Summary and Analysis Chapter 32


Snagsby the law stationer, still spied upon by his wife, meets with Mr. Weevle (Jobling) near old Krook's house. When they go in, both men become aware of a strange odor like that of tainted and burned meat. Snagsby is so dismayed by it that he leaves. At about ten o'clock, Guppy arrives and goes upstairs with Weevle. At midnight the two are to meet Krook, who is supposed to bring letters written by Captain Hawdon.


They sit waiting, more and more uneasily, in the room where Hawdon (Nemo) was found dead. Greasy soot continually falls from the air, the smell of burnt fat persists, and finally the two men discover a horribly offensive yellow liquid on one of the window sills. Weevle goes to meet Krook, but he is unable to find him. In Krook's back room, the two find that the smell of burning originates there and that it seems to be Krook himself who has burned up — a victim of "spontaneous combustion." Incinerated with him, apparently, are the Hawdon letters. Horrified, Weevle and Guppy flee.


These are among the grisliest pages in all of Dickens' work. The eerie atmosphere and the suspense are masterfully created. The chapter does little to advance the plot, but the sense of brooding and threatening evil enhances the story's theme of the appalling loss and destructiveness wrought by "the law's delay." Dickens believed in the possibility of death by "spontaneous combustion."