Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Caddy suggests that the group go for a walk before Mrs. Jellyby gets up. Esther washes Peepy, who has appeared in her room very early, and puts him back to bed. Caddy, Ada, Esther, and Richard then set out into London. Caddy is extremely bad tempered and walks very quickly so that she and Esther leave the others behind. Caddy complains that her parents are fools and that she hates Mr. Quale. Esther tries to remind her that they are her parents, but Caddy says that Mrs. Jellyby does not do her duty as a mother.
Mrs. Jellyby’s obsession has turned Caddy against all philanthropists and philanthropy. This is unfortunate, Dickens suggests, because now, if Caddy comes across a worthwhile social cause, she will be less likely to engage with it. Dickens valued social responsibility highly and felt that people should be encouraged to engage with charitable causes.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Richard and Ada catch up with Esther and Caddy. Richard announces that they have inadvertently walked back to Chancery, and that the same mad old lady who they saw last night is there again. She welcomes them and invites them to come and see her lodgings. She leads them away from the court into a dingy street and stops outside a shop with the written sign “Krook, Rag and Bottle Warehouse.” Miss Flite leads them into the shop, which is cluttered with junk and heaps of old law papers. There is also an advertisement for a copy writer named “Nemo,” who performs written work.
This passage suggests that Chancery draws the characters in with a force of its own and that it is a dangerous force. This foreshadows Richard’s madness, when he will be draw to the court again and again because of its seductive influence. Krook’s shop is a parody of the court, which also contains a confusing mass of legal papers. “Nemo” is Latin for “no one.”
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
Related Quotes
At the back of the shop, they meet the proprietor, Krook, a scrawny old man whose breath seems to come out of his mouth like steam. He asks them if they are selling anything while Miss Flite unlocks a door, which leads to flats above. She cordially begs them to follow her, and Krook urges them to do as she says. Miss Flite tells them that Krook is her landlord and that he is a little mad. Krook tells them that his nickname is the “Lord Chancellor,” and that his shop is “Chancery.” A skinny, grey cat jumps down from a nearby shelf and Krook sets her on a piece of sack, which she tears to pieces with her claws. Krook remarks to Richard that the cat will do this to anything he tells her to.
Krook’s mouth seems to steam both because of the gin he consumes, which gives off fumes, and the because Krook is like a dragon who guards his treasure. As the novel will unveil, the law papers that populate his shop contain the secrets to many unresolved cases. At the same time, Krook’s nickname is ironic and suggests that Krook presides over a heap of junk, just as the Lord Chancellor does, and suggests that most Chancery suits are worthless and a waste of time. Krook tries to threaten Richard with the cat, suggesting that he will be a sinister, shadowy figure throughout the novel.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Miss Flite unlocks the door to the stairs and tells Krook to go away; she is entertaining the wards of Jarndyce. Krook seems impressed by this and recognizes Richard’s surname. He remarks that there was also a Clare, a Barbary, and a Dedlock involved in the suit and tells them that Tom Jarndyce spent a good deal of time in the shop. Krook says that Tom went slowly mad while he waited for a verdict and explains, to their horror, that one day Tom Jarndyce shot himself in the public house opposite the shop. Esther notices that Ada and Richard have gone pale, and is glad that she has nothing to do with the lawsuit.
Part of Miss Flite’s delusion is that she is a very important figure in the court, which comprises her whole world. Jarndyce and Jarndyce is such a famous case that Miss Flite reveres Richard and Ada because they are like celebrities in the legal world. Krook hints at Lady Dedlock’s connection to Miss Barbary, although none of the characters understand this connection yet. It is also ironic that Esther thinks she has nothing to do with the suit, as this will soon prove not to be the case.
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
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Miss Flite lives on the top floor in a very bare room that looks out at the courthouse. In her window, she keeps several cages, each of which contains a bird, and, she explains, she will release these birds when there is a judgement in her suit. She says that many of the birds have died in the time that the suit has gone on, and she wonders if she, too, will die before the case comes to an end. She cannot allow the birds to sing much, she says, because Krook’s cat wants to kill them and waits outside the door like a “wolf.”
Even Miss Flite’s view from her window is of the courthouse; it is literally the only thing she sees and the only place she goes. The birds symbolize people, like Miss Flite herself, who have been trapped by the Chancery system and who wait, suspended, for a verdict on their case so that they can move on with their lives. The description of the cat like a “wolf” is another reference to fairy tales.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The bells in the square outside begin to ring, and Miss Flite cries out that she must attend the court. They all hurry downstairs, but the old lady stops them on the way and makes them creep past a dark door where, she says, a law writer lives. She tells them that he is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil as she leads them back down into Krook’s shop.
The idea that the law writer—later revealed as Nemo—has sold his soul suggests that he has suffered some disgrace or “fallen from grace” in some way.
Themes
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
They pass Krook as they move back through the shop and see him poring over some papers. He has written a capital letter in chalk upon the wall. He stops Esther as she goes by and asks her to read what he has written. She tells him the letter is a “J” and watches as he spells out the rest of the word, which is “Jarndyce.” Krook then writes the words “Bleak House,” and Esther reads them to him. Krook seems pleased and leers at Esther as she hurries from the shop. He continues to watch them as they bid goodbye to Miss Flite.
Krook cannot read but makes desperate attempts to learn so that he can unlock the secrets of the many legal papers that his shop contains. Krook is hungry for secrets that he can use against the rich and powerful. In this passage, the writing on the wall is both literal and figurative: it is evident that many of the papers Krook has pertain to Jarndyce and Jarndyce and to the property up for dispute, such as Bleak House.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Richard comments on their strange experience and laments what great trouble Jarndyce and Jarndyce has caused. Ada agrees and thinks that it is sad that she was born into a feud, in which she is the enemy of so many unknown relatives. Richard says cheerily that he will never allow the case to make them enemies. Caddy squeezes Esther’s arm knowingly as they make their way back to Mrs. Jellyby’s. From here, Esther, Richard, and Ada take a carriage to Bleak House.
Richard and Ada have inherited the lawsuit through no fault of their own and are pitted against relatives who they have never met or wronged in any way. Dickens uses this idea to suggest that it is wrong to punish children for their parents’ sins, and that children are not responsible for the circumstances they are born into. This is a common theme in Victorian literature and reflects changes in the rigid class systems of the period, in which someone’s fate was decided by their birth. On another note, it seems that Caddy believes that Richard and Ada will begin to fall in love.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon