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Summary Chapter 4


Mr. Kenge informs the three young people that because it’s late and because it’s a long way to Bleak House, Mr. Jarndyce has arranged for them to stay with Mrs. Jellyby for the night. (They will make the journey the next day, in the morning.) Presently, Mr. Kenge’s assistant Mr. Guppy escorts the young people to Mrs. Jellyby’s residence which isn’t far from Kenge’s office.

Upon their arrival at Mrs. Jellyby’s residence, the young people witness a curious scene. A small child with a big head, who Mr. Guppy informs is the Jellyby’s youngest child Peepy, is crying as he has gotten his head stuck between the railings. Meanwhile, a milkman and the beadle are trying to force Peepy loose by pulling him through the railings. At Esther’s suggestion, the rescuers push the child through the railings and thereby have the rest of Peepy’s body follow his large head. In this manner, the child is extricated.

By and by, the young people meet Mrs. Jellyby who is, as Kenge had informed them, a philanthropist extraordinaire. Indeed, Mrs. Jellyby is so immersed in her philanthropic activities that she has not only neglected her own hair and dress, but she has neglected her children, who are disheveled and unsupervised, and she has neglected the housekeeping, which is in a state of utter disorder. Esther takes special note of a miserable looking young lady who is Ms. Jellyby’s personal stenographer. (Her name is Caddy, and she is Mrs. Jellyby’s oldest child and daughter.) Presently, as Mrs. Jellyby expounds on the importance of her philanthropy work, Esther and Ada nurse Peepy, lulling him to sleep.

Not surprisingly, the utter disorder of the house extends to Esther's and Ada’s guestrooms. (The curtain in Esther’s room is fastened with a fork.) At dinner, the guests meet Mr. Jellyby, who is as miserable looking as the children are and who is a non-entity for all intents and purposes. Indeed, the table talk is dominated by Mrs. Jellyby’s philanthropy, as she engages a Mr. Quale, who in turn is a philanthropist and who makes big fuss of pointing out that at one time Mrs. Jellyby had received as many as 200 letters respecting Africa in a single day.

Eventually, Esther and Ada retire for the night. But before they do, despite Mrs. Jellby’s objection, Esther indulges the Jellyby children and tells them a story, which is the second of the evening, the first having been told when Esther and Ada were initially shown their rooms.

With Peepy sound asleep in a crib in Esther’s room, Esther asks Ada bout her cousin and Esther’s soon-to-be guardian Mr. Jarndyce. Ada admits that she has never laid her eyes on Mr. Jarndyce, but that Richard has, and that according to Richard, Mr. Jarndyce is a “bluff, rosy fellow.” On that note, Ada bids Esther goodnight and goes to bed.

Esther is sitting by the fire wondering about Mr. Jarndyce when Caddy knocks on her door, enters, and unburdens herself. Caddy laments her pathetic lot in life which would have her a virtual slave to her mother’s African cause which Caddy does not care for in the least. Indeed, Caddy wishes that Africa was dead. She wishes that she were dead. She wishes that everyone were dead. Simultaneously, Caddy remarks how pretty Ada is and expresses her admiration for Esther. By and by, Caddy falls asleep with her head on Esther’s lap.

When Esther awakes the next morning, she finds that the fire has gone out. She finds that Peepy, who has climbed out of his crib, is so cold that his teeth are chattering.

Charles Dickens