Bleak House: Chapter 24

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Summary of Chapter XXIV: An Appeal Case

 

Richard asks Mr. Jarndyce to change his profession to the army. The Lord Chancellor agrees but gives him a lecture. He is given an Ensign’s commission in the Horse Guards and will join a regiment in Ireland.

 

Mr. Jarndyce asks that Ada and Richard break their engagement until he can show some responsible and steady position in life. Richard disagrees and is angry, but Mr. Jarndyce is adamant that Richard must not rely on the Jarndyce case for hope. He brings up Tom Jarndyce’s suicide. Ada agrees to break the engagement but claims she will not change towards Richard; he may trust her.

 

Richard and Mr. Jarndyce are estranged. Esther and Mr. Jarndyce go with Richard to London to get his outfit ready for leaving. They meet Mr. George, who has been training Richard at arms. He tells them Richard would be good at the gun and sword if he applied himself. Mr. George seems taken with Esther and thinks he has seen her before.

 

Mr. George earns a poor living with few students but mentions he has had French women practicing the gun. Mr. George knows that Mr. Jarndyce is a Chancery suitor and says he has known another who came to shoot to get off steam. It was Mr. Gridley, who is now hiding from the law, for contempt of court.

 

On Richard’s last day before embarking, he proposes to Esther they go to court to hear how the case is coming. She has never been and is surprised that from the procedural point of view it goes smoothly, in contrast to all the lives it is wrecking. Mr. Guppy sees Esther and introduces her to Mrs. Rachel Chadband, the former housekeeper of her aunt. Mr. George interrupts with an urgent message for Miss Flite to come with him. Gridley is in hiding at the shooting gallery, is dying, and would like to see his friend, Miss Flite.

 

At Leicester Square, Inspector Bucket is already there to arrest Gridley, but Gridley is dying, with Jarndyce, Richard, Miss Flite, Mr. George, and Esther gathered around. Bucket begins to plead with him to pull through and resume his anger, so he can have another go round with him and the court. But Gridley is at last worn out and dies, taking special leave of Miss Flite, his most constant fellow sufferer.

 

Commentary on Chapter XXIV

 

Mr. George predicts that Gridley will soon die, for “You may file a strong man’s heart away for a good many years, but it will tell all of a sudden at last” (p. 262). In court, Esther sees the “full dress and ceremony” of the wigged attorneys, that represent “waste, and want, and beggared misery” (p. 263).

 

Once again Bucket seems to be in sympathy with those he must hunt. He begs Gridley, the man he came to arrest, to have heart so they can keep up their game. Gridley says that at least “I stood up with my single hand against them all, you know I told them the truth to the last” (p. 268). He takes leave of Miss Flite because “there is a tie of many suffering years between us two, and it is the only tie I ever had on earth that Chancery has not broken” (p. 268). He confirms George’s prediction that he broke suddenly “in an hour” (p. 268). He shakes the hand of John Jarndyce as a “good man, superior to injustice” (p. 268).

 

Jarndyce seems to be the only man involved in the case to stay aloof from the power of Chancery. He does what he can to remedy the ills by caring for the victims of the suit, but his young ward, Richard, seems headed for the same kind of crack-up that he witnesses here with Gridley. One after the other they fall before the machinery of the law, which, as Esther observes is so well oiled and ceremonious.

 

 

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