Summary of Chapter II: In Fashion
The world of fashion is not unlike the Court of Chancery. If we go to a great estate in Lincolnshire we find the same dreary rain has made stagnant rivers and mouldy decay there. Lady Dedlock, bored in her great house, comes to London with her husband, the baronet, Sir Leicester Dedlock, twenty years her senior. He married his beautiful wife for love, though she brought no money or rank to the marriage. They have no children and are in London where they will depart for Paris. At their townhouse they receive their legal advisor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, an older impressive gentleman in black, who is a keeper of secrets. He comes to consult about some papers for the Jarndyce case, for Lady Dedlock is involved in it. In fact, the disputed inheritance from that estate is the only wealth she brought the baronet, though he is embarrassed by the fact.
When Mr. Tulkinghorn reads aloud from some legal papers that Lady Dedlock is viewing in copy, she is struck by the handwriting, and asks who copied the document. Then she pretends not to care, but half fainting, she is carried out of the room. Tulkinghorn notes all of this. Sir Leicester says he has never seen Lady Dedlock swoon before.
Commentary on Chapter II
Dickens makes a parallel between the world of the Court of Chancery and the fashionable world of the aristocracy. The same fog and rain are stagnating the fashionable world. Indeed, Lady Dedlock is involved in the Jarndyce lawsuit, although not hanging on its outcome for her wealth. She is “at the centre of the fashionable intelligence” and “having conquered her world,” (p. 7) is bored. Lady Dedlock is a social climber who married an older husband for his title. She has pride and ambition, and she is cold. Now, middle-aged, she is still beautiful but with nothing left to conquer. Sir Leicester seems a “perfectly reasonable man” (p. 7), expecting that his family name is the most important thing in the world. He may harbor expectations about his importance, but he loves his wife.
Both husband and wife feel they are important because of their station, but the narrator points out that the servants have the upper hand of this class, for they know all their secrets and know how to manipulate their employers. The baronet thinks, for instance, that Tulkinghorn’s dress is a “kind of tribute” to him, making him look “retainer-like” (p. 9). Tulkinghorn, however, is a dangerous person to watch, for in his position as a lawyer, he involves himself in the family secrets, and he is watching Lady Dedlock’s fainting spell with interest.