Summary of Chapter VII: The Ghost’s Walk
At the Dedlock estate, Chesney Wold, in Lincolnshire, the rain continues while the Dedlocks are in Paris. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Rouncewell, has been there for fifty years. She is a widow with two grown sons, the younger of whom ran wild. The other is an engineer making steam-engines. His son, Watt, comes to visit his grandmother at the estate. He has his eye on one of the pretty maids, Rosa.
A visitor interrupts, Mr. Guppy, who uses Mr. Tulkinghorn’s name to gain entrance, though he is not associated with his firm. He and his friend would like to look at the house in a tour. Mrs. Rouncewell shows Guppy and her grandson and Rosa around the mansion. Guppy is especially interested in the portrait of Lady Dedlock over the fireplace. He claims he has seen it before. The party looks at the outside terrace called “Ghost’s Walk” and Mrs. Rouncewell tells the legend connected with it.
Sir Morbury Dedlock was on the side of the Royalists in the time of Charles I. His wife’s family were Puritans. She lamed the horses so her husband could not join the Royalists. When he caught her one time, they struggled; she was crippled and began to pine away. She walked up and down the terrace, claiming she would walk on the terrace after she died, until the house was humbled. The housekeeper concludes, however, that disgrace never comes to Chesney Wold.
Commentary on Chapter VII
We continue meeting new characters who will weave together more and more. The narrative switches to third person for this chapter and then back to first person with Esther in the following chapter. The contrast of place and point of view is a modern technique of building mystery. Slowly puzzle pieces are put together to create a whole picture.
The Rouncewells were family retainers, respected by Sir Leicester to run his home, and yet we are told that he has the prejudice that servants have no individuality or private opinions. Mrs. Rouncewell seems unaware that Watt is after the pretty maid, Rosa. She also seems a bit dense in letting Guppy come in and nose around on the pretext of wanting to admire the house. Guppy uses Tulkinghorn’s name because he knows he is the family lawyer, but Guppy, though he implies he is a lawyer too, is merely a clerk for Kenge and Carboy. He is struck by the portrait of Lady Dedlock, implying he has seen this picture before. It seems likely he is investigating some mystery about Lady Dedlock.
The legend of “Ghost’s Walk” creates a feeling that the Dedlocks, thought respectable, have family secrets that could lead to their downfall. The name “Dedlock” like many of the names Dickens uses, has its own symbolism. Guppy feels, “there is no end to the Dedlocks, whose family greatness seems to consist in their never having done anything to distinguish themselves, for seven hundred years” (p. 67). The aristocracy, too, comes under satirical fire for England’s state of stagnancy.