Bleak House: Chapter 22

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Summary of Chapter XXII: Mr. Bucket

 

In Mr. Tulkinghorn’s chambers, Snagsby tells the lawyer once more the story that Jo told about escorting the veiled lady to Nemo’s grave. Mr. Bucket, the police inspector, appears from the shadows. Bucket wants Snagsby to help him find Jo to question him about the incident. He promises not to hurt the boy. He says he is also after Mr. Gridley for contempt of court.

 

Snagsby is about to have a life-changing experience as he takes Bucket to Tom-all-Alone’s to find Jo. It is a “dream of horrible faces” (p. 236). Mr. Bucket points out the fever houses of Darby, the tenements where people are carried out dead every day. Snagsby is shocked by the sights and smells, a London he does not know.

 

They come upon the bricklayers that Esther met through Mrs. Pardiggle. Now they are living on the street, the men drunk, the women huddled with a baby. It is Liza’s baby now, for Jenny, her friend, had lost hers before. They discuss with Bucket how they don’t know whether they want the child to live or die. Snagsby blows his nose in sympathy. Finally Jo, who had gone to get medicine for the baby, returns, and he goes with Bucket and Snagsby back to Tulkinghorn’s.

 

Jo sees a lady in a black dress and veil and says, “There she is,” but then he says no when he sees her hand and hears her voice. They let Jo go, and then the woman takes off the veil. It is Hortense, whose clothes Lady Dedlock borrowed. Snagsby goes home confused but afraid, since he has to hide all this from Mrs. Snagsby, who is jealous and inquisitive.

 

Commentary on Chapter XXII

 

The pathos of the slum mothers discussing how hard it is to want their children to live to be brought up in the world, moves both Bucket and Snagsby. The mother knows it is better for her baby to die than have to grow up as a criminal or a homeless boy like Jo, who has no place in the world. And yet how can she help but love her baby and try to save him? Bucket is moved, though he is used to this. Snagsby is overwhelmed.

 

Bucket is the policeman who will uphold the law, like Neckett, but, at the same time, has some fellow feeling for the people around him. Tulkinghorn is more sinister and has no feeling for others. He ruthlessly tracks Lady Dedlock, hoping to find a scandal. Hortense, the maid, is cooperating because she was fired by Lady Dedlock and hates her. She also thinks Tulkinghorn will help to get her a new place.

 

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