Richard Carstone remains pathetically indecisive, unable to choose a career. Mr. Jarndyce attributes at least some of this irresoluteness to the influence of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, that "incomprehensible heap of uncertainty and procrastination." Esther believes that Richard's education, consisting mostly of learning to write Latin verse, has also been a factor — such training does nothing to prepare one for the work of the world. Among other professions, Mr. Jarndyce suggests that Richard might enjoy being a surgeon. Richard's reaction is immediate. Accepting the idea enthusiastically, he is soon a surgeon's apprentice in the house of Mr. Bayham Badger, where we learn that Mrs. Badger is a snobbish dilettante who has been married twice before (to "distinguished" men) and is forever talking about her husbands, past and present.
Esther has been attending various theatres and has noticed that Mr. Guppy follows her and always manages to have himself seen — wearing the downcast expression of a rejected suitor.
Richard and Ada now realize that they are in love, but Mr. Jarndyce advises them to postpone marriage because they are quite young and Richard needs to establish himself in his profession.
At a small dinner party given by the Badgers, Esther notices and seems attracted to one of the guests, a young surgeon of "dark complexion" (Allan Woodcourt).
This chapter is devoted mostly to one of the subplots (the romance of Ada and Richard), but at the end, it surprises us and advances the main plot by indicating that Esther is attracted to a young surgeon. Even the subplot, however, reinforces Dickens' principal, explicit theme — that is, the pernicious influence of inhumane legal institutions and procedures. Dickens the social critic and sensible reformer is also evident in Esther's attitude towards training young men to write Latin verse. Dickens' abhorrence of unreal attitudes and behavior is again exemplified in the odd, insubstantial Mrs. Bayham Badger. This is the third exaggeratedly unreal wife thus far encountered (the earlier ones are Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle); each is somewhat comic but also distinctly repugnant.