Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 - Covering a Multitude of Sins
Esther is busy, proud, and happy in her role as housekeeper at Bleak House. She learns from Mr. Jarndyce that the suit in Chancery centers around a will which at one time involved a fortune but which is now essentially meaningless because court costs have consumed the fortune itself. She also learns that Tom Jarndyce, the former owner of Bleak House, tried unsuccessfully to disentangle the suit and, after many years of futile effort, shot himself.
Mrs. Pardiggle, accompanied by her five sons, pays a visit to Bleak House. A charity worker whose zeal unfortunately makes her own sons "ferocious with discontent," she describes her activities loudly and at great length. Reluctantly, Esther and Ada go with her to visit a poor bricklayer's family who live nearby. Shocked by the squalor of the bricklayer's home and disapproving of Mrs. Pardiggle's aggressiveness, the two young ladies try to remain as inconspicuous as possible. They stay behind when Mrs. Pardiggle leaves, as they want to inquire about a boy who has died in their presence. After making inquiries, they leave but return later to try to comfort the child's mother.
This chapter helps maintain the book's continuity by returning to the theme of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a legal suit which has been in abeyance for two chapters. The introduction of Mrs. Pardiggle thus strengthens Dickens' side-theme of satire against "do-gooders" who have never learned that their first obligation is to those closest to them. And once again Dickens contrasts the pretentiousness and emotional shallowness of the professional social activists with the genuine compassion and real assistance of the spontaneous and unassuming young women, as well as the poor neighbor woman.