By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

20. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, pp. 719-752

Chapter 47: Jo's Will through Chapter 48: Closing In

Woodcourt and Jo make their way through London, Jo sticking to the shadows while Woodcourt walks in the open. Woodcourt "revolves in his mind how and where he shall bestow his companion. 'It surely is a strange fact,' he considers, 'that in the heart of a civilised world this creature in human form should be more difficult to dispose of than an unowned dog.'" The observation takes us back more than four hundred pages, to the passage in which Jo and a dog listen to music, and Dickens observes, "how far above the human listener is the brute!"

Jo is so ill that he can't even eat, and Woodcourt takes his pulse and listens to his chest, then, unable to find an apothecary, gives Jo some wine, which restores him enough that he can eat the bread he has been given. They talk, and Woodcourt hears of "the adventure of the lady in the veil, with all its consequences." He decides to take Jo to Miss Flite, but when he reaches the old rag-and-bottle shop, he finds that she has moved. Judy Smallweed is there, and tells Woodcourt "that Miss Flite and her birds are domiciled with a Mrs Blinder, in Bell Yard" -- the former home of Gridley and the Neckett children.

Miss Flite is of course delighted to see the heroic Woodcourt, and suggests that they take Jo to Mr George, who will know what to do with him. George welcomes them. Woodcourt explains, "I am unwilling to place him in a hospital, even if I could procure him immediate admission, because I foresee that he would not stay there many hours, if he could be so much as got there. The same objection applies to a workhouse ... which is a system that I don't take kindly to." He tells George that Jo has a terror of a "person who ordered him to keep out of the way," and reveals that the man is Bucket, whom George of course knows, and describes as "a -- rum customer."

When Woodcourt mentions that he wants to tell Esther about Jo's plight, George immediately agrees to take Jo in himself: "I can assure you that I would willingly be knocked on the head at any time, if it would be at all agreeable to Miss Summerson; and consequently I esteem it a privilege to do that young lady any service, however small." Woodcourt assures him that Jo is not contagious, but he also adds, quietly, "the boy is deplorably low and reduced; and that he may be -- I do not say that he is -- too far gone to recover."

As George and Phil Squod take Jo in, Dickens comments,
He is not one of Mrs Pardiggle's Tockahoopo Indians; he is not one of Mrs Jellyby's lambs, being wholly unconnected with Borrioboola-Gha; he is not softened by distance and unfamiliarity; he is not a genuine foreign-born savage; he is the ordinary home-made article. Dirty, ugly, disagreeable to the senses, in body a common creature of the common streets, only in soul a heathen. Homely filth begrimes him, homely parasites devour him, homely sorees are in him, homely rags are on him; native ignorance, the growth of English soil and climate, sinks his immortal nature lower than the beasts that perish.
George, telling Jo that Phil Squod "was found, when a baby, in the gutter," sends the two of them off to get the boy a bath and some clean clothes. And then he talks to Woodcourt, revealing that the story about the lady in the veil took place in Tulkinghorn's offices. Woodcourt asks what sort of man Tulkinghorn is, and George replies, "a confoundedly bad kind of man. He is a slow-torturing kind of man. He is no more like flesh and blood, than a rusty old carbine is."

When Jo and Phil return, Woodcourt goes to see Jarndyce, with whom he returns. Jo's condition is worsening, and as Jo keeps mentioning Mr Snagsby, who has been his benefactor, Woodcourt goes to his place of business. When Woodcourt mentions Jo, Snagsby gives a groan: "You couldn't name an individual human being -- except myself -- that my little woman is more set and determined against than Jo." But he can't explain why, when Woodcourt asks. Nevertheless, "being tender-hearted, and affected by the account he hears of Jo's condition, he readily engages to 'look round,' as early in the evening as he can manage it quietly."

Jo tells Snagsby that Esther has been to see him and that she doesn't blame him for making him sick. And then he asks Snagsby to write something for him:
"Wot I was a thinkin on then, Mr Sangsby, wos, that wen I was moved on as fur as ever I could go and couldn't be moved no furder, whether you might be so good p'raps, as to write out, wery large so that any one could see it anywheres, as that I wos wery truly hearty sorry that I done it and that I never went fur to do it; and that though I didn't know nothink at all, I knowd was Mr Woodcot once cried over it and wos allus grieved over it, and that I hoped as he'd be able to forgiv me in his mind. If the writin could be made to say it wery large, he might."
Tearfully, Snagsby promises to do so, and, having already left three half-crowns for Jo, leaves another one.

At the end, Woodcourt asks Jo if he knows any prayers, and Jo says, as always, "Never know'd nothink, sir.... Mr Chadbands he wos a prayin wunst at Mr Sangsby's and I heerd him, but he sounded as if he wos a speakin' to his-self, and not to me." And the people who used to come to Tom-all-Alone's to pray for the people there "all mostly sed as the t'other wuns prayed wrong, and all mostly sounded to be a talking to theirsselves, or a passing blame on the t'others, and not a talkin to us." He says he would like to be buried next to "him as wos wery good to me," meaning Nemo. As Woodcourt says the Lord's Prayer, he dies, and Dickens makes his pronouncement:
Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us, every day. 

Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock is the brilliant center of every social event, for "it is not in her nature, when envious eyes are looking on, to yield or to droop." But she is planning an act of defiance. She calls Rosa to her one morning, and prepares her for dismissal: "There are reasons now known to me, reasons in which you have no part, rendering it far better for you that you should not remain here. You must not remain here. I have determined that you shall not. I have written to the father of your lover, and he will be here to-day." Rosa is distraught, and Lady Dedlock assures her that it gives her great pain as well.

When Mr Rouncewell is announced, she goes to the library, where she finds Sir Leicester in conference with Tulkinghorn. She tells her husband that Rouncewell is there because she has decided "that we had better make an end of the question of that girl. I am tired to death of the matter." So Sir Leicester tells the footman to show "the iron gentleman" -- his term for Rouncewell the factory owner -- in. Under Lady Dedlock's questioning, Rouncewell tells her that his son is still in love with Rosa. She says, "if you cannot give us the assurance that this fancy is at an end, I have come to the conclusion that the girl had better leave me."

Sir Leicester protests that Rosa has had the "good fortune ... to have attracted the notice and favour of an eminent lady," and wonders whether she should be deprived of this advantage, and as he sees it, be punished just because she "has attracted the notice of Mr Rouncewell's son." Rouncewell, however, reminds him that it was his idea in the first place that she should be taken from service and educated to a higher station. Sir Leicester is, of course, affronted by what he sees as a challenge to the social order, that service to the Dedlocks should be ranked lower than marriage to the son of a man who has made his fortune in manufacturing.

Lady Dedlock intervenes: "The girl is a very good girl; I have nothing whatever to say against her; but she is so far insensible to her many advantages and her good fortune, that she is in love -- or supposes she is, poor little fool -- and unable to appreciate them." Her calculated pose of indifference changes Sir Leicester's mind, so he decides that Rosa "had better go." She maintains this façade of coldness even when Rosa enters, still evidently in distress.

At this point, Tulkinghorn speaks up, "She seems after all ... as if she were crying at going away." Rouncewell says that is because "she is not well-bred," and accompanies her out, as Rosa "thanks my Lady over and over again." Lady Dedlock doesn't betray her true feelings even then. She "waves her off with indifference." Tulkinghorn knows she is acting, however. When Sir Leicester goes out, and Lady Dedlock is left to dine alone, he asks to see her. The dismissal of Rosa, he says, "is a violation of our agreement."

She replies that she has done what she can "to spare an innocent girl (especially, remembering your own reference to her when you told my story to the assembled guests at Chesney Wold) from the taint of my impending shame." And when he tells her that, since she has broken their agreement and that he now feels justified in taking his own course in the matter, she says, "I am quite prepared."

She asks if Tulkinghorn plans to reveal her secret to Sir Leicester that night, and he says no, but he can't promise that he won't do so tomorrow: "I would rather say no more." He takes his leave and heads for his home, as Dickens observes that there is nothing that tells Tulkinghorn, "Don't go home!"

As for Lady Dedlock, she asks a servant to open the garden gate and to give her the key. "She will walk there some time, to ease her aching head," she tells him. "She may be an hour; she may be more."

Tulkinghorn  reaches home and goes to his wine cellar, having to "cross a little prison-like yard." He "looks up casually, thinking what a fine night, what a bright large moon, what multitudes of stars! A quiet night, too."

After a little while the quiet is disturbed. "What's that? Who fired a gun or pistol? Where was it?"

In Tulkinghorn's office, the allegorical Roman painted on the ceiling is still pointing.
Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), A New Meaning in the Roman (Source: David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page)
But, a little after the coming of the day, come people to clean the rooms. And either the Roman has some new meaning in him, not expressed before, or the foremost of them goes wild; for, looking up at his outstretched hand, and looking down at what is below it, that person shrieks and flies. The others, looking in as the first one looked, shriek and fly too, and there is an alarm in the street.... It happens surely, that every one who comes into the darkened room and looks at these things, looks up at the roman, and that he is invested in all eyes with mystery and awe, as if he were a paralysed dumb witness.
Tulkinghorn has been shot through the heart.

The 2005 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre dramatization features Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Richard Harrington as Allan Woodcourt, Harry Eden as Jo, Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson, Carey Mulligan as Ada Clare, Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce, Hugo Speer as Mr George, Michael Smiley as Phil Squod, Sean McGinley as Snagsby, Pauline Collins as Miss Flite, Lilo Baur as Hortense, Tom Georgeson as Clamb, Phil Davis as Smallweed, Loo Brealey as Judy Smallweed, Alun Armstrong as Mr Bucket.

No comments:

Post a Comment