Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Mrs. Jellyby Character Analysis

A wealthy woman, Mrs. Jellyby is the wife of Mr. Jellyby, and the mother of Caddy, Peepy, and the other Jellyby children. Mrs. Jellyby is a philanthropist and is obsessed with a project she has developed to build links to the coffee trade with a remote region in Africa. Mrs. Jellyby is so distracted by this project that she neglects her family and bankrupts her husband gathering money for this cause. Mrs. Jellyby’s house is in chaos and her children are dirty and uneducated. Mrs. Jellyby represents both the frantic efforts of middle-class Victorians to contribute to social causes (even at the expense of their own homes and regardless of whether these causes really help the poor) and Britain’s colonial efforts abroad, which Dickens felt were a waste of money and which squandered resources abroad that could be used to support the poor in Britain. Mrs. Jellyby’s fanatic philanthropy is almost a type of madness and prevents her from seeing the damage that she does to her family. She is totally disinterested in her daughter’s wedding and does not listen to anybody else when they talk. Her philanthropic efforts abroad ultimately fail, and Dickens uses Mrs. Jellyby to suggest the idea that charity should begin at home.

Mrs. Jellyby Quotes in Bleak House

The Bleak House quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Jellyby or refer to Mrs. Jellyby. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Wordsworth edition of Bleak House published in 1993.
Chapter 4 Quotes

She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman, of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if—I am quoting Richard again—they could see nothing nearer than Africa!

Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

One other singularity was, that nobody with a mission—except Mr Quale, whose mission, as I think I have formerly said, was to be in ecstasies with everybody’s mission—cared at all for anybody’s mission. Mrs Pardiggle being as clear that the only one infallible course was her course of pouncing upon the poor, and applying benevolence to them like a strait-waistcoat; as Miss Wisk was that the only practical thing for the world was the emancipation of Woman from the thraldom of her Tyrant, Man. Mrs Jellyby, all the while, sat smiling at the limited vision that could see anything but Borrioboola-Gha.

Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mrs. Jellyby Character Timeline in Bleak House

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Jellyby appears in Bleak House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...the party that they will spend the night at the home of a woman called Mrs. Jellyby , a friend of Mr. Jarndyce’s, who is working on a project in Africa where... (full context)
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
As they arrive at Mrs. Jellyby ’s, they notice a crowd of people around a young boy whose head is stuck... (full context)
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...child falls down the stairs, completely unnoticed by the servant who shows them up to Mrs. Jellyby ’s room. Mrs. Jellyby greets the group placidly, and Esther notices that Mrs. Jellyby has... (full context)
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
In the corner of Mrs. Jellyby ’s room, a young girl, who is covered in ink, looks up from her work.... (full context)
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Mrs. Jellyby asks Caddy to show Esther and Ada to their room, and Esther carries Peepy up... (full context)
Chapter 5
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 6
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 14
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...comes to visit Ada and Esther and brings Peepy with her. She tells them that Mrs. Jellyby is as chaotic as ever and that her father will soon be bankrupt. She also... (full context)
Chapter 23
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Caddy is amazed by her father-in-law’s generosity and she and Esther set off to tell Mrs. Jellyby of the engagement. When they arrive, they find that Mr. Jellyby has been declared bankrupt... (full context)
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Mrs. Jellyby regrets that Caddy will not marry Mr. Quale—who is an eminent philanthropist—but Caddy insists she... (full context)
Chapter 30
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 50
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Ada often comes to visit Caddy, as does Mrs. Jellyby —although she only talks about her mission during these visits. Mr. Turveydrop is also very... (full context)
Chapter 67
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
...little girl is deaf and cannot speak, but Caddy is a devoted and tireless mother. Mrs. Jellyby ’s plans for the African province have failed because the king of that nation was... (full context)