Bleak House: Chapter 20

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Summary of Chapter XX: A New Lodger

 

Mr. Guppy regards Richard Carstone, the new apprentice  at Kenge and Carboy’s, as his enemy, for no particular reason. He is glad that he is trying to slog through the Jarndyce case, for he thinks that will confuse him. The other lawyers are on vacation, and Guppy is in charge. He has his protégé apprentice, Chick Smallweed of fifteen, who copies everything Guppy does. Suddenly, Tony Jobling appears, a friend of Guppy’s who is out of work and starving. Guppy lends him money and invites Jobling and Smallweed to lunch.

 

Tony Jobling gorges on the food, and Guppy tells him of a possible room and work he can get for him. Jobling seems to be a gentleman down on his luck, and Guppy places him in Mr. Nemo’s old room at Krook’s and gets him copy work at Snagsby’s.

 

At Krook’s we learn that Mr. Krook is barely alive and soaked with alcohol. Nemo’s room has been redone, but Guppy tells Jobling about Krook’s mysterious papers that he keeps and how he is trying to teach himself to read so he can interpret them.

 

Commentary on Chapter XX

 

History repeats itself. Guppy gets Jobling to take on the old life of Mr. Nemo and even gives him a phony name, Mr. Weevle. Jobling, like Nemo, seems to be a gentleman down on his luck, running from the law and from debt, so Guppy helps him escape the same way Nemo did, by taking a disguise, living at Krook’s and becoming a copyist. Jobling was the one who accompanied Guppy to Chesney Wold and saw the portrait of Lady Dedlock and heard the legend of Ghost’s Walk.

 

Guppy is aware of Krook’s enormous pile of paperwork and secrets connected to the Chancery cases, but it seems Krook is not able to interpret the evidence any more than the Lord Chancellor, because he cannot read. Guppy is nothing but an aspiring law clerk, aping his betters, and he in his turn has a protégé, Smallweed, who copies him. Jobling takes up the life of Nemo, and nothing changes.

 

Guppy suspects all other clerks of having “sinister designs upon him” and makes a “counterplot” on Richard in defense (p. 208). Richard immerses himself in reading Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, and Guppy is satisfied his “enemy” will soon be in a muddle. Richard’s attempt will be no better than Krook’s, for the case is indecipherable. Guppy is a clerk of no importance, but he represents the smallness of the legal profession, its pretensions, and its interference with other lives.

 

 

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