By Charles Matthews

Monday, June 20, 2011

11. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, pp. 366-406

Chapter 23: Esther's Narrative through Chapter 24: An Appeal Case

Jarndyce, Esther and Ada have returned to Bleak House after six weeks at Boythorn's, having had no more contact with Lady Dedlock, though they saw her in church. "I had a fancy," Esther says, "on more than one of those Sundays, that what this lady so curiously was to me, I was to her -- I mean that I disturbed her thoughts as she influenced mine, though in some different way."

One day, she is told that a person has come to see her, and is surprised to find that it's Mademoiselle Hortense. She tells Esther that she has left Lady Dedlock's service and pleads to be allowed to serve as Esther's maid. "I have an inexpressible desire to find service with a young lady who is good, accomplished, beautiful," and Esther fills the bill. Esther tries to persuade her that she doesn't want or need a maid, but Hortense says she'll work for her for free. She "seemed to bring visibly before me some woman from the streets of Paris in the reign of terror." Esther stands firm, however.

Before she leaves, Hortense says that her behavior on the day they encountered her at the keeper's lodge during the storm must have have surprised them. Esther admits that it did. "'I took an oath, mademoiselle,' she said, smiling, 'and I wanted to stamp it on my mind, so that I might keep it faithfully. And I will! Adieu, mademoiselle!'" They didn't see her again during their stay.

Meanwhile, Richard has been haunting Chancery and studying the Jarndyce and Jarndyce files and tells them that "nothing could be plainer than that the will under which he and Ada were to take, I don't know how many thousands of pounds, must finally be established, if there were any sense or justice in the Court of Chancery -- but O what a great if that sounded in my ears." He has become friends with Miss Flite, and Esther realizes "what a fatal link was riveting between his fresh youth and her faded age; between his free hopes and her caged birds, and her hungry garret, and her wandering mind."

One day, Esther goes into the city to meet Caddy Jellyby, who has asked her to come, and is met by Richard at the coach-office. He admits that he is not cut out for legal studies either, and that he is in debt: "I have taken rather too much to billiards, and that sort of thing." Finally he bursts into tears while talking about Ada: "I love her most devotedly; and yet I do her wrong, in doing myself wrong, every day and hour." But he persists in his belief that the suit will be settled in their favor, "and then you and Ada shall see what I can really be!" This disturbs Esther even more than his tears. Now, he says, he has decided that his real career should be the army. Esther accedes to this latest whim, but once again, "implored him, for Ada's sake, not to put any trust in Chancery."

Richard accompanies her to the meeting with Caddy and then takes his leave. Caddy announces that she and Prince Turveydrop are ready to announce their engagement, but they want Esther to be there when they approach by Mr Turveydrop and Mrs Jellyby. Esther agrees, so they go first to the dancing school. Mr Turveydrop is at first astonished when Caddy and Prince kneel before him and ask his blessing. He groans and sobs, "reclining on the sofa, and shutting out the sight with his hand, but when Prince vows, "with your approval and consent, father, we will devote ourselves to making your life agreeable." Esther notices that his attitude begins to change at this declaration, and when Prince says, "we shall always make you -- of course -- our first consideration," Mr Turveydrop gives in.
Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), A Model of Parental Deportment (Source: David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page)
"My son and daughter, your happiness shall be my care. I will watch over you. You shall always live with me"; meaning, of course, I will always live with you; "this house is henceforth as much yours as mine; consider it your home. May you long live to share it with me!"
Leaving Prince in attendance on his father, Esther and Caddy then go to the Jellyby residence, which "looked dirtier and gloomier and ghastlier than ever," owing in part to the fact that Mr Jellyby has been forced to declare bankruptcy. Mrs Jellyby, of course, is unaffected by this turn of events: "He has been unfortunate in his affairs, and is a little out of spirits. Happily for me, I am so much engaged that I have no time to think about it." She turns her scorn on Caddy, however: "She has almost deserted her old employment, and in fact obliges me to employ a boy." Caddy protests, "surely you wouldn't have me be a mere drudge all my life," which raises her mother's ire: "A mere drudge? If you had any sympathy with the destinies of the human race, it would raise you high above any such idea." Caddy only adds fuel to the fire by saying that as concerns Africa she has no sympathies at all.

It takes Esther to prod Caddy into telling her mother the news that she is engaged. "'O, you ridiculous child!' observed Mrs Jellyby, with an abstracted air, as she looked over the dispatch last opened, 'what a goose you are!'" Caddy sobs out the truth, that she and Prince have obtained Mr Turveydrop's consent, "and I beg and pray you'll give us yours, Ma, because I never could be happy without it. I never, never could!" Mrs Jellyby is not happy, however, that Caddy should be "engaged to a dancing-master's son" when she could have had "Mr Quale, one of the first philanthropists of our time." But in the end, she decides that she can't "permit the film of a silly proceeding on the part of Caddy (from whom I expect nothing else), to interpose between me and the great African continent." And calling Caddy "a nonsensical child" and "a degenerate child," she decides that "the step is taken, and I have engaged a boy, and there is no more to be said," so she allows herself to be kissed so she can "clear off this heavy batch of papers before the afternoon post comes in!"

Esther cheers up Caddy as much as she can, by observing how much Caddy "would do for her unfortunate father, and for Peepy, when she had a home of her own," and then returns to Bleak House, where she has a surprise: Mr Jarndyce has hired Charley Neckett as her maid, and the other children are being taken care of: "Tom's at school, if you please, and learning so good! And little Emma, she's with Mrs Blinder, miss, a being took such care of!" Esther tells her never to forget who was their benefactor, and Charley says she won't: "It was all you, miss." Esther corrects her, "It was Mr Jarndyce, Charley." But Charley insists, "I am a little present with his love, and it was all done for love of you."

Meanwhile, Mr Jarndyce has has hands full with the mess Richard has made, extricating him from the arrangements with Mr Kenge. As ward of Chancery, Richard has to go before the Lord Chancellor to effect this latest revision in his career plans, and the Lord Chancellor is not pleased: He "described him, in open court, as a vexatious and capricious infant," and in chambers "very seriously reproved him for trifling with time, and not knowing his mind." But finally things are arranged for his entering the Horse Guards, applying for an Ensign's commission. He begins his military studies and in time "the commission was obtained, and Richard received directions with it to join a regiment in Ireland."

But before his departure, Jarndyce feels it necessary to have a serious talk with Richard and Ada about their future. He tells Ada, "Rick has now chosen his profession for the last time. All that he has of certainty will be expended when he is fully equipped. He has exhausted his resources, and is bound henceforward to the tree he has planted." But Richard persists in qualifying what Jarndyce has said: "I have exhausted my present resources," he insists, still clinging to the hope that a settlement will be reached. Jarndyce is appalled at this stubborn clinging to the Chancery case, and "with a sudden terror in his manner, and in an altered voice," pleads, "for the love of God, don't found a hope or expectation on the family curse! Whatever you do on this side the grave, never give one lingering glance towards the horrible phantom that has haunted us to manyh years. Better to borrow, better to beg, better to die!"

They are all shocked by Jarndyce's intensity. But he goes on further to propose that Richard and Ada release themselves of their commitment to each other, their engagement: "I ask you wholly to relinquish, for the present, any tie but your relationship.... Ada, it is better for him that he should be free, and that there should be no youthful engagement between you. Rick, it is better for her, much better; you owe it to her." He says that his experience with both of them has caused him to change his mind about the fitness of their engagement: "It is not right, and I must not recognise it."

Ada submits to the decision, and tells Richard, "I don't think you will fall in love with anybody else," and she is "not at all changeable," but she thinks Jarndyce is right in believing their engagement premature: "we are only cousins again, Richard -- for the time perhaps."

As Richard's departure for Ireland nears, he, Jarndyce, and Esther go to London to prepare. Ada remains behind at Bleak House. In London, Esther meets the man who has been training Richard with firearms and swords: Mr George. Jarndyce asks George how Richard's training has been going. "'Pretty good, sir,' he replied, folding his arms upon his broad chest, and looking very large. 'If Mr Carstone was to give his full mind to it, he would come out very good.... He did at first, sir, but not afterwards." It's a pattern Esther and Jarndyce have seen before in Richard. Then George suggests that perhaps he has "some young lady" on his mind, and looks at Esther. She hastens to assure him that she's not the young lady on Richard's mind.

Then Jarndyce tells George that she is Miss Summerson, and the look he gives her makes Esther ask if he has heard the name before. "No, miss. To my knowledge, I never heard it. I thought I had seen you somewhere." But both of them claim to remember faces well and that they've never seen each other before. Still, there is a moment of confusion before Jarndyce changes the subject, asking about the other pupils that George has trained. George mentions that one of them was, like Mr Jarndyce, a Chancery suitor. The man, "a small Shropshire farmer," he says, was so angry at how he had been treated by the law that George was afraid he intended to shoot someone and suggested he fine some other outlet for his anger.

"Was his name Gridley?" Jarndyce asks, and he and Esther are surprised at the coincidence when George says yes. Jarndyce says that he understands Gridley has gone too far in his protests about mistreatment by the court and is in hiding from the law. George admits as much, but adds that he's afraid Gridley "will be worn out soon," though he claims to know nothing about Gridley's whereabouts.

On the day of Richard's departure, everything having been taken care of, Richard proposes to Esther that they go watch the proceedings in the Court of Chancery. She has never been there, so she agrees. The scene is confusing and depressing, and "there seemed to be no reality in the whole scene, except poor little Miss Flite, the mad woman, standing on a bench, and nodding at us." She joins them, and they watch as "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" is called. "I counted twenty-three gentlemen in wigs, who said they were 'in it'; and none of them appeared to understand it much better than I." There is an hour of so of ineffectual business until the "huge volumes of affidavits" are bundled up and taken away again. "I glanced at Richard, on the termination of these hopeless proceedings, and was shocked to see the worn look of his handsome face."

Then Mr Guppy appears, and says that "there's a lady here, a friend of mine," who knows Esther. "As he spoke, I saw before me, as if she had started into bodily shape from my remembrance, Mrs Rachael of my godmother's house." She asks if Esther remembers her, and when Esther assures her she does, says, "'I am glad to see you, and glad you are not too proud to know me.' But indeed she seemed disappointed that I was not." When Esther calls her "Mrs Rachael," she "coldly" corrects her: She is now Mrs Chadband. Guppy and Mrs Chadband depart, but now Mr George makes his way through the crowd. He is looking for "a little cracked old woman," he says, unaware that Miss Flite is standing there beside Esther.

George asks Esther, "in a low whisper," if she recalls the conversation they had about Gridley. When she says yes, he tells her, "He is hiding at my place. I couldn't mention it. Hadn't his authority." But now Gridley is dying, and he wants to see Miss Flite. So Esther informs Miss Flite and they leave. On the way, Esther stops to write a note to Jarndyce about what's happening and sends it to him.

When they reach George's Shooting Gallery, "a very respectable old gentleman with grey hair" stops them and says that he is a physician who was sent for to attend a sick man at George's. Phil opens the door to admit them, and when they have entered, "the physician stopped, and, taking off his hat, appeared to vanish by magic, and to leave another and quite a different man in his place." It is Inspector Bucket, who has a warrant to arrest Gridley.

Bucket agrees to let George and Miss Flite go in to see Gridley first. As they wait, Mr Jarndyce arrives as well, and they all visit the dying man, who is no longer angry. Even Bucket speaks to him like an old friend:
"Why, Lord bless your soul, what times we have had together! Haven't I seen you in the Fleet over and over again, for contempt? Haven't I come into Court, twen-ty afternoons, for no other purpose than to see you pin the Chancellor like a bulldog? Do you remember, when you first began to threaten the lawyers, and the peace was sworn against you two or three times a week?" 
Quietly, George asks Bucket what he's going to do, and Bucket admits he doesn't know. "I only want to rouse him. I don't like to see an old acquaintance giving in like this." But a scream from Miss Flite announces that Gridley is dead: "'O no, Gridley!' she cried, as he fell heavily and calmly back from before her. 'Not without my blessing. After so many years!'"

The shadow of Gridley's death falls over Richard's departure, and as he leaves, Esther remembers what Gridley had said to Mr Jarndyce about Miss Flite: "There is a tie of many suffering year between us two, and it is the only tie I ever had on earth that Chancery has not broken!"

The 2005 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre dramatization features Pauline Collins as Miss Flite, Tony Haygarth as Gridley, Anne Reid as Mrs Rouncewell, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Hugo Speer as Mr George, Patrick Kennedy as Richard Carstone, Michael Smiley as Phil Squod, Tom Georgeson as Clamb, Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn, Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson, Katie Angelou as Charley Neckett, Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce, Phil Davis as Smallweed, Loo Brealey as Judy Smallweed, Alistair McGowan as Kenge, Carey Mulligan as Ada Clare, Nathalie Press as Caddy Jellyby, Bryan Dick as Prince Turveydrop, Matthew Kelly as Mr Turveydrop, Alun Armstrong as Inspector Bucket.

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