Rollover Information
About the Series Schedule The Archive Learning Resources The American Collection Home Search Shop
Bleak House
Dickens & Davies Production Notes Who's Who Synopsis/Episode Descriptions Novel to Film Links + Bibliography The Forum Masterpiece Theatre Bleak House
Synopsis/Episode Descriptions [imagemap with 7 links]

Episode Descriptions

Plot Revealed Below!

Charles Dickens' complex tale of young love, murder, and the quest for a mystery-man's identity unfolds in this adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies. Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of spontaneous human combustion and an inheritance dispute tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.

Episode   1   |   2   |   3   |   4

Episode 3

Miss Flite leaves Bleak House but not before issuing a terrible warning that Richard will be drawn to ruin by Chancery in the same way as Mr. Gridley. Ada is desperately worried already, since Richard and Jarndyce are barely speaking.

Esther's feelings for Woodcourt have been rekindled by Miss Flite's news, though she confesses to Jarndyce that any hopes she once had are futile. Her disfigurement makes it impossible for any man to love her. Jarndyce is on the point of declaring his own feelings, but draws back.

Guppy makes a big mistake by letting on to Smallweed about Hawdon's letters. Now, Smallweed wants them for himself. And Tulkinghorn is similarly pleased with himself. The writing samples match, so Nemo's identity is proven beyond doubt. When Clamb later asks if this means George is to be released from his debt, Tulkinghorn replies that, on the contrary, he intends to tell Smallweed to let the matter rest for a month, and then foreclose on the debt. Such is the price of defiance.

Esther, Ada, Charley and Jarndyce pay Boythorn another visit. Boythorn tells the girls the legend of the Ghost's Walk at Chesney Wold - and its doom-laden prophecy about the Dedlock clan. The next day, the girls decide to visit. By chance, Lady Dedlock happens upon them and insists on a private conference with Esther. She confesses to being Esther's mother. Until recently, she had believed that Esther was stillborn. Likewise, Esther's father, Captain Hawdon, had been reported dead in the West Indies. Begging Esther's forgiveness, she tells her that they cannot meet again for fear that the secret will emerge.

Esther is in total shock after Lady Dedlock's confession, but keeps her troubled emotions secret from Ada. With Boythorn and Jarndyce away on business, the girls go to the local pub where Esther is surprised to meet Richard. His interest in Chancery has long since grown into obsession, and Esther is worried to discover that Richard has now employed his own lawyer - the vampiric Mr. Vholes - on Skimpole's advice. Esther can see that Vholes intends to bleed Richard dry, but there is very little that she can do to prevent it.

Smallweed's many hours of searching through Krook's old legal papers have finally paid off. He discovers the bundle of love letters from Captain Hawdon. Guppy returns to the shop and offers Smallweed ten pounds for the letters. But at that moment, Tulkinghorn steps out of the shadows and warns him off. Later, much to Smallweed's astonishment and great delight, Tulkinghorn offers two hundred and fifty pounds for them.

Having gathered all his evidence, Tulkinghorn visits Chesney Wold. There, he shows his hand, relating Lady Dedlock's scandalous history to her and Sir Leicester as if it were that of 'a townsman's of Mr. Rouncewell.' Sir Leicester finds it too shocking to be believed. When they are alone, Lady Dedlock announces to Tulkinghorn that she will flee Chesney Wold that night, before the scandal breaks. He turns the tables on her, claiming that in order to protect the family honor he will keep the secret, so long as she does nothing. Now she is totally in his power.

Knowing she is now under Tulkinghorn's control, Lady Dedlock decides to send Rosa away to save her from any impending scandal. Rosa is upset by the idea of having to leave.

Back in London, Hortense accuses Tulkinghorn of denying her sufficient reward for her services to him (when she impersonated her mistress). Tulkinghorn sends her away with nothing but an exceedingly stern warning - and Bucket later drags her down to the station to follow up his sentiments. He also makes Hortense write down her address, promising to keep an eye on her.

Esther plans a visit to London, where she and Ada see the newly pregnant Caddy. However, she has an ulterior motive for the trip, seeing Guppy on the quiet to tell him to stop investigating her past. When Esther lifts her veil and shows him her face, Guppy is only too happy to agree to her wishes as long as he can retract his proposal.

Ada is upset: Richard has stood her up. They find him at the one place he's sure to be - in Chancery. He is soon leaving to join his regiment in Deal, and Vholes and Skimpole are worried by his enormous debts.

When the women return to Bleak House, Jarndyce tells them Sir Leicester has invited them to Chesney Wold, worried they may have been offended by his lack of courtesy when they visited Boythorn. Esther is horrified by the idea. She confides in Jarndyce that she is Lady Dedlock's illegitimate daughter. The confession bringing them closer than ever before. Jarndyce finally musters the courage to propose to Esther. After thinking it through, she burns the flowers Woodcourt gave her, and accepts his proposal. Jarndyce is still a little uneasy, so asks her to keep their betrothal a secret for now.

Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock has destroyed her keepsakes of Hawdon, and is determined to attempt to put the past behind her. Tulkinghorn, however, has other ideas, taunting her that her secret life could ruin the entire household; even poor Rosa would be tainted by it. Lady Dedlock wants to dismiss her now, but Tulkinghorn instructs her not to make a move.

Smallweed's greed knows no bounds. He evicts Miss Flite (and her birds) for not paying rent. Then, he turns his attentions to George, and forecloses on his debt despite past promises. When George grips him by the throat in fury, he chokes out that this move has come from Tulkinghorn.

Regardless of Tulkinghorn's instructions, Lady Dedlock summons Rouncewell to take Rosa away. On his arrival, he spends a moment with his mother reminiscing about the past, and his brother who ran away to join the army. It's clear that this black sheep was her favorite. Rouncewell departs, leaving Sir Leicester angry at his impudence and Lady Dedlock sad to see her maid go. Sir Leicester decides a change of scene is in order, so they leave for London.

Vholes pays a visit to Bleak House, appealing to Jarndyce's generosity so he'll pay Richard's debts. Esther and Ada visit him in Deal, where Ada offers up her inheritance to assist him with his financial worries. Richard is deeply touched by the gesture but the offer is too late. He's selling out, and that's that.

The women return to the inn to find it in an uproar: the brave hero of the shipwrecked Indiaman has returned to port. Before she can take this in, Esther sees Woodcourt entering on the shoulders of his well-wishers. Esther flees to her room in shock; when she and Woodcourt finally face each other it is clear that their feelings are just as strong as they ever were.

Jenny, the brickmaker's wife, finds little Jo wandering the streets of London in a daze, coughing blood. After returning to the city, Woodcourt stumbles upon them and realizes immediately that Jo is dying and in need of refuge. Woodcourt takes him to George's gym, bringing Jo's one friend, Snagsby, to his bedside. By now, Jo is delirious and terrified by the thought of Bucket and Tulkinghorn. Esther and Jarndyce join the group just in time, and Esther offers what little comfort she can with the words of the Lord's Prayer.

After Jo's death, Jarndyce delivers a savage indictment of the cold-hearted society in which they live. Tulkinghorn discovers that Lady Dedlock has crossed him and dismissed Rosa. Furious, he announces that the deal is off: he will now expose her. After he leaves, Lady Dedlock goes for a walk, wearing a black fringed shawl. Hortense follows her.

Back at the gym, it is George's turn for anger as he rails against Tulkinghorn's malicious cruelty. If he had the chance, he would take Tulkinghorn down. Phil tries to calm him without success, and George goes out too, still seething. Phil notices that one of the pistols he was cleaning is missing. Clamb leaves the office for the night, bumping into George in the alley nearby. Tulkinghorn is shot.

Episode   1   |   2   |   3   |   4

Dickens & Davies | Production Notes
Who's Who | Synopsis/Episode Descriptions
Novel to Film | Links + Bibliography | The Forum

Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback

WGBH Logo PBS logo


Masterpiece is sponsored by: