Dombey and Son, Week 2 ~ and a Week 1 Wrap-Up


(Banner image: “The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?” by W. L. Sheppard. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for Victorian Web.)

by Phiz

By the members of the #DickensClub, edited/compiled by Rach

We’ve met such marvelous characters this week: Floy, little Paul, Miss Nipper the Spitfire, Polly Toodles and family, delightfully foppish but kindhearted Mr Toots, Mrs Pipchin whose husband broke his heart in the Peruvian mines, the catlike Carker and his disheartened brother, Major Joe Bagstock, the Blimbers…and of course, stone-cold Mr Dombey.

We’ve seen the railway coming into town with a menacing speed, and old-fashioned nautical instrument-makers losing business in the midst of a too-quickly-moving world. We’ve felt the river, too, that river of life moving towards the Sea, with its rapid, inexorable current…

Dickens is not only the master at comedy, but he knows how to relentlessly break our hearts.

How did everyone react to the end of our final chapter this week?

I think Chris and I had exactly the same reaction…

But first, a few quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. Dombey and Son, Chs 1-16: A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-Ahead to Week Two of Dombey and Son

General Mems

Warmest welcome to our newest member from twitter, Pau! Warm welcome to the #DickensClub, and thank you so much for joining us!

Reminder: SAVE THE DATE! Our next Zoom group chat (on Dombey and Son) will be held on Sat, 25 March, 2023, 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern / 6pm GMT. Rach will be sending out the zoom links to those whose email address she has. Please email her (or message her on twitter) if you’re interested!

And one more reminder: Please email Rach (or message her on twitter) with a short bio (a few sentences at most–e.g. your background/interests, and/or favorite Dickens novel!) and an image that you’d like to share–whether of yourself, your avatar, or of a favorite Dickens character, for our new page on our Club members!

For any Club members who are also members of the Dickens Fellowship, I hope you enjoy the reviews that Boze and I did for the Winter issue! (Mine was under the pen name, Sydney Wren–guess why!)

If you’re counting, today is Day 420 (and week 61) in our #DickensClub! This week, we’ll be on the second week of Dombey and Son, our fifteenth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the first week’s chapters, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship, The Dickens Society, and the Charles Dickens Letters Project for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Gina Dalfonzo, Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvellous online resource for us.And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.

And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. For Boze’s marvelous intro to our current read, Dombey and Son, please click here. For a supplement to the introduction from Peter Ackroyd that Chris shared with us, click here. For the open source Dickens’s Working Notes for Dombey and Son, click here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.

Dombey and Son, Chs 1-16: A Summary

We open with life, and death: the birth of the “Son” (little Paul) of the firm “Dombey and Son,” shortly followed by the death of the mother, clinging to her distraught and neglected daughter, Florence, or “Floy.”

“Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.”

“Miss Tox introduces ‘The Party,'” by Phiz.

From Paul’s birth, his father, Mr Dombey, looks on from his cold corner away from the fire, complacent that he has an heir to his shipping firm. His daughter, Floy, is almost entirely forgotten by him, being of so little account to a man who prizes utility to the firm’s interests above all. Thus, Floy is written off by nearly everyone, including Mr Dombey’s sister, Louisa Chick, and Louisa’s soft-voiced, angular, and “faded” friend, Miss Tox, both bent on flattering Mr Dombey’s ego and personal interests. (Miss Tox, perhaps, more genuine in this, having a genuine admiration, and even a crush.) We also meet Mr. Chick, Louisa’s husband, who constantly hums tunes at inappropriate moments.

Miss Tox’s assiduous searching and recommendation, a wet-nurse, the apple-faced and pleasant Polly Toodles, is hired for little Paul. Polly must not only give up her own little ones to the care of her sister, but to give up her own name while in the Dombey household—her own being considered too whimsical, and needing one additional indication that her relations to the Dombey family must be “impersonal”—she is known as “Richards.” Polly is kind to the neglected Floy—neglected by all, that is, but herself and Floy’s own nurse and companion, the snappy Susan Nipper—and Polly encourages the closeness between Floy and her brother, Paul, and even tries to encourage Mr Dombey to take more affectionate notice of her, with little success.

“…girls are thrown away in this house, Mrs Richards…”

Meanwhile, young Walter Gay, nephew to the nautical instrument maker Sol Gills whose shop is financially sinking (so to speak)–not having had a paying customer in over ten days–has a new job in Dombey’s firm. Nephew and uncle revel in their oft-told tales of adventure at sea, and Walter tries to encourage him about his business.

“Old prints of ships with alphabetical references to their various mysteries, hung in frames upon the walls; the Tartar Frigate under weigh, was on the plates; outlandish shells, seaweeds, and mosses, decorated the chimney-piece; the little wainscoted back parlour was lighted by a skylight, like a cabin.”

Joining in the celebration of Walter’s new job—though not yet with the famous Madeira that they are saving for a grand occasion—is the hook-handed Captain Cuttle. Walter’s uncle is a Fezziwig-like character, in that his business has grown “old fashioned” as the world progresses.

“I am an old-fashioned man in an old-fashioned shop, in a street that is not the same as I remember it. I have fallen behind the time, and am too old to catch it again.”

Dombey wants to show gratitude both to Miss Tox and to “Richards” (Polly) for their care of his son. He allows the former to be a godmother to little Paul, and he pays to put the latter’s son into the Charitable Grinders School.

“Polly Rescues the Charitable Grinder,” by Phiz.

Meanwhile, the railroad is coming, and Camden Town is torn asunder by it. Missing her son and family, Polly visits them one day while she and the children and Susan Nipper are out and about. Unfortunately, however, Floy ends up lost and is kidnapped by “Good Mrs Brown,” a frightening old lady who takes her clothes, replacing them with rags, and nearly cuts off her hair, too, but that the hair reminds her of her daughter’s.

“Florence was do relieved to find that it was only her hair and not her head which Mrs Brown coveted, that she offered no resistance or entreaty…”

Floy is let free to go, and she makes her way towards the shipping firm. Walter finds her and takes her under his care. Knowing Floy’s father will be home now, Walter takes Floy to Sol Gills’ home to rest until word can be given of her whereabouts to Mr Dombey. Walter offers the honor of communicating the news to Mr Carker the Junior—not to be confused with Carker the Manager—who clearly has some misfortune or blight on him from the past, but Carker doesn’t take him up on it, but unobtrusively follows them home as if to ensure their safety. Floy falls into an exhausted sleep.

“Solomon Gills, with no appetite for dinner, sat on the opposite side of the fire, watching Florence in her slumber, building a great many airy castles of the most fantastic architecture, and looking, in the dim shade, and in the close vicinity of all the instruments, like a magician disguised in a Welch wig and a suit of coffee colour, who held the child in an enchanted sleep.”

Mr Dombey, upset more by the potential danger that he perceived Paul to have been in than the actual danger that Floy found herself in, fires Polly.

We meet “Joey B”—Major Joe Bagstock—whose jealousy is roused by Miss Tox’s increasing indifference, and suspects that her affections and attention have been going Dombeyward.

Paul grows from babyhood into childhood, never thriving or robust in health, and with an old soul, and full of curiosity and quick perception.

“Papa! what’s money?”

Louisa recommends that Paul get some “sea-air,” preferably staying in a quasi-boarding school with one Mrs. Pipchin (“a marvellous ill-favoured, ill-conditioned old lady”) at Brighton, a lady well-versed in the instruction of early childhood, or so Louisa attests. (Besides having the distinction that her husband broke his heart in the Peruvian mines.) Paul, all honesty and curiosity, who seems to bear with Mrs Pipchin quite philosophically, doesn’t seem much the worse off for having such an “ogress and chid-queller”; rather, his unflappable honesty has the effect of making his questions palatable to the widow of the Peruvian mines, and she seems even to be endeared to him, in her unique way.

Floy and Paul spend a lot of time at the seaside, and Paul continually wonders what “the waves are saying,” and shows curiosity about the horizon—not the earthly country, but the invisible region in the distance.

“Captain Cuttle Consoles His Friend,” by Phiz.

Then, things begin to go badly for Sol Gills and The Wooden Midshipman. An old debt of Walter’s father, of which Walter knows nothing, had some time ago been secured by Gills himself, who has been paying it regularly, but can no longer do so due to his failing business. Captain Cuttle suggests that he and Walter go to Brighton to ask the loan of Mr Dombey, who is visiting Paul there. They do so, the situation being desperate, and Mr Dombey, all cold haughtiness himself, decides in their presence to ask little Paul to decide, making Walter as conscious as possible of the obligation he is under to Dombey and Son. Paul immediately wants to “give” (Mr Dombey corrects him: “loan”) the money to Walter’s uncle. Walter leaves humbled, and Mr Dombey’s dislike of Walter appears to grow.

Meanwhile, the envious Joey B has been spying on the Dombeys and Miss Tox, by means of his servant. Joe sycophantly befriends Mr Dombey–always flattering himself while he puffs up the pride of his new friend. (As Chris wrote this week, “Major Bagstock is an ass.”)

“Dr Blimber’s Young Gentleman As They Appeared When Enjoying Themselves,” by Phiz.

We meet the educators Dr Blimber and Mr Feeder (B.A.), and Mrs and Miss Blimber, as Paul is sent to his academy in order to have his education accelerated, so as to prepare for the great future Mr Dombey envisions. Paul must part with Floy for the better part of the week. Paul befriends Mr Toots, head boy there, who is kindly, delightfully awkward, and a little foppish.

Floy, who visits Paul on the weekends, purchases the books Paul has been studying, so that she can study them herself during the week so that when her visit comes she can help him out with understanding them.

Meanwhile, we meet Mr Dombey’s right hand man, Mr Carker the Manager—with all of his teeth and catlike grin—and Dombey has Carker assign Walter to the vacant post in the West Indies, thereby getting rid of Walter and having his revenge at the same time.

Walter overhears a painful conversation between the two Carkers: James, the younger Manager, and John, the older, humbled clerk who has a past that haunts him, and who seems to have lost his spirit. We find out shortly after, with Walter, that the older Carker had in youth stolen from the firm, and fell out of all good society, and has been paying for it in humiliation and regret ever since.

Paul grows ever more wistful and “old-fashioned,” and begins to take his leave of all of Dr Blimber’s academy, and of Mrs Pipchin, and it is clear that everyone acts with a special tenderness towards their pale friend, who has made his way into all hearts there. It seems as if the farewell is more significant than simply leaving for a holiday or break.

Poor Walter has still been unable to break the news of his departure to the West Indies to his uncle, and begs for Captain Cuttle’s assistance. While Cuttle discharges that duty Walter takes a long stroll, and is hailed by Susan Nipper, who is desperately looking for Mrs Richards (Polly), saying that little Paul, who is very ill, is asking for her. Polly’s old neighborhood is unrecognizable because of the railroad work, but they finally track her down. Paul has been pondering the too-swiftly flowing waters, and what it is that the waves are saying.

“Profound Cogitation of Captain Cuttle,” by Phiz.

“His fancy had a strange tendency to wanter to the river, which he knew was flowing through the great city; and now he thought how black it was, and how deep it would look, reflecting the hosts of stars—and more than all, how steadily it rolled away to meet the sea.”

Paul, hearing Walter’s voice, calls for him, and asks his father to “remember Walter.” Little Paul dies in Floy’s arms. As Miss Tox says, Dombey and Son is “a Daughter after all”.

“Mamma is like you, Floy. I know her by the face! But tell them that the print upon the stairs at school, is not divine enough. The light about the head is shining on me as I go!”

Discussion Wrap-Up

Friends, we’ve had so much wonderful discussion this week! I might in future do more to highlight passages rather than giving them in full, but for now, as we begin, I wanted to give the complete thought for most of our comments under the various headings. So, pardon the longer post!

Whimsey and Miscellany

Rach and Rob had a blast coming up with whimsical rhyming lists for the world of Dombey:

And…any fans of The Last of Us out there? Here’s what Dana discovered–re: A Tale of Two Cities:

The Peter Ackroyd Supplement: Railways, Shakespeare, & Theatre

JMW Turner, “Rain, Steam and Speed–the Great Western Railway.” From Joy of Museums.

After Chris’s post on the Peter Ackroyd piece on Dombey, Lenny was particularly struck by the timeliness and atmosphere of the Turner painting mentioned by Ackroyd, which Chris shared in the body of the post:

Lenny H. comment

Rob was struck by “that cloud of poetry which hovers over the narrative,” and the use of repetition which Dickens is such a master of. Also, that “there seem to be more nods to Shakespeare” than he was seen:

Rob G. comment

The Stationmaster, too, reflects on the theatricality of Dickens’s writing, and the Shakespeare nods, wondering whether there is direct connection or relevance to the story:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

I too was struck by the theatrical connections here, and how Ackroyd analyzes the increased theatricality of Dickens’s own life at the time and his involvement with amateur theatricals. I was also struck by the Turner painting, and all the sensations of “railway mania” in Dickens. “It is progress and speed; it is also ‘Death.'”

Rach M. comment

Additional References

Rob shared several wonderful articles on Dombey & Son, and Dickensiana:

Paul Bailey in The Guardian – on Dickens’ Minor Characters:

and Rupert Godsal in Country Life on those unforgettable characters:

“Imagine it is January 1847 and I am an avid, middle-class novel reader living in London. I have been following Charles Dickens’s huge bestseller, Dombey and Son, a novel I have been buying in serial installments at a railway bookseller’s stall just as soon as it comes out each month, since October of 1846…”

He also shared this piece by John Mullan, author of The Artful Dickens.

Boze and I reshared the whimsical and thoughtful piece by Jonathan Lethem, on Dickens as “Animal Novelist”–and so much more.

Boze H. comment

The Reader in Dombey and Son: A Narrator’s Perspective

It’s not only “railway mania” that we’re dealing with in the Club this week–but an all-out “Dombey mania”! Rob shares this insightful, magical piece on the way we read Dickens–especially from the perspective of an audiobook narrator. That, perhaps, we shouldn’t always coldly analyze what is missing, but just revel in the grandeur of it, and be lost in the wonder of Dickens:

Rob G. comments

Dickens’s “Writing Lab”: Characterization, Theatricality, Femininity vs Masculinity, “A New Level of Intentionality and Discipline

Daniel reacts to the earlier comments, and writes a marvelous list of things that were particularly striking for him in this first part of the novel: the impact of Dickens’s own travel on his writing; its “enchantment”; the “‘feminine’ qualities” and true “masculinity”; the “second act” of Dickens’s career.

Daniel M. comments

The Stationmaster zooms in–so to speak–on the cinematic quality of Dickens, and his marvelous characters. He also considers the humor of Dickens–those things which are laugh-out-loud funny today, versus the humor that has been lost over time. (I’m curious on the work about Captain Cuttle’s nautical references and malapropisms!)

Adaptation Stationmaster comments

Continuing with the character analysis, Chris takes each of our most notable characters in turn, and their role in the story and the larger implications, e.g. “black or mixed race characters in Dickens.” (Note: I have kept her marvelous paragraph on Miss Tox for a separate section on that worthy lady.) I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the final paragraph on that “devilish sly” Major Bagstock:

Chris M. comment

Characterization #2: Miss Tox

We continue in the “characterization” portion of “Dickens’s writing lab” with a shoutout to Miss Tox, who has captured our fancy. Dana and Rob have a delightful and insightful interchange on her name:

Dana R. and Rob G. comments

Chris beautifully analyzes this resourceful and hard-to-pin-down character (“passive and obsequious, but she is also attentive and observant”), one of Chris’s “favorite Dickens characters.”

Chris M. comment

Characterization #3: Dombey as “all persona”; Anima vs. Animus

And for a kind of Part Three of our Characterization section, Lenny’s wonderful analysis of Mr Dombey as “all persona”, and the “tragic split” (anima vs. animus) happening here, responding to the “feminine” vs “masculine” qualities that Daniel brought up earlier. Lenny sees this split as “the central psychological topic and truth of the novel.” He also discusses the themes of Death and Time, and the very cinematic quality of Dickens’s narrative:

Lenny H. comment

Time and Atmosphere: Heat & Cold; Life, Death, & Dombey; Backstory; “Isolation in the midst of connectedness”

Death and Time, Heat and Cold, Life and Death, Speed and Rest: Dombey and Son is saturated with these dichotomies. I look at the juxtaposition of Dombey and his Son at the outset of the novel (heat/cold; life/death), and of course, Floy’s inclusion or exclusion and what she represents to what Lenny calls “the tragic split” of Mr Dombey’s personality:

Rach M. comment

Rob responds, reveling in the masterful opening of the novel, and “the way that Time and Care are almost made active characters” in it. “Time especially making his presence felt in all the ticking of watches and clocks”:

Rob G. comment

Chris, along with her astute character analyses, also writes of these first sixteen chapters as almost self-contained–a novel complete. Her thoughts on “isolation in the midst of connectedness” are so thought-provoking that I believe this will be an ongoing discussion. As she writes, “no one lives in isolation, no one can live in isolation, all things and people are connected whether they will or not.”

Also one topic (among many!) for discussion: the relative lack of “backstory” that Chris laments. Dana and I were discussing yesterday that, for her, Mr Dombey is one of the most “obscure” characters in Dickens. Dana was trying to understand what makes him what he is. Chris questions this too: “His backstory would be such an interesting case study of the Proper Victorian Male.” (As she also writes on Dombey and his wife, “How on earth did they ever have children”?)


Chris M. comment

Charles Dickens and Pigs: A Mystery!

A question from Stationmaster: does anyone know “the story of the pig” that Hans Christian Andersen refers to? The pig references that came to mind were Dickens’s writing of the pigs in the street in American Notes, and Wemmick’s in Great Expectations, but neither seem to be what HCA is referencing here:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

The Illustrations: The Green Wrappers

One of our favorite Dickensians and our beloved encourager, Dr. Christian Lehmann, analyzes the “green wrapper” illustrations for Dombey & Son, contrasting it with Dickens’s previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, with a marvelous analysis of its imagery. (I recall being very puzzled by the cards, for example, at the beginning, so I loved Dr. Christian’s thoughts on that.) What else do we see here?

Below is a “slideshow” of his tweets, so click on it to see all 5 images, or click on the actual tweet below the slideshow for the full thread on twitter:

A Look-Ahead to Week Two of Dombey and Son (28 Feb to 6 March 2023)

This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 17-31 of Dombey and Son, which constitute the monthly numbers VI-X, published from March to July 1847. Feel free to comment below for your thoughts this week, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

If you’d like to read it online, you can find it at a number of sites such as The Circumlocution Office, or download it from sites such as Gutenberg.


  1. I totally forgot (or missed?) that Sol Gills was referred to as “old fashioned!” I wonder what the connection is that Dickens was making between him and young Paul.

    What Chris mentioned about the gossips saying the late Mrs. Dombey “had no heart to give” made me think ahead to the character of Edith whom we’ll meet this week, which is odd since I’d been under the impression that they were opposites or at least their relationships with Mr. Dombey were.

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    1. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this description….it is so interesting the way Dickens uses “old-fashioned” in this novel! there is the time where he says, something like, “that old, old fashion, Death!” and of course, one could say that Sol Gills’s business and way of life are “dying,” even with the coming of the railroads and speed. At the same time, Dickens seems to be saying that those things that are considered “old-fashioned” are actually *timeless*, and, in a way, immortal? Just often lost or undervalued or forgotten in the speed of progress, but always there? Just a thought…I’d be curious as to how that descriptor has struck everyone so far.

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  2. Friends, a quick additional note: HUGE thank you to anyone who has shared a short bio, or even just a few notes about their favorite Dickens character/novel! Daniel, I’ve received yours and will update it shortly! Anyone else, if you’ve shared it but don’t see it up on the Dickensians page yet, I just somehow missed it…please resend it! 💙 It’s so nice to have that personal connection…what a marvelous group! Please keep ’em coming, friends!

    Hope you liked this week’s wrap-up…WHAT a book!!!!

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  3. p.s. for anyone who saw the post right when it went up, I had automatically copy/pasted the “by Rach” link from another post by mistake…forgive the error…I’m a compiler, but it is the work of the CLUB! I have edited that 🙂

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  4. Greetings, Fellow Dickens Travelers!

    What a rich landscape we are traversing together. It is impossible to do it justice.

    I will limit myself to three aspects, sparked by the rich commentary and resources shared.

    1. Master heart-breaker: Amen to Rachel’s observation, “Dickens is not only the master at comedy, but he knows how to relentlessly break our hearts.” The fading of little Paul, and his mystical perceptions, pierce the heart.

    2. “the cloud of poetry that hovers over the narrative”: Wonderful way of capturing the felt-sense of experiencing a world infused by another (unseen) world. The mystical-magical-mysterious keeps breaking in!

    3. “All persona”: Lenny’s marvelous reflection on and analysis of Dombey, Sr. as “all persona”–with his human aspects, as it were, scattered among his former wife, his daughter, his little son. An eviscerated man. A hallow man. All commerce and callousness. Masculine arrogance and domination/control at their worst.

    Like others in the group, I was captivated by the use of “old-fashioned.” It does seem, as Rachel and others pointed out, that this is a concept that encompasses the experience of nostalgic yearning for the things that are passing and the notion of an “old soul”–one, like little Paul, who intimates the immensity of things–what the waves are saying.

    I can’t help but to think that Dickens himself must have been “haunted” by such intimations–I imagine almost unto madness at times.

    Thanks to all of you for your fervent devotion to Dickens and your astute sharing!


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    1. Daniel: I’m reading bits and pieces of Edgar Johnson’s long biography of Dickens, and I think you are so “right” with your statement that Dickens “must have been ‘haunted’ by such intimations.” From Johnson’s characterization, our dear Charles seems to be haunted by just about everything–from worries about his reputation, from anxieties about his current work (here, DOMBEYAND SON), from extreme cares about the fates of “fallen” women, from daily domestic worries, from a lingering, or I should say, chronic restlessness that he is aware of (several different living situations and locations WHILE composing DOMBEY–throughout Europe), to the continual need to have the IMMEDIATE positive feedback from close friends about whatever projects come to his mind–including amateur theatricals that he desires to put on while in the midst of meeting the monthly deadlines for the next issue of DOMBEY. Also expressed through Johnson’s bio, are the EXTREAM HIGHS AND LOWS Dickens experiences on almost a daily basis–psychological patterns that he is aware of and that he writes about continually in his letters to Forester. OMG. A “haunted” man, indeed!

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      1. Lenny, what poignant information about a remarkable man and writer, as well as social critic and reformer. I try to imagine the many ghosts that must have “haunted” his inner life.

        Would you think much of this might be ascribed to his upbringing and in particular his father’s being sent to a debtors prison and the ensuing poverty and child labor and who-knows-what hardships . . . and to his innate emotional/imaginative sensitivity?

        We all benefit from his astonishingly astute and acute sensibilities and insights.

        But, it might very well been hellish to experience interiorly. (I think of little Paul Dombey’s various “hauntings” and how these might reflect Dickens’.)

        Would love to hear any additional insights about the inner life of our much beloved Inimitable.


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  5. Back when we were doing Nicholas Nickleby, someone commented that the comedy reminded them of Jane Austen. Well, the scene in Chapter 17 of Captain Cuttle being ridiculously presumptuous and inappropriate reminds me of Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice even though she’s a negative character and Capt. Cuttle is generally a positive. (Some feminist criticism interprets Mrs. Bennet sympathetically, but I don’t believe there’s any way you can argue that that was Austen’s intention.)

    Although Mrs. Chick is a jerk toward Florence (and the departed Fanny) in Chapter 18, we do get some implications that she’s genuinely grieved over her nephew’s death. (“Mrs. Chick abandoned herself to her feelings for half a moment; but, as a practical illustration of her doctrine, brought herself up short, in the middle of a sob, and went on again.”) She’s not a complete monster.

    (Spoiler Alert for this paragraph!) If memory serves, the reader won’t “see” Walter Gay for a long time after Chapter 19, so it’s nice that it’s a very well written chapter.

    There are multiple (not a lot but multiple) examples of old or middle-aged women in Dickens who dress and act way younger than they are. This group has already encountered one in Miss Knag from Nicholas Nickleby. But they’re typically comedic and pathetic. While there are humorous elements to Dickens’s descriptions of Mrs. Skewton (“settling her false curls and false eyebrows with her fan, and showing her false teeth”), she comes across as much more sinister. Maybe Miss Havisham of Great Expectations could be seen as an even creepier and less comedic take on this character type.

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  6. Dear reading group:

    Yeah, I’ve been confused by the phrase “old fashioned” for all the reasons that have been stated by your comments above. With regard to Paul, I think it applies to his seeming adult-like (almost “romantic”) ability to think, feel, project into the future, theorize, empathize, fantasize–way beyond his young years. He’s a cogitator big time. In short, to others, he seems more adult in his behavior than that of a child of six or seven. That he is seen as an invalid (practically) makes him appear as though he’s a sickly adult hovering near death in his later years. It kind of reminds me of the phrase, “He was born old.” Yet, I’m tempted to say that he–in ALL his characteristics–IS the central Child Archetype of the novel, who, given all the circumstances within the family and the society at large, is doomed to be repressed and killed. In Wordsworth’s terms, he represents the concept–“The child is father to the man.” The disease of the “man” (AND Society) kills off the healthy aspect of his/its psyche–therefore a crucial part of his/its psyche/personality. Paradoxically, then, Wordsworth would lament the death of Paul–who could have “taught” his father so much. And of course we can extrapolate this idea in so many directions so as to include Florence, Edith, Walter, Captain Cuttle, Sol Gills, Susan Nipper, etc. as literal and psychic victims of Dombey’s wooden authoritarianism! They, individually and as a group, try to “instruct” him! And he ignores them and jettisons them from consciousness both literally and figuratively.

    In short, The ossified Persona in this PATRIARCHAL driven family/society–his father/Mr. Dombey–has already cast out Paul as a “child” doing child-like things, and wants to turn poor Paul into the very image of himself, even in his infancy. In Jungian terms, this is the work of the overbearing Persona pushing his own child (archetype) deeper into the recesses of his unconscious and only desiring to see the man/persona/Dombey and son aspects of his son. Paul’s death is the death of the child archetype within the psyche of Dombey–just as Edith will become not only the literal victim of stubborn, proud, jealous Mr. Dombey, but also the psychic victim of his self, as he’s relegated her–as anima figure–to HIS unconscious. In the course of the novel, then, almost to its conclusion, Dombey is seen suppressing-metaphorically-these various sides of his psyche which keep pressing UPWARD TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED BY HIM, but countered by his too strong and debilitating PERSONA.

    I suppose, to we readers, Dombey, himself, seems literally THE “old-fashioned” one of the novel. But the term seems to take on other, more positive connotations when applied to Paul and Sol Gills–and maybe even to Captain Cuttle. In the parlance of mid-19th-century London/Britain–they would seem old-fashioned, but I think, again, this term refers more to their sensitive, caring, “feminine”/anima/childlike qualities–all of which separate them from the dominating PERSONA!

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  7. I suppose admitting this reveals me to be not a true Dickens fan, but I find the multiple subplots in Dombey and Son rather wearying. In this week’s section, we’ve got Major Bagstock sabotaging Miss Tox’s relationship with Dombey, Florence blaming herself for her father not loving her and wanting to gain his love somehow, Sol Gills and Captain Cuttle worrying about Walter, Edith Granger’s “romance” with Dombey, Carker (the manager) using Rob the Grinder to spy on Sol Gills, The Tootles family’s worries about Rob, the Carker brothers’ estrangement, Toots trying to impress Florence with the help of the Chicken-and we haven’t even really met Harriet yet! Even when a novel has only three plotlines going on at once, I find it annoying to switch character POV every chapter. Simultaneous plots work better for me in movies and TV shows. With books, I just kind of want to stick with whichever of the characters is my favorite and I’m tempted to just skip to their chapters and go back and read the rest later.

    On a more positive note, I noticed with this reading that Carker and Edith’s first meeting is like a dark parody of Walter and Florence’s, with him “rescuing” her. There’s even a poor older woman involved in both scenes.

    This section of Dombey and Son, the last part of it anyway, is interesting in that Dickens takes characters who would typically be stock villains, Miss Tox, the fawning gold digger, and Edith Granger, the fortune hunting stepmother, and makes them sympathetic. Of course, there are plenty of other stock villains in the story, like James Carker and Mrs. Skewton, so I can’t say it’s the most subversive book Dickens ever wrote or anything, but it’s still somewhat surprising.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Have mercy, Dickens (as usual) rolls the Hard Six. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t stay the tears. (How did Forster ever persuade the Inimitable to let little Tiny Tim live?)

    And once more, I am both fascinated and appalled by the (to me) quite opaque Dombey. I’m listening on audiobook, so I don’t have the text before me and can’t quote it exactly, but I was especially struck when little Paul, in his final illness, thinks he sees his father outside the door, “like a shadow on the wall.” He’s a shadow of a human being.

    It feels to me, too, not knowing this story at all, that great tragedy is a-brewing for Dombey père, of an altogether karmic nature, and most likely propelled by some long-game scheming on the part of that nasty little fanged feline, Carker.

    Totally engrossed!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yeah, Dana, our dear Charles knows how to pull the heart strings, doesn’t he. But he knew, as he told Forester from the get go, that young Paul would die very early on the novel, but this writing about his death didn’t make it any easier for Dickens the writer (he, too, was traumatized) or for the novel’s readers. We are so immersed in the moment that we can’t really get OUT of it. Even though we have the premonition that this tragic situation is probably inevitable. It’s just a matter of time….

      On another note, that just occurred to me, there is a strategy at work here that we’ve experienced before: although this trauma comes very early in the novel, it really instigates a series of movements that follow which help to define the characters and milieu of this particular and peculiar fictional world–and, thus, it reminds me of the plotting of BARNABY RUDGE, as the riots in that novel become the traumatic events and testing grounds that define the personalities and the events of the rest of the novel. In THAT narrative, though, the rioting segment is allowed to take up a broader part of the story so that we see not only character participation and development during the riots but get the full effect of and the consequences of the havoc that has been wrought over the period of time that follows. In DOMBEY, the set piece of Paul’s death is made up of the prelude, the event itself, and the IMMEDIATE aftereffects on the family participants– before going into the lengthy and complex extended consequences of this tragic moment.

      Thus, though, on the smaller “family” scale in this novel, the death of little Paul is just as effective an event (as the Gordon Riots)–with enormous percussions for the rest of the novel.

      No wonder you are so “engrossed!!!!

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Stationmaster: You can’t fault yourself for being sensitive to the multileveled text that Dickens throws at us in DOMBEY. In fact, your remarks reveal what a shrewd reader you are and the way in which you react to what is a very complex and maddening novel. Just the fact that you’ve sorted out the many threads that make up this segment shows how attentive you are to what is unfolding as you make your way through the labyrinthian maze of DOMBEY AND SON.

    To some extent, I think your frustration arises as you (and we) are reading this story as a NOVEL “in one piece” as opposed to reading it in a magazine with various monthly installments. Maybe from month to month, it was easier for Dickens’ readers to digest and reread as they waited for the next month’s publication. Then they would just pick up the thread and ponder the new reading just like they did the last. Our reading, though, is more progressive, just barreling on through with no monthly stops. Our reading dynamics are undoubtedly different from those of the Victorians who are reading from month to month. Thus, then, read, halt, ponder, wait, and read, halt, ponder, wait–etc., etc., etc. versus read, read, read–with pauses at any given place, and then read, read, read…. Quite a different process I believe.

    But I also agree with you about the point regarding the OVERLOAD of various narrative threads that just seem to keep piling up, one on top of the other so that maybe at some point, there is a breaking down of the readers’ interest–as there results a subsequent movement and feeling that one has to just get on with the “main” story, ok! But then that brings with it its own risks, because then one wants to chose just what the main story might be. And so there is a quandary, because we know, at some level, that these various subplots (as we might call them) are somehow interrelated and function in some way as being connected to the “whole,” whatever THAT is. Oh boy, the dynamics of reader response–and how complex that is, especially with these really multi-faceted narratives.

    Ad there IS tedium within these various parts that you’ve noted. For instance, the Bagstock/Dombey/Mrs. Skewton “matrix.” At first, there are comic moments with the character of Bagstock. His volatile manner of speaking, his braggadocio vis-a-vis Dombey, his flirtation and coy manners toward Mrs. Skewton and her equally coy and flirtatious mannerisms while she’s conversing with him. It’s all great–up to a point, but in all these moments, that just drag on and on, especially his heavy-handed comments about himself, his reputation, his many important friendships–it all gets to be too much. just TOO much repetition! We get it. He’s nuts, as Chris calls him: he’s an “ass.” But it seems that the novel just seems to rub our noses in this extreme overstatement to the point of alienating its readers. Yeah, yeah, yeah–he and Mrs. Skewton love to banter with one another, love to inflate each others’ egos, love to be witty and funny and absurd, etc. But there has to be a point of no return, where all this stuff can just wear out the reader. And that’s where you start skipping pages, as you say, even at your own peril as a reader.

    So there is a problem with overstatement in this novel that can sometimes drive the reader crazy, whether it it be in the creation of character, in the dialogues between characters, or the various descriptions that are over the top, or in its rank and sometimes noxious sentimentality.

    But more about that, later….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “… your remarks reveal what a shrewd reader you are and the way in which you react to what is a very complex and maddening novel.”

      Well, I’m sorry if I didn’t make this clear, but this is actually my third time reading Dombey and Son (not in a row, of course!), so not actually that impressive. Plus, I was just trying to summarize the different subplots from this week’s specific assigned reading, which is more manageable than summarizing the entire book.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Stationmaster: Ahhh…no need to apologize–as it’s at least my third time through the novel, too, but I’m seeing it more clearly than ever before–with the help of you and every other member of this reading group!

        I’m always interested in what you have to say and how you say it. I really like your candor! It’s always refreshing and eye-opening because it deals so readily with one of my favorite subjects, READER RESPONSE.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Thanks, Rachel, and all of you for your insightful comments thus far. I’m loving your collective “enthoosymoosy,” and I’m totally engrossed in it myself—indeed, Daniel, I think Dombey is Dickens’ “Best Yet!” To me, it’s clear that he has significantly ratcheted up his care and attention to every detail since the novels of his “first act.” It’s not only that the rollicking, freewheeling adventures of the Pickwick Club, or even the “pantsing” (i.e. writing by the seat of his pants) of Oliver Twist, have fully given way now to “plotting”—although they have. There is also a new quality of over-determination in Dombey which, perhaps, lends this work the sense of “that cloud of poetry which hovers over the narrative” that Rob mentioned last week.

    The images of the sea and the river, Dombey Senior as shadow (both at his son’s birth and death, and haunting the street outside the Blimbers’ school), the omnipresent ticking clock, etc. are all so symbolically resonant, and as Rob points out, the repetition of the imagery and associated phrases and sounds (Chick/Tock; the sussuration in phrases like “What is the sea saying?” which evokes the whisper of the waves) all contribute to the “overdetermined excess” of Dombey and give this novel the feel of poetry. In fact, their repetition forms a kind of hazy, perpetual backdrop to the foreground action of the novel, like the very dark background of a chiaroscuro painting, such that everything immediately happening in the plot seems to take place against those vague and half-remembered symbolic images. (And then Dickens will occasionally foreground the images themselves to bring them back into our conscious awareness…)

    As a student of poetry, I’m awed by Dickens’ ability to write a novel which is operating so masterfully on both levels: the intricacies of plot in the foreground and the symbolic resonance of images in the background. Truly, he is Inimitable!

    And as a fan of Little Nell, I have to point out that young Paul gazing out at the sea so reminds me of Nell in the church-tower looking out at the sunset: the mood of contemplative melancholy, yet with the inseparable “undercurrent” (if I may say so) of hope… Both characters, old before their time, gazing into the symbolic representation of death, yet with their attention fixed on what comes after. (Paul’s seeing the face of his mother on the far shore of the sea is simply, heart-rendingly beautiful. Am I the only one who thought that, when he was looking out to sea from his bedroom at the Blimbers’ and suddenly cried out, “There she is! There she is!”, he was seeing his mom?)

    P.S. I’m loving the Jungian analysis, from Lenny and Daniel especially—please keep it coming!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Beautifully stated, Deacon. You are absolutely right about the pictorial art of Dickens–especially in your use of the term chiaroscuro–which particularly reminds me of Rach’s discussion of the light-dark imagery in the opening chapter. And then there is the lyric poet in the novelist that seems to surface so wonderfully in those dreamy passages revolving around Paul and his various “reflections.” So much to think about, here: Background/foreground and dreamy poetics juxtaposed with realistic documentation!

      Liked by 3 people

  11. There’s so much more I’d love to say this weekend, but for now…I just wanted to comment on the very striking passage on the railway in chapter twenty, which spans the better part of two pages.

    “The very speed at which the train was whirled along, mocked the swift course of the young life that had been borne away so steadily and so inexorably to its fore-doomed end. The power that forced itself upon its iron way—its own—defiant of all paths and roads, piercing through the heart of every obstacle, and dragging living creatures of all classes, ages, and degrees behind it, was a type of the triumphant monster, Death.”

    So much speed and progress, but also so much destruction! It reminds me of Cruikshank’s illustration of 1845, of the “Railway Dragon” (hope this link works):

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Boy, Rach, that is SOME illustration. Pair that with the Turner train pic that Chris gave us and you’d have quite an interesting discussion. Talk about domestic disruption in one and beautiful but mysterious danger pictured in the other. Dickens is dealing with both, I think. With maybe the nod going to the sinister!

      But…I’m thinking in this regard, also, of the Toodles family who seem to “roll with the punches” and adapt willy- nilly to the wheels of progress. So, I ask, is their attitude the Dickens’ ideal???

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Lenny, this is such a great question about the Toodles family. I was thinking about it, and, I *do* think that Dickens very much admires those who can, as you say, “roll with the punches” of progress. At the same time, there is the thread we’ve been discussing since almost the beginning, the Wordsworthian Romanticism that you’ve noted, the City vs. Country, that seems to suggest that Dickens’s most idealized characters seek (and hopefully find) *rest* away from the City. The Nicklebys return to the country; Little Nell and the Grandfather find their peace with the kind schoolmaster far away from the clamor of London & Birmingham; Pickwick and Sam find it ultimately a little away from the bustle of the City; the Maylies, Oliver Twist, & Mr Brownlow find the same peace away from it, in the Country; the Rudges find Country peace briefly, only to return to the chaos of the Gordon Riots–the City at its wildest and perhaps most menacing. There is this trend of, one almost might say, evil vs good, chaos vs rest, anxiety vs peace–both interior and exterior, perhaps?–which equates to the relative proximity or distance from the City.

        But Dickens was a man of so many contradictions! Here’s one who wrote of London like no one else–his Sketches are gems of observation and enthusiasm! And he thrived on the bustle of the City, and his night walks…so, what are we to make of him? I think he had an *ideal* of peace and rest that he never quite found, because he also thrived in work and chaos. This is a broad brush stroke here…but I just find it fascinating how much City vs. Country, and speed vs rest, find their *constant* way into Dickens’s works, thematically.


      2. Just popping in to point out, relating to what Rachel wrote, Dickens sometimes gave the country negative connotations too. Nicholas initially saves Smike by taking him away from rural Yorkshire to London. And doesn’t Montague Tigg get murdered in the forest or somewhere like that?


    1. Thanks for sharing, Rach 😀
      This was one of the many rabbit holes I fell down this week. But I’m also trying to get the measure of writing WordPress posts and this seemed as good a subject as any. There may very well be more Dombey related posts appearing before long 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. More on being “old fashioned” in Dombey and Son.

    When I first read the book, I thought this passage from little Paul’s death scene explained the meaning.

    “The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death!”

    I assumed from that that when people described Paul as old fashioned, they were using it as a euphemism for him not being likely to live long. When I read the quote from Uncle Sol Rachel’s recap, I thought maybe it had some other significance. But rereading it, I actually think it actually means the same thing. Paul isn’t likely to live long and neither is Sol’s business.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. More on being “old fashioned” in Dombey and Son.

    When I first read the book, I thought this passage from little Paul’s death scene explained the meaning.

    “The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death!”

    I assumed from that that when people described Paul as old fashioned, they were using it as a euphemism for him not being likely to live long. When I read the quote from Uncle Sol in Rachel’s recap, I thought maybe it had some other significance. But rereading it, I actually think it actually means the same thing. Paul isn’t likely to live long, and neither is Sol’s business.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. So much going on in these middle chapters. They transition us from the first section we read (Ch 1-16) and then lay the groundwork for what is to come. We see the after-effects of incidents from the first section meld into the incidents we will follow in the remaining sections – how Capt. Cuttle’s “little business” ripples into Mr Carker’s business, how Uncle Sol fares after Walter’s ship appears to be lost, how Dombey’s negative feelings for Florence intensify, how Florence’s grief and loneliness evolve into her “study of a loving heart”, how Mr Toots’s admiration for Florence develops; how Maj. Bagstock’s maliciousness toward Miss Tox plays out and just how many people affects.

    For me the most poignant chapter in the novel is Ch 29 – The Opening of the Eyes of Mrs Chick – my heart just goes out to Miss Tox. What a poor return for her efforts, patience and devotion over 7+ years! The Dombey world gives Miss Tox a purpose, a mission. She becomes a genteel assistant to both Mr Dombey and Mrs Chick, but she inhabits that middle ground, like a governess, wherein she is too genteel to be relegated to Downstairs, and only just genteel enough to be allowed Upstairs. Her insignificance gives her access and position. Her unthreatening and sycophantic nature feeds Mrs Chick’s particular brand of pride, that of a middle-aged middle-class selfish woman with a lackluster husband, grown children and a self-important brother, who needs someone willing to listen and to complement to bolster her self-esteem. So of course she befriends Miss Tox and brings her to meet her sister-in-law (Fanny) who, it seems, she tolerates only because she is married to her brother. But with Fanny gone, Mrs Chick can more freely attempt to wield the power she believes (hopes) she has in Dombey’s world and thus the need for a sidekick who will, depending on the circumstances, back her up or take the fall, becomes more important.

    For 7+ (long) years Miss Tox is a true and loyal friend to Mrs Chick and the family, keeping her place, but lending a very needed hand. Unfortunately she keeps her place too well. Her genteel passivity coupled with her naivety allows her to be ambushed by Major Bagstock. She believes the Major’s complements are helpful to her “ambitions” “as they enabled her to be extremely interesting, and to manifest an occasional incoherence and distraction which she was not at all unwilling to display” (Ch 10), but she does not know the Major’s true character. The Major could not have come in at a worse time for her. Now that Little Paul is dead Dombey’s need for a wife becomes more urgent – though this angle is never mentioned by Dickens (perhaps for decorum’s sake) – because the need for a new Son would, it seems to me, be important to Dombey. Given more time Mrs Chick & Miss Tox might have prevailed, but the Major times his assault well. Alone with Dombey at breakfast he casts aspersions on Miss Tox when she cannot defend herself. Granted he is not wrong in his assessment of her “ambitions”, but he colors her motives in unbecoming and distasteful shades: she is a “ridiculous old spectacle”, a “scheming jade [whose] ambition is a piece of monstrous impudence”, she “compromise[s] other people, and generous, unsuspicious people too, as a repayment for their condescension”, she is “a de-vilish artful and ambitious woman” (Ch 20). That Edith Granger and her mother are at Leamington is a fortunate happenstance for the Major’s plans, and he, greatly assisted by Mrs Skewton, plays Dombey like a fiddle.

    Yet, Miss Tox had never hidden her feelings; she is what she appears to be:

    “. . . if she were a fawner and toad-eater, [she[ was at least an honest and a constant one, and had ever borne a faithful friendship towards her impeacher, and had been truly absorbed and swallowed up in devotion to the magnificence of Mr Dombey. . .” (Ch 29).

    Mrs Chick’s treatment of Miss Tox here is unsurprising given her character. She is petty and vindictive and unwilling to blame herself for anything – witness her ‘forgiveness” of Fanny. Not only had her plans for her brother’s second wife fallen through but she had been neither consulted nor considered (which was worse) when the question arose. It is this oversight that stings her and for which Miss Tox must pay. And was anyone else surprised that Mr & Mrs Chick were NOT at the church for the wedding? They were at the breakfast, but it seems odd that Dombey’s only sibling would not have been at church. Was this another oversight, or did they stay away?

    Someone mentioned Bagstock’s constant repetitions of himself and his merits in third person and how annoying they are. While I agree, they lead me to consider how they illustrate what a poor judge of character Dombey is. We have seen how quickly Dombey dismisses people who annoy him – his sister, the Toodle’s, Capt. Cuttle, Florence. Yet with each “Joey B” repetition Dombey swells a little more, illustrating, to me at least, that his judgment is based solely on a person’s behavior toward him with no reference to the merits or motives of their actions or sentiments. Dickens tells us this a few times, but these “Old Joe, Joey B, J.B., Josh, J. Bagstock” show it in excruciating relief.

    Mr Carker’s secret gathering and plotting become at once more widespread and more focused. Not quite sure yet what direction they will ultimately take as it appears he has designs on the Midshipman, on Florence, on the Firm, on Edith.

    Mr Toots’s relationship with The Game Chicken reminds me of Montague Tigg and Chevy Slime (MC) and also of Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht (NN), maybe even a little Nicholas Nickleby and Smike. (Did someone else note these male duos?) I am glad that Toots has sought out a mentor because he is sorely in need of one – proves he’s not as silly as he appears. Let’s hope he fares better in his devotion to Florence than Miss Tox did in hers to Mr Dombey.

    Florence is at once so grown up and so juvenile. She is just a delight when she interacts with Walter, Uncle Sol and Capt. Cuttle, and she was the belle of the ball at the Blimbers’ party, and all the Skettles’s guests flock to her so we know she has all the requisite social skills that her father lacks. But when she isolates herself in her dreary home she becomes morose and broods. She needs to get out more, with more people her own age. She needs to cross the street and meet her neighbors, the little girls, and stop moping after her father. Strikingly, and oddly for a man, Dickens seems to have accurately hit upon the special mentality and existence that is a 14 year old girl!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Loving all the comments from this weeks section.
    Alas! I have not had time enough to order my wild and whirling thoughts into appropriate form… but this novel (second time around) continues to enchant and enthral me.
    Briefly then…
    Major Joey, Old J. Bagstock IS an ass!
    Miss Tox DOES need a hug 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Also, another brief thought following on from the mention of Jane Austen…

    Major Bagstock and Mrs Skewton seem to be a couple of grotesques who have escaped from the supporting cast of an Austen novel!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting. I usually think of Austen and Dickens as being kind of opposite even though they’re both satirical. Charles Dickens’s plots tend to be highly dramatic. Jane Austen’s are very slice-of-life, though there are a couple that I guess dip their toes into melodrama. Dickens tends to portray evil as the result of cold calculation and a lack of emotion. Austen tends to portray it as the result of too much emotion and not enough cool reason. They both do great comedic caricatures, but I’d say Dickens leans more heavily into caricature and Austen more heavily into realism. (Richard Jenkyns in his book, A Fine Brush With Ivory, makes a good case for this with some of the sillier characters in Pride and Prejudice.)

      Liked by 2 people

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