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Summary Chapter 23

John Jarndyce and his wards spend a month and a fortnight at Mr. Boythorn's residence before returning to Bleak House. During their stay, Esther Summerson has the displeasure of making the acquaintance of Madamoiselle Hortense who pays Esther a visit for the dubious purpose of asking Esther to consent to accepting her--Madamoiselle Hortense--as Esther's personal hand maid. Esther politey declines the offer.

Back at Bleak House, despite his good cheer, Richard Carsotne's weekly visits there belies a looming disaster. To address the issue, Esther, who is on her way to London to attend to Caddy Jellyby, engages to have a talk with Richard. They meet and Richard's mind is revealed in full. He is in despair as his career is floundering to the extent he is considering joining the army. Worse, Richard continues to think that the Chancery suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce will yield him and Ada with a remunerative livelihood. Esther musters what persuasive powers she is able to summon to dissuade Richard from pursuing Fool's Gold before meeting with Caddy Jellyby in Soho.

Caddy explains why she has requested Esther's presence: As Caddy and Prince Turveydrop are to be married, and as it is Esther's opinion that the matter should be disclosed to all concerned, Esther's presence is sought for the sake of moral support whilst Caddy and Prince break the news to their respective parents. Needless to say, Esther is more than happy to lend a hand.

Esther and Caddy, thus, repair to the Turveydrops' dancing school at Newman Street. There they confer with Prince before confronting Mr. Turveydrop with the momentous news. At first, Mr. Turveydrop doesn't take kindly to the news. In fact, he construes the news as an act of betrayal, believing that Prince will abandon him. Prince assures him otherwise, however, at which point Mr. Turveydrop blesses the couple on their engagement.

Subsequently, Prince, Esther, and Caddy repair to the Jellyby's house in Thavies Inn. There they find the house in its usual state of chaos and neglect. The children are unattended as if they are feral dogs or cats, and Mr. Jellyby finds himself fending off creditors who have come to mentally torture him to a state of suicide. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jellyby breezily goes on with her charity work, dismissing anything and everything external to her concerns with the welfare of Africans in Borrioboola-Gha as minor, bothersome, and irrelevant. Indeed, when Caddy apprises of her engagement to Prince, Mrs. Jellyby not only chides Caddy for rejecting Mr. Quale, a fellow philanthropist whom Mrs. Jellyby contends would've made a far better match for Caddy than a dancing master's son, but she refuses to aknowledge Prince who is standing only a few paces away. Resigned for now, Caddy decides to repeat the announcement at a more propitious time--when her mother is disengaged from her eternal concerns with Borrioboola-Gha--and bids Esther and Prince farewell.

When Esther returns to Bleak House, she weeps at her good fortune which has only improved with the addition of Charley, a sweet child whom Mr. Jarndyce has made Esther's personal hand maid.

Charles Dickens