Summary of Chapter XLIII: Esther’s Narrative
Esther, Ada, and Mr. Jarndyce visit Skimpole at home to ask him to not take money from Richard, and to help him drop the Jarndyce suit. As usual, Skimpole jokes and charms everyone, claiming he is a child in such matters. He introduces them to his daughters who have been brought up to be equally scatter-brained and irresponsible. Then Jarndyce suggests he will give Skimpole his spending money when he goes out with Rick. Skimpole claims Richard is his best friend. Esther is charmed because he “seemed quite candid, and really to mean what he said” (p. 453).
Esther is constantly concerned for her mother’s safety and afraid to do anything that would betray her. When Sir Leicester Dedlock calls at Bleak House to invite them to come to Chesney Wold at any time, Esther realizes she must impart her secret to her guardian to prevent such an event.
Esther tells Mr. Jarndyce she is Lady Dedlock’s daughter, brought up by her sister, Miss Barbary. In exchange, he tells her that Miss Barbary was once engaged to Boythorn, but threw him over to raise Esther in secret. Esther feels that she destroyed so many lives by being born, but her guardian comforts her and kisses her tenderly. She vows to show him how much he means to her.
Commentary on Chapter XLIII
The visit to Skimpole’s house, the Polygon, is memorable, with his eating his “frugal breakfast” of peaches, grapes, coffee, and claret. The house is a dingy wreck because no one is competent in this family: “We can’t cook anything whatever . . . We are capable of looking on and of being interested” (p. 453). Sir Leicester tries to fulfill his role as country gentleman and does not want the feud with Boythorn to interfere with his manners in the neighborhood. He feels he has slighted Jarndyce, whom his wife respects. He also seems interested in having Skimpole look at the family treasures since he is an art critic.