Summary of Chapter XLIV: The Letter and the Answer
Esther and Jarndyce speak of the Dedlock secret, realizing her mother’s difficult position with both Tulkinghorn and the French maid trying to harm her. Esther says her guardian has lightened her secret. Jarndyce says he will be ever watchful to help Lady Dedlock if he can. He then says he has something particular to tell her, but he will not tell it to her unless she understands he will never change and that she can trust him. If so, he will write her a letter.
He waits a week and then gives her the letter. She seems to know what it is and before she opens it, she reviews her life. She reads the letter three times. He asks her to be the mistress of Bleak House. She mentions that it was not a love letter but full of the most tender love and consideration. She had been wanting to devote her life to his happiness, but still she cries, “as if something . . . were indefinitely lost to me” (p. 463). She knows that his love is strong enough to overlook her disfigurement and birth, and she takes out the dried flowers from Woodcourt and burns them.
She makes Mr. Jarndyce wait two weeks for an answer, and he never pressures her, nor acts any differently towards her. Finally she puts her arms around his neck, kisses him and says, yes.
Commentary on Chapter XLIV
This is an unusual courtship and perhaps why Esther hesitates. She cries for her lost youth and dreams of romance. She takes some time to adjust her ideas of love and marriage, and then, like her mother before her, she must leave the handsome lover behind, and take as husband a man old enough to be her father. Lady Dedlock was not happy in such a marriage, though Sir Leicester loved his wife and was good to her.
There is more hope for Esther’s marriage since there are no secrets and already a great deal of love on both sides. In reviewing her life, Esther realizes that when she was ill and became changed, no one around her changed towards her, “and all this happiness shone like a light from one central figure,” Mr. Jarndyce (p. 462). Woodcourt is the dashing hero, written up in the papers, devoting a life to noble causes. Mr. Jarndyce is quietly a good, loving, and just man, trying to help those around him. Esther is a woman of good sense and knows she has a good thing.