‘Stop him, stop him!’ cries the woman, almost breathless. ‘Stop him, sir!’
He darts across the road into the boy’s path, but the boy is quicker than he, makes a curve, ducks, dives under his hands, comes up half-a-dozen yards beyond him, and scours away again. Still the woman follows, crying, ‘Stop him, sir, pray stop him!’
Allan, not knowing but that he has just robbed her of her money, follows in chase and runs so hard that he runs the boy down a dozen times, but each time he repeats the curve, the duck, the dive, and scours away again. To strike at him on any of these occasions would be to fell and disable him, but the pursuer cannot resolve to do that, and so the grimly ridiculous pursuit continues. At last the fugitive, hard-pressed, takes to a narrow passage and a court which has no thoroughfare. Here, against a hoarding of decaying timber, he is brought to bay and tumbles down, lying gasping at his pursuer, who stands and gasps at him until the woman comes up.
‘Oh, you, Jo!’ cries the woman. ‘What? I have found you at last!’
‘Jo,’ repeats Allan, looking at him with attention, ‘Jo! Stay. To be sure! I recollect this lad some time ago being brought before the coroner.’
Sketches and comments
Jo, the ignorant street sweeper who is nonetheless a key figure in BLEAK HOUSE, is easily the most, anonymous, insignificant, diminutive character in all Dickens’ works. A first name of only two letters, no last name, no parents, no education, ignorant of all around him except how to sweep mud from the streets for tips. He is swept up in events (no pun intended Mr. Dickens!) over which he has no control, and, as we see here, is either chased away or sought after by many of the story’s main characters.
Allan Woodcourt is a good-hearted doctor who is also drawn into the story by a number of threads, one of which is his chance meeting with Jo in this scene.
The way the composition came about was sort of a surprise to me; having Jo run into a deep, sharply defined shadow area makes the image more dramatic.
Drawing a character barefoot helps define real vulnerability, and having Jo run towards a pile of splintered lumber in a dark alley really emphasizes the unrelentingly downward spiral that is his life.