidential and the business of Kenge and Carboy’s.
Mr. Tulkinghorn does not want his presence at the shop to get out and implicitly threatens Mr. Guppy by reminding him that he knows of Mr. Guppy’s visits to Lady Dedlock. Mr. Tulkinghorn understands that Mr. Guppy has gone to see Lady Dedlock without his employer’s knowledge and that he does not want this to be widely known.
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Mr. Tulkinghorn admits that this is quite right and bids them good day. Before he goes, he takes the picture of Lady Dedlock from the wall and admires it. As soon as he is gone, Mr. Guppy begin to pack hastily. He begs Mr. Weevle not to ask any questions and heavily implies that, through his failed romance, he has become entangled with some very powerful and influential enemies, much to Mr. Weevle’s amazement.
Mr. Tulkinghorn uses the portrait to signal to Mr. Guppy that he knows about his visits to Lady Dedlock and that he will use this information against Mr. Guppy if he needs to protect his own interests. Although Mr. Guppy cannot tell Mr. Weevle his secret, he draws attention to the fact that he has a secret to make himself seem impressive.
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