Bleak House: Chapter 5

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Summary of Chapter V: A Morning Adventure

 

Caddy Jellyby suggests to Esther that they go for a walk before breakfast, since her mother sleeps late, and there is never any breakfast till later. Ada and Richard decide to go too. Caddy, who has a sharp tongue, complains about her mother to Esther, treating her as a friend. The Jellyby house is close to the Court of Chancery, and the young people run into the old lady they saw in court the day before.

 

She is so excited to see them, she insists they come to her room nearby for a visit. She is one of two lodgers who has rooms in the Krook Rag and Bottle Warehouse. This is an unusual shop in the shadow of Chancery Lane that deals in refuse. Krook, the somewhat mad proprietor, buys bones, scraps, old law books, anything that others throw away. His shop is a junk heap, and he seems never to sell anything.

 

There is also a notice posted by the second lodger, Nemo, a law copyist, who wants work. Krook greets them, a little cadaverous man, who looks at Ada’s beautiful hair, explaining he has three sacks of ladies’ hair below. Richard makes a move to protect her. Krook explains they call his shop Chancery and he has the nickname of Lord Chancellor because everything in his shop is “wasting away and going to rack and ruin” (p. 40).

 

When Krook finds out the young people are wards in Jarndyce, he is startled, mentioning all the names in the suit: Barbary, Clare, Dedlock. Then he tells the tragedy of Tom Jarndyce, who blew out his brains in a nearby tavern, for he was a suitor then, waiting, like the old woman, for a judgment. The young people are affected by this story and the shock of coming “into the inheritance of a protracted misery” (p. 41).

 

They go to the old woman’s room (Miss Flite) and see the bird cages full of birds that she has promised to let go when the judgment is given in the case, but already many birds have died and had to be replaced. The woman lives in poverty, so Richard quietly leaves some money for her. The old woman tells about the second lodger, saying the rumor is he has sold himself to the devil.

 

The young people cannot wait to get out of the evil shop, and Ada says she is “grieved that I should be the enemy” in the case to her cousin (p. 45). She realizes that everyone related to a Jarndyce is an enemy to every other for the inheritance. The young wards declare that Chancery shall never make them enemies. They eat breakfast and get into the carriage for the drive to their new life at Bleak House.

 

Commentary on Chapter V

 

This chapter introduces a key symbol, Krook’s Rag and Bottle Warehouse, a symbol for Chancery Court, with Krook as the Lord Chancellor. It makes the point of the grotesque ruin the court has made of the lives of suitors. Richard asks if the old bones in the corner are former suitors. He sees the court case as a game of chess. It was here that Tom Jarndyce hung out until he killed himself in despair. The old woman is obviously next in line, already mad. She says she will be found dead one day, like her birds in the cages. Krook looks at Ada’s hair covetously, like an old gnome in a fairytale. Interestingly enough, he mentions the name “Barbary” as one of the suitors, and we know that Esther’s aunt Barbary brought her up. The other notable detail is that the second lodger, the law copyist, Nemo, a man of about forty-five, will become very important in the story.

 

Krook’s name and character are a satire, like many of the lawyers’ names—Tangle, Guppy, Vholes, Tulkinghorn—on the legal profession. The Lord Chancellor is a crook and his court deals in refuse and death. Krook himself is cadaverous and smoke comes from his mouth “as if he were on fire within” (p. 39). This is a foreshadowing of Krook’s eventual fate.

 

The wards in Jarndyce have learned many bits and pieces before going to Bleak House. They see the evil of the court, and they already know their cousin and guardian, John Jarndyce, is a good man trying to save them from this inherited misery. It is a curious fact that there are so many stray orphans in the case that need to be gathered together in the shelter of Bleak House. Ada mentions that the court has made the family of Jarndyce into enemies, but John Jarndyce has a different plan.

 

 

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