Bleak House Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Bleak House: Chapter 18

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Summary of Chapter XVIII: Lady Dedlock


Richard takes a while before he switches from being an apprentice from Mr. Badger’s to Mr. Kenge’s because he is still unsure of what he wants to do. All this is distressing to Mr. Jarndyce who finds the wind in the east. Richard is careless with his money and in Mr. Kenge’s office finally tackles the Jarndyce case to learn law.


Mr. Jarndyce, the young ladies, and Skimpole make a visit to Mr. Boythorn, who lives next to the Dedlocks in Lincolnshire. Boythorn has to take them in a detour to his house because of the disputed right of way with Dedlock, whom he calls “Sir Arrogant Numskull” (p. 187). Esther’s description of Chesney Wold and Boythorn’s house in the summer contrast with the November rain in the beginning, for there is peace and beauty in the country now. They see Watt Rouncewell as they pass through the village. He is fishing and hanging around Rosa at Chesney Wold again.


Boythorn’s house exhibits the qualities of “maturity and abundance,” a ripening influence everywhere  (p. 188). At church, Boythorn’s party see the Dedlocks, including Rosa and the French maid Hortense. Suddenly, Esther’s heart quickens when she sees Lady Dedlock, who reminds her of her aunt. She thinks of her childhood.


Boythorn and Skimpole have amusing discussions, for they are opposite in their views. Boythorn takes everything in the world as a personal insult and wants to right every wrong. Skimpole will not take anything seriously, not even the slaves in America, or his own welfare. He is a “child.”


In a storm, Jarndyce and the girls take shelter in a keeper’s lodge on the Dedlock estate, and there they meet Lady Dedlock. She knows Jarndyce and they speak politely, though she is very proud. She asks to be introduced to the young ladies, looking curiously at Esther. She speaks of her sister, whom Jarndyce knew, saying they had gone their separate ways.


When the carriage comes for Lady Dedlock, there are two maids, Hortense and Rosa. Lady Dedlock says Rosa is her personal maid now and dismisses Hortense, who in anger, takes off her shoes and walks barefoot back to the house.


Commentary on Chapter XVIII


This chapter represents the first time the main plots with Esther and Lady Dedlock have intertwined, and it is significant. There is some mysterious pull between them, which foreshadows both future events and refers to the past. Lady Dedlock mentions her sister, who was Miss Barbary, the woman who raised Esther. Lady Dedlock seems to be getting some hints about Esther’s identity and perhaps for that reason, pulls away from her. Esther connects Lady Dedlock and her aunt in her mind.


The pride of the Dedlocks is commented on more than once, by Boythorn regarding Sir Leicester, and in the meeting with Lady Dedlock. The firing of Hortense, the French maid, is also of great significance, for Hortense is “passionate” (p. 196) and her hatred for the Dedlocks aroused. The Dedlocks are not well liked in their neighborhood but believe in their own untouchable importance.



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