Bleak House Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Bleak House: Chapter 37

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Summary of Chapter XXXVII: Jarndyce and Jarndyce


Esther feels the weight of her mother’s secret and does not tell anyone. Richard and Mr. Skimpole come down to see Ada and Esther. Richard wants to explain his side of the argument with Mr. Jarndyce. Richard is on leave, looking over some Chancery business.

Esther thinks the irresponsible Skimpole is the worst friend he could have now.


Ada and Richard are reunited. She still loves him, but Esther sees that Richard is being eaten up by the court case. He explains it is like living in an unfinished house, so there is no now for a suitor, always waiting for the business to finish. Richard argues that Mr. Jarndyce is an interested party, his enemy in the suit, and that is why he divided the lovers. Richard continues to hope for himself and Ada because under either will, they will get money. It is just a matter of getting a judgment. Esther argues with him in vain, pointing out the virtue of Mr. Jarndyce, and the futility of waiting for something that may never come. He says it can’t last forever, especially if he makes it the object of his life.


Esther concludes, “Richard was losing himself, and scattering his whole life to the winds” (p. 401). Ada writes Richard a letter defending Mr. Jarndyce and asking him not to continue the suit. She tells Esther that no matter what happens to Richard, she will be the one person true to him.


Richard’s legal advisor, Vholes, comes down to fetch him for the court date. Vholes admits to Esther Richard is not needed in court, but he does what his clients want.


Commentary on Chapter XXXVII


Esther hints that the suit has twisted Richard’s judgment, and he comments, “it taints everyone” (p. 398). Esther sees only her guardian and Ada to be “true and good above the dead sea of the Chancery suit” (p. 406). She asks if there is any justice in the case, and Richard sounds like Miss Flite when he says, “There is truth and justice somewhere in the case” (p. 399).


Skimpole is his flighty and comic self in discussing Richard’s situation, which he sees clearly and can satirize, but won’t help, even when Esther asks him to. Dickens continues to use Skimpole throughout the story for his satiric and light touches, even in dark moments. Skimpole has visited the Dedlock mansion and sees only “stuffed people” (p. 404) there, as in a museum, another comment on the uselessness of clinging to the past. Skimpole likes to ridicule things without taking action about anything.


The lawyer Vholes is another creepy lawyer, named for the vole, or rodent, whose only agenda is to ruthlessly get money out of his clients, not really to advise their best interest. He mentions how many family members he has to support, and so “the mill” must always be going (p. 405). Esther sees him looking at Richard as if “looking at his prey and charming it” (p. 406).




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