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 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Esther, Richard, and Ada make their way to Mr. Jarndyce’s house, but a passing coach stops their carriage, and the driver hands each orphan a note. The notes are from Mr. Jarndyce and express his desire that they should meet as “old friends” and refrain from mentioning any favors that he has done them. Richard and Ada have both heard that Mr. Jarndyce cannot bear to be thanked for anything. As night approaches, they draw near to the house and all three of them begin to feel nervous. Their fears are dispelled, however, when they arrive: Mr. Jarndyce greets the young people warmly and ushers them into a room with a large fire.
Mr. Jarndyce is deeply embarrassed whenever he is thanked. As the novel will continue to show, Mr. Jarndyce views kind acts as something which it is his responsibility to perform—as a man with a great deal of wealth and privilege—and, therefore, does not expect anything in return for his goodness.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
They are all careful not to thank Mr. Jarndyce as they make themselves at home and Esther realizes privately that Mr. Jarndyce is the man she met in the coach when she was removed from her godmother’s house. He asks them what they thought of Mrs. Jellyby and seems upset (he complains agitatedly that the “wind is in the east”) when they tell him about the state of Mrs. Jellyby’s house. He is relieved, however, when he hears how kind Esther was to the children and says that maybe the wind is in the north after all.
Esther realizes that Mr. Jarndyce oversaw her removal from her aunt’s house to make sure that she was alright, rather than to be thanked for his good deed. This suggests that Mr. Jarndyce genuinely cares about those he helps and does not seek personal gratification. Mr. Jarndyce says that the “wind is in the east” when his peace of mind is disturbed in some way, usually when he hears about someone suffering.
Themes
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Mr. Jarndyce shows the young people to their rooms, and they find that the house is rambling and strangely proportioned, and that the furniture comes from all over the world and is terribly mismatched. Esther and Ada have rooms next to each other, joined by a beautiful sitting room. Mr. Jarndyce explains that dinner will be served shortly, and that they will be joined for dinner by his only other guest, a man named Mr. Skimpole, who is an artist and a man who is as entertaining and charming as a “child.” Esther and Ada get ready for dinner and a maid brings Esther the housekeeping keys, of which she will now be the mistress.
Unlike Mrs. Jellyby’s chaotic house, Mr. Jarndyce’s house reflects his pleasant, eclectic, and slightly eccentric personality. Although Esther is not a servant, she has a certain level of responsibility in the house and acts as a type of housekeeper. This also reflects her personality, as she always takes care of everyone else.
Themes
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Downstairs at dinner, they are introduced to Mr. Skimpole. Esther is struck by his appearance and thinks that he looks like a young man who has aged prematurely. Mr. Skimpole tells them that he has no head for anything practical and has never been able to maintain a stable income. He has been lucky, he explains, to have good friends who help him survive. However, he does not think he wants very much from life but to be left alone to enjoy art and beauty, of which he is very fond. Mr. Skimpole laments that he has no discipline but feels that this benefits his friends and acquaintances as it allows them to practice their generosity when they help him. Mr. Jarndyce wholeheartedly agrees.
Although Mr. Skimpole says he does not want much from life, this is not true. In fact, he wants to live luxuriously; he does not want to work, and wants to enjoy art and culture at his leisure. Mr. Skimpole knows that the façade of helplessness will encourage kind-hearted people, like Mr. Jarndyce, to help him, and he takes advantage of this while pretending that he does them a favor.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Get the entire Bleak House LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bleak House PDF
After dinner, the group retires to the drawing room. Ada sings and plays the piano, and Esther and Mr. Jarndyce notice that Richard watches Ada closely. After a while, Esther observes that Richard and Mr. Skimpole have left the room, and she is surprised when a maid comes to fetch her and tells her that Mr. Skimpole “has been took.” Esther assumes that Mr. Skimpole has been taken ill and rushes to his room. However, when she gets there, she finds that he has, in fact, been placed under arrest for debt.
Richard and Ada are clearly attracted to each other and the people around them notice. This passage also continues to build out Mr. Skimpole’s character; he truly is broke, as evidenced by the authorities who have come to collect him, but it’s likely that he anticipates that someone will swoop in and save him.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Richard, who is with Mr. Skimpole, seems extremely concerned, but Mr. Skimpole is unruffled and cannot understand what the fuss is about. The man who has come to arrest him sits on the sofa in the room. Esther asks Mr. Skimpole how much he owes, and he tells her that it is a trifling amount. Although he says that Mr. Jarndyce would happily pay it, he would rather give someone new the opportunity to help him. Esther asks what will happen to Mr. Skimpole if he cannot pay, and the man replies that he will go to prison or to “Coavinses,” a house for those in debt.
Mr. Skimpole’s flippant attitude surrounding his arrest and possible stint at a debtor’s prison suggests he is in debt very often. He considers the debt a “trifling amount” because he knows that someone else will pay it for him and, therefore, it does not affect him. It may, however, be a significant amount to whoever is forced to pay it on Mr. Skimpole’s behalf.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Mr. Skimpole suggests that, since Richard is involved in Jarndyce and Jarndyce and may be owed a great deal of money, he can cover the debt, but the debt collector is not impressed with this idea. Esther agrees to pay for Mr. Skimpole with the small amount of money that she has saved for emergencies. The debt collector prepares to leave, but Mr. Skimpole detains him and asks him if he ever thinks about the people he arrests or the fact that he takes away their freedom. The debt collector answers firmly that he does not and takes his leave.
Mr. Skimpole takes for granted that Richard is wealthy because of his connection to the court case. This is not the case, however, and all of Richard’s supposed inheritance is tied up in Chancery. The amount, which Mr. Skimpole considers small, is all Esther has managed to save for herself throughout her life. That she’s willing to spend it on a person she has only just met further emphasizes how Esther puts other people before herself. Meanwhile, Mr. Skimpole’s question to the debt collector is totally impractical. The debt collector must work for money and does not waste time thinking about those he arrests. Mr. Skimpole acts as though his arrest is not justified but really it is his responsibility to stay out of debt.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
The group returns to the drawing room, and Esther is amazed at the ease with which Mr. Skimpole slips back into his entertaining manner. When Mr. Skimpole has gone to bed, however, Mr. Jarndyce takes Esther and Richard aside and is very concerned that they have given Mr. Skimpole money. He tells them that Mr. Skimpole is always in debt. Mr. Jarndyce is irritated that Mr. Skimpole has taken money from Esther, but she placates him by suggesting that Mr. Skimpole does not understand money and does not know what he is doing. Relieved, Mr. Jarndyce wishes them goodnight and Esther, still dazed by her change in circumstances, retires to bed.
Mr. Skimpole is irresponsible and does not think about the giant favor Esther has done him. Esther gives Mr. Skimpole the benefit of the doubt to protect Mr. Jarndyce’s feelings. She does not wish to make him feel foolish for always helping Mr. Skimpole, or to shatter his illusions about his friend. Esther is amazed by her good fortune and, therefore, hardly thinks about the money. She is an extremely grateful character throughout, and Dickens clearly feels this is a virtue.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon