Bleak House: Chapter 25
Summary of Chapter XXV: Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All
The narrator intersperses tragic scenes with comic ones, such as in this chapter with the Snagsbys. Mr. Snagsby has changed since he saw Tom-all-Alone’s, and Mrs. Snagsby’s watchful eye sees it. Snagsby does not know how to express it except, “Something is wrong somewhere” (p. 270). It seems a great secret that he must keep to himself because Bucket told him to. He cannot explain why he was late because of the excursion to find Jo.
Mrs. Snagsby begins to suspect her husband of all sorts of things, wondering who Nemo was, and who Jo was. She decides Jo must be the natural son of Mr. Snagsby. When Reverend Chadband makes a sermon on Jo in the Snagsby drawing room, Mrs. Snagby wrests out a secret meaning from every phrase, sobbing loudly at Mr. Snagsby’s supposed infidelity until she has a fit and has to be carried out of the room.
Guster the maid gives Jo something to eat and speaks to him as a person, one of the few times anyone has been kind to him.
Commentary on Chapter XXV
Snagsby is a decent man, and he is in shock at the revelation of Jo’s life in the slum. He does not know how to talk about it, and he has sworn secrecy to Inspector Bucket about the incident. This is sure to upset his household, for Mrs. Snagsby cannot abide any secrets. The narrator has a chance to satirize her and the Chadbands at the same time, for we hear one of the minister’s nonsensical sermons on Jo and poverty.
As in the case with Mrs. Pardiggle’s do-gooding mission, the upper classes cannot help or comfort the poorer classes, because 1) they lack the experience of living in such conditions, and 2) the problem seems to be impersonal and bigger than any individual to help. In Tom-all-Alone’s, Liz and Jenny, the slum mothers, could comfort each other. Here, it is Guster, who came from a workhouse, who knows how to talk to Jo and make him feel like a person. Chadband keeps calling Jo a human boy, but he exhibits him like an animal in a zoo and talks about him, not to him. Poor Snagsby has been shaken by the human misery he has witnessed, and Mrs. Snagsby decides his strange behavior is about a secret love affair.