Summary of Chapter XXIII: Esther’s Narrative
After six weeks at Boythorn’s, Esther, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce return to Bleak House. Hortense, the French maid, comes to see Esther, begging for a job as a lady’s maid, but Esther turns her away, saying she keeps no maid. She tells Esther she took an oath when she threw away her shoes, and she will keep it.
Richard is haunting the Chancery court, which grieves Mr. Jarndyce. Richard admits to Esther that he is in debt, but he still hopes for a settlement. Now, however, he would like to try the army, for he is sick of law.
On a visit to Caddy Jellyby, she asks Esther to help Prince and her announce their engagement to their parents. Esther goes with Caddy to see the Turveydrops where Prince announces his engagement to his father. Mr. Turveydrop at first acts betrayed, but on hearing that both of them will serve him now, he is content. Mrs. Jellyby, however, acts completely indifferent when Caddy tells her the news. Mr. Jellyby is going bankrupt, but she has a new boy as a secretary to take Caddy’s place. She regrets that Caddy did not accept Mr. Quale, the philanthropist.
When Esther returns home, Mr. Jarndyce has a present for her: Charley Neckett is her new lady’s maid!
Commentary on Chapter XXIII
Esther is dismayed at the lack of parental support for Caddy. She remembers her one desire to be useful and win some love in her life. When she returns to Bleak House, she feels loved and welcomed home, and Charley tells her that she has been given to Esther as a gift of love from Mr. Jarndyce. Charley obviously suits Esther better than Hortense, the proud French woman. Hortense hints that she made some vow of revenge against Lady Dedlock for firing her. Richard continues to go down, step by step, into the Jarndyce pit, though warned.