Summary and Analysis Chapter 4


En route to Bleak House, Esther, Ada, and Richard spend the night at the Jellyby house. Mrs. Jellyby, a friend of John Jarndyce, neglects her house and children and is obsessed with projects designed to benefit Africa. Esther is affectionate and helpful to the Jellyby children, especially to the accident-prone Peepy and to the oldest daughter, Caddy. Serving as her mother's secretary, and badly overworked, Caddy is wretched.


Esther, Ada, and Richard continue to wonder what sort of person John Jarndyce is. Richard saw him briefly once but retains no distinct impression. Desperate in her impossible home and situation, a tearful Caddy finds solace in the compassionate Esther.


Dickens maintained that people devoted to distant ("telescopic") philanthropy very often show a tendency to neglect the crying needs of those around them — and charity should begin at home. In this chapter, Dickens satirizes Mrs. Jellyby as a type of misguided "do-gooder." The chapter expertly blends satiric humor and effective pathos. The portrayal of the Jellyby children is another variation on one of Dickens' recurring themes: the vulnerability and suffering of children in a world mismanaged by adults. Caddy emerges as a memorable character, and the comfort she and the other children receive from Esther strengthens the reader's impression of Esther's beautiful spirit.