Bleak House Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Bleak House: Chapter 11

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Summary of Chapter XI: Our Dear Brother


Tulkinghorn and Krook go to look at the body of Nemo, realize he is dead, with the opium by his side. They send Miss Flite, the mad woman from upstairs, to find the doctor. A dark young surgeon (Mr. Woodcourt) says the man has been dead three hours. He had been getting opium from him for a year and a half and has died from an overdose.


Krook asks if he did it on purpose. The doctor says it was probably an accident and speculates that the man had a fall in fortune, for he looks like he could have been good looking and respectable. Krook knew nothing about him, though he lived with him for a year and a half.


Tulkinghorn lies and says he came to have the man do some work for him. He proposes to send for Snagsby who employed him. Snagsby says that the man Nemo worked for him and was desperate for work. They search the room for papers to say who he was but find nothing. There will have to be an inquest, says Tulkinghorn. They call for the beadle, and soon there is a crowd around Krook’s shop, a general holiday feel. The corpse lies alone on the bed all night.


The next day is the inquest, and it is like a fair around Krook’s shop, with peddlers and kids and clowns. The Coroner sets up at the local tavern and hears testimony. There is only one ragged boy that knows anything of the man, but he is not allowed to testify because he has only one name: Jo. The Coroner rules accidental death, and the body is removed.


Tulkinghorn and the Coroner listen to the boy Jo say off the record that he and the man were street buddies, for the nameless man had pity on him on cold nights and gave him coins for meals. They spoke as one homeless person to another and gave each other cheer. The boy keeps saying, “He wos wery good to me” (p. 113).


Commentary on Chapter XI


Tulkinghorn lies about why he is visiting Nemo, not wanting to explain that he is investigating Lady Dedlock’s secrets. The sensitive surgeon, Mr. Woodcourt, as we find out his name later, is sympathetic to Nemo, guessing that he had a fall in life, for he obviously came from a better background. He had been giving him opium, a common pain killer at that time. The man took an overdose. He owed rent and was obviously addicted, taking large doses of opium. From the testimony of both Krook and the street boy, Jo, Nemo was lonely and an outcast. He was kind to Jo, saying that neither of them had a friend in the world. Nemo told Krook that he was his nearest relation. And yet Krook, his landlord, knows nothing of him. Nemo does just enough copying of legal documents to stay alive.


The man’s lonely death is further made grotesque by the holiday air of the neighbors rejoicing that some incident has happened. It brings them into the street where they can sell their wares, gossip, and drink. Nemo is truly “no man,” with no one to care whether he lives or dies. This is another of Dickens’s dark portraits of London and the impersonality of city life, in which people ignore the suffering of others. Nemo, in his misery, at least reached out in charity to the waif, Jo, as a fellow human being. It is left up in the air whether or not he committed suicide. He had reason to, but the Coroner rules leniently.


Dickens has a tendency to introduce characters long before we hear their names or who they are. The crazy woman is Miss Flite, a Jarndyce suitor, and the dark surgeon is Mr. Woodcourt, both major characters.




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