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Bleak House: Chapter 13

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Summary of Chapter XIII: Esther’s Narrative


Many consultations about Richard’s future are needed to find him an occupation. He himself is uncertain. Mr. Jarndyce tells Esther he fears a combination of indecisive character and expectations of getting money from the Jarndyce case.  Chancery encourages people to put off their lives.


Richard is fit for nothing, having been educated in a public school (the equivalent of a private school in the United States) to read Latin but to do nothing practical. Finally, they hit on “surgeon,” though Richard knows nothing of the profession. Mr. Kenge says he will place Richard with his cousin, Bayham Badger in Chelsea. Mr. Jarndyce and the young wards go to London for a few weeks to settle Richard in, staying at a lodging near Oxford Street, over an upholster’s shop.


Meanwhile, Mr. Guppy manages to spoil all their outings to plays and other entertainments by following Esther and looking forlorn. He tries to make her feel guilty about her rejection. She does not know what to do; if she tells someone he will get into trouble or she will provoke some fight, so she says nothing.


When they meet Bayham Badger, the surgeon, he turns out to be a strange character. He introduces himself as Mrs. Badger’s third husband, and is constantly speaking of the achievements of her first two husbands, Captain Swosser and Professor Dingo. He feels very much in their shadow.


Ada confesses her “secret” to Esther, that Richard is in love with her, and that she loves him back. Esther is amused, for all of this has been obvious to her and Mr. Jarndyce and they give their blessings, provided the young couple waits for Richard to have a profession. Mr. Jarndyce hints that Esther has to think of her own future as well. She mentions in passing that there was another gentleman at dinner—a dark surgeon (Woodcourt). She thinks him agreeable.


Commentary on Chapter XIII


Mr. Jarndyce tries to guide his wards, but he sees Richard’s weakness showing through. Richard has no clear idea of a profession because in the back of his mind, he thinks he may be a gentleman when he gets his Jarndyce fortune. He is in love, however, and promises to work hard so he may be worthy of Ada’s hand in marriage.  Mr. Jarndyce warns them both to “Trust in nothing but in Providence and your own efforts” (p. 137).


Richard promises “I wouldn’t make her unhappy—no, not even for her love” (p. 137). The lovers will be sorely tested by the Chancery suit. They are “young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise” (p. 137).


Meanwhile, Esther has her own prospects. Guppy stalks her, and she is afraid to expose him. The dark surgeon, (Mr. Woodcourt), is a more welcome possibility. Mr. Jarndyce clearly adores Esther and tells her that her happiness must not come last: “the little woman is to be held in remembrance above all other people” (p. 138).



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