Summary of Chapter IX: Signs and Tokens
Esther watches Richard and Ada falling in love, but they hardly notice it themselves. Mr. Jarndyce writes to Sir Leicester Dedlock about Richard’s prospects, and Sir Leicester writes back a gracious letter that says nothing. Richard sees he will have to work his own way in the world. Yet, Esther worries about him, for he has a thoughtlessness about spending money.
Just then Mr. Jarndyce receives a visit from his old friend, Lawrence Boythorn. He explains his friend is “always in extremes” “in the superlative degree” (p. 88). Boythorn is generous and kind, but speaks in a loud voice and is in litigation with Sir Leicester Dedlock over a right of way between their properties. He likes to get into battles and does nothing half way. He is jolly and likeable, and all the young people find him agreeable.
Mr. Guppy comes with papers for Mr. Boythorn from Kenge and Carboy’s office. He asks to see Esther alone and proposes to her. She is outraged and asks him to leave. He makes her promise not to tell anyone about it.
Commentary on Chapter IX
Esther begins to hint of a problem with Richard—his carelessness with money matters. He is generous and unthinking. It will come out later that he, too, is falling under the seduction of the lawsuit, thinking he will get rich in the settlement.
Boythorn is a satire on the writer, Walter Savage Landor, who lived up to his name with a hot temper and contempt for authority. He was a poet and writer from the Romantic period, known for his Imaginary Conversations. He was thrown out of Rugby and Oxford, and came into conflict with political enemies and neighbors, like Boythorn. He was otherwise a kind and gentle man with great humor and praise for others. He hated wrongs and injustice.
The proposal of Guppy to Esther is out of place. He is of a lower class than Esther, doesn’t know her, and so far, we have seen him doing things merely to promote himself. He is only a law clerk with great pretensions to be something more, and we still wonder why he was poking around the Dedlock’s mansion.