Summary of Chapter XV: Bell Yard
Mr. Jarndyce is still in London, receiving visits from do-gooders who want his money for projects. Jarndyce has a tender heart and goes about relieving misery but prefers to do it in a personal way than through “the spasmodic forms” of official Societies (p. 155). Such a case comes to his ears through Mr. Skimpole who informs Jarndyce that “Coavinses has been arrested by the great Bailiff” (p. 157).
He refers to the death of Mr. Neckett, the sheriff’s officer who had arrested him for debt (he calls him Coavinses), and says he leaves three orphaned children whom no one will help because of the father’s profession as a “follower” of men in debt. Jarndyce marches off to Bell Yard to find the children. Bell Yard is close to Chancery Lane, and in a house there run by Mrs. Blinder, Jarndyce and Esther, Ada, and Skimpole find the children locked in for safekeeping.
In the room is a little boy of six taking care of a baby. Their older sister Charley (Charlotte) is thirteen and goes out every day as a laundress to earn enough money to keep them all together so they don’t have to go to an orphanage. Despite the father’s hated profession, the neighbors all chip in to help them, including the landlady who doesn’t charge rent, and the renter below, Mr. Gridley, an irritable man, who nevertheless treats them as a father.
Mr. Gridley recognizes Mr. Jarndyce as having the same grudge that he does against the Court of Chancery. He tells his tragic story of how he got dragged into a court case until all his money was consumed. Even when all the litigants wanted out, they could not. They are prisoners of the law. Gridley is laughingly known as “the man from Shropshire” who was seen in the first chapter, always hanging around Chancery court each day, trying to speak to the Chancellor. He has been arrested several times for contempt of court. He “accuses” all the legal workers for “this monstrous system” (p. 164) especially Mr. Tulkinghorn.
Commentary on Chapter XV
There is more satirical comment on official charity run by loud and cheap people—the Jellybys, Quales, Pardiggles, and a Mr. Gusher. Jarndyce has a difficult time trying to do real good with his money, but has better luck avoiding organizations and finding out situations on his own. His “brotherly love” is real, not just a lecture for the public, for when Skimpole objects to Coavinses’ profession of harassing debtors, Jarndyce defends him, saying that society has created the profession. The man himself is not to blame.
The plight of the children struggling valiantly and without complaint to take care of themselves is a typical Dickens sentimental scene. Charley, barely thirteen, tries to be a mother and goes out to be a laundress. The six-year-old boy adores Charley and minding her instruction, tries to care for the baby all day by himself.
Dickens had a weak spot for injustice to children, and he harps on this theme in this novel, as in all his stories. Child neglect is rampant in all the classes. Esther is treated cruelly by her religious aunt, abandoned by her mother, and told she should not have been born. Richard and Ada are orphans, because of the court case. Caddy and Prince are used by their parents as cheap labor. The slum boy Jo starves on the streets, living like an animal. The Neckett children do anything to avoid a worse fate in an orphanage.