Sir Leicester Dedlock has many poor relations and is at present entertaining several of them at Chesney Wold. They include the spinster Volumnia Dedlock and Bob Stables. Sir Leicester and Volumnia are appalled that Mr. Rouncewell, the ironmaster (a manufacturer of iron), has been considered suitable "to go into Parliament." Mr. Rouncewell confers with Lord and Lady Dedlock on the subject of the prospective engagement between Rosa, the maid, and Rouncewell's son, Watt. Sir Leicester is offended when Rouncewell says that if the engagement takes place, he wants to give Rosa two years of additional schooling (Sir Leicester thinks it foolish and dangerous to educate the lowly placed). Later, Lady Dedlocks seems to find comfort in Rosa and, at the same time, to become pensive or even distraught in her presence.
In his portraits of Sir Leicester's poor but proud relatives, Dickens mildly satirizes those who use their rich "connection" as the basis for building unreal attitudes or expectations. Satirized also is Sir Leicester's immense pride. The man keeps his mind proudly closed on the subject of change, on class distinctions, and on most everything else. Yet Dickens does not present the upstart, middle-class ironmaster to be greatly admirable either. The motif of Lady Dedlock's melancholy and distraction is picked up again and is emphasized in such a way as to keep the reader's curiosity about her very much alive.