Bleak House: “The Ironmaster”

Chapter 28: “The Ironmaster”

Summary: We are back in Chesney Wold with Sir Leicester and my Lady. Apparently various cousins with nothing better to do come by on occasion to try to mooch off them. Right after one of these gatherings, the housekeeper’s son (who is 50 and called “The Ironmaster”) comes to ask if his son can be engaged to my Lady’s beloved pet/lady’s maid, Rosa. The catch is that Rosa would have to leave their service to be properly educated in order to see if she’s good enough for his son to marry. Leicester says absolutely not. Rosa seems afraid at the prospect of leaving the house, so things go back to normal.

Reaction: It was an okay chapter, but it didn’t accomplish that much, though we did see a little deeper into my Lady’s character–how she sees Rosa as some kind of opportunity lost–perhaps as a daughter she never got to raise?

Prediction: A more serious one: More on this Rosa/My Lady relationship–Rosa is a nothing character, and is only important that she makes my Lady sad about not raising this daughter and may spur her to want to meet this daughter. And a not serious one: The Ironmaster’s son, furious about being denied his love will swoop in and kidnap Rosa in aPhantom of the Opera-type move.

Why This Book Is a Classic: Upper class social word battles. Sir Leicester obviously thinks he is pretty hot stuff with all his inherited, old money, while the Ironmaster thinks he is equally hot stuff with all his new, earned money (and nomination to Parliament). Both think they’re better than the other but take pains not to say any such thing to the other’s face–well, the Ironmaster makes more of an effort, until finally he can’t keep up the farce anymore and says what he really thinks.

Our Lesson: If you happen to be the cousin of a really rich guy, you might be able to scrape by living off of charity money he passes out to you periodically, but no one will like you.

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