Summary of Chapter X: The Law Writer
This chapter returns to third-person and describes the Law-Stationer’s shop in Cook’s Court, London, bordering Chancery Lane. Mr. and Mrs. Snagsby run the shop, though Mrs. Snagsby is the real boss. Mr. Snagsby rarely says a word.
A crow’s length away from Snagsby is Mr. Tulkinghorn, the lawyer, living by himself in a big old house with the figure of Allegory, a Roman soldier, painted on the ceiling. The lawyer is described as “an Oyster of the old school” (p. 100). Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to Mr. Snagsby and asks him to identify the law-copier who wrote the Jarndyce document he has with him. Snagsby looks at his records and says it is done by Nemo who lives at Krook’s.
Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to Krook’s and asks to see Nemo. Krook tells him the rumor that Nemo has sold himself to the devil. Tulkinghorn goes to his room and finds Nemo dead from an overdose of opium.
Commentary on Chapter X
The fainting of Lady Dedlock over the writing on the document is somehow connected to this man Nemo who has died from opium. Tulkinghorn notes that Nemo means “No man” in Latin. Nemo is an anonymous and grubby law copyist, in poverty, about forty-five, which is the age of Lady Dedlock. Tulkinghorn, desirous of knowing the family secrets, is following out his lead, perhaps connected to whatever Guppy was looking for at the Dedlock mansion. Tulkinghorn’s epithet is “oyster of the old school,” meaning, he knows how to find and keep secrets without talking, but perhaps using them to his advantage.