Dombey and Son, Week 3 ~ and a Week 2 Wrap-Up


(Banner image: By Phiz. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for Victorian Web.)

“Captain Cuttle and Mr Carker,” by Harry Furniss. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for Victorian Web.

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

Friends, we’ve had amazing conversations this week–our second week of Dombey and Son! We’ve covered Dickens’s “mastery” at heartbreak, his Wordsworthian Romanticism, the women in Dickens–especially Miss Tox, staunchly defended by Chris–and that mysterious use of the term “old-fashioned.” We’ve discussed that monster–the railway–and what the ideal response is to the speed of progress. We’ve talked about heat and cold, life and death, light and darkness. We’ve talked about that maddeningly obscure character, Mr Dombey–“all persona,” as Lenny writes. And what are we to make of–quoting Dana–that “nasty little fanged feline,” James Carker (the manager)?

These and many other questions are before us as we move into Week Three…

But first, a few quick links:

  1. General Mems
  2. Dombey and Son, Chs 17-31: A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Dombey and Son

General Mems

Friends, warmest welcome to our new member, Lucy! Lucy has been 100% into “Dombey-ing” with us, and it is such a delight to have her aboard!

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. I will be sending out the zoom links. Please email me (or message me on twitter) if you’re interested!

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 authors and contributors!

If you’re counting, today is Day 427 (and week 62) in our #DickensClub! This week, we’ll be on the third week of Dombey and Son, our fifteenth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the third 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.

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.

Dombey and Son, Chs 17-31: A Summary

Preparations are being made for Walter’s long voyage, and Walter fears the worst—that he will never return while his uncle still lives. Captain Cuttle, being distraught that his castles in the air (re: Walter and the Dombeys) is crumbling, pays a visit to the firm, and has a “confidential” chat with Mr Carker—and all his smiling teeth, too—who appears by his grin to encourage the Captain in his hopes that Walter and Floy are destined for one another, and that Walter’s assignment is for the young man’s benefit.

Mr Toots, of Blimber’s Academy, visits Floy—and it is quite apparent that he has a whopping crush on her—and kindly gifts her with that awkward, large, protective dog, Diogenes (Di), who took such a fancy to little Paul. Floy gratefully takes Di into her home and heart, little as Di is “a lady’s dog.”

“The Wooden Midshipman on the Lookout,” by Phiz.

Floy then visits Sol Gills with Susan Nipper prior to Walter’s departure, begging Sol to think of her as familiarly as he thinks of his nephew, and to allow her and Susan to look in and see how he does in Walter’s absence, and to communicate to them any news of Walter. She then gives Walter a purse, begging him not to open it until he has departed—saying that she’d meant it originally for little Paul. Walter can’t help it however, and finds that there is money in it. Walter is so touched by her consideration and reliance on him that he is resolved to think of her as a sister, and to do justice to what he believes her disposition toward him is.

Sir Barnet and Lady Skettles offer that Floy should stay with them for a while, but Floy doesn’t want to leave the house where there are so many associations with little Paul. Dombey imagines that Floy (in grief at the loss of her brother and wishing to console her father or be consoled by him) is a reproach and a burden. Mr Dombey rebuffs her attempts to approach him, and wishes that she, and not her brother, had died.

Mr Dombey takes Major Bagstock with him on a train journey to Leamington.

“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.”

“Major Bagstock is Delighted to Have that Opportunity,” by Phiz.

At Leamington, Mr Dombey is introduced to Mrs. Skewton and her daughter, Edith Granger, the latter a young widow. Mrs Skewton is near seventy but with a manner of dressing that “would have been youthful” at twenty-seven, is all artificiality, imagining herself to want only naturalness and Nature around her. Edith, a “disdainful beauty,” is haughty and jaded.

“It was a remarkable characteristic of this lady’s beauty that it appeared to vaunt and assert itself without her aid, and against her will. She knew that she was beautiful: it was impossible that it could be otherwise: but she seemed with her own pride to defy her very self.”

“Mr Toots becomes Particular–Diogenes Also,” by Phiz.
“Solemn Reference is made to Mr Bunsby,” by Phiz.

Back at the firm, Mr Carker the manager has taken over the running of Dombey and Son in Mr Dombey’s absence, and disdains his brother, John the junior, and John’s expressions of concern for Harriet, their sister, who sided with her melancholy and blighted brother—for which reason, James, the manager, has disowned her, and will hear nothing of her from his brother.

We then see an interesting interchange between Mr Carker and the troublesome teenager Rob the Grinder (aka “Biler”), the Toodles son who, since his education at the Charitable Grinders, has “gone wrong,” as Mr Toodles himself had recently said to Mr Dombey, to the latter gentleman’s disdain and indignation. Mr Carker also receives a letter update from Mr Dombey at Leamington, who includes an interesting bit of self-doubt about their disposal of Walter, as Mr Dombey requests that, if the ship the Son & Heir (interesting name!) has not yet sailed, he might put another youth in Walter’s place, and keep Walter home for the time being. However, the ship has sailed. Sol Gills then comes to Carker for news about the Son & Heir, of which there is, as yet, none, except that there has been some dodgy weather. Carker then thrusts Rob the Grinder upon Gills, as a helper in his instrument shop, and Gills can hardly refuse. Carker, full of protestations that it is all for Gills’ good, instructs Rob to let him know how Gills goes on, and who visits him—particularly whether a certain young lady is among them. Carker’s threatening manner toward Rob has had the effect of making Rob a kind of admiring drudge or lackey to Carker.

We then resume our acquaintance with Mr Toots, who, being done at the Blimber Academy and coming into a portion of his inheritance, spends a good deal of time calling on the Dombey’s, especially to see how Miss Floy gets on, and ponders how to win her hand one day. He consults the Game Chicken. He gives Floy updates on Di when she finally does spend some time with the Skettles family–and she is much admired there.

“Mr Carker Introduces Himself to Florence and the Skettles Family,” by Phiz.

Floy is like a princess in a tower as she remains in the dismal, empty Dombey house, trying to teach herself how to make her father aware of her love, and thinking no reproaches of him. Susan Nipper communicates to Floy that that “wet curl-paper of a man,” Mr Perch, has dared to communicate some fears about Walter’s ship, the Son & Heir, which has still not been heard of. Floy decides to visit Sol Gills immediately. Not finding him there, but with Rob’s information that he will return in a couple of hours, they visit Captain Cuttle, who accompanies them back to Gills’ shop, and there appears to be some mysterious resolution taken by Gills.

“Joe B. is Sly, Sir; Devilish Sly,” by Phiz.

The reason for Gills’s mysterious behavior becomes evident the following day, when Captain Cuttle, finding Gills absent, reads a note left for him by Gills: Captain Cuttle is to watch over The Wooden Midshipman, keeping it in readiness for Walter’s return. Gills will give no indication of where he has gone, nor why, but asks that Cuttle not attempt to find out. Cuttle fears suicide.

Cat-like Carker the manager seems to be attempting to “manage” everyone and everything from the sidelines, and makes Floy feel uncomfortable by assuming an air of confidence with her. Carker takes her wishes and “dearest love” to Mr Dombey when Carker visits him in Leamington, where Dombey expresses his regret that Walter ever got on the ship. Dombey continues to feel something like hatred and resentment towards Floy.

Carker meets Edith Granger. “Saving” her from an importunate old woman who wishes to tell her fortune, Carker and Edith find that there is some unwilling attraction or understanding—unwilling, on Edith’s part—between them. Edith is resentful that Carker seems to understand her and her nature.

It is clear that Mr Dombey is interested in Edith, and plans are forged for their remarriage—to one another. Mrs Skewton continues to pretend that Dombey is “all heart,” and that Edith is contented; Edith, however, continues to show indifference or disdain for all around her, and for her mother’s artificiality. She will not lift a finger to attract him or anyone else; but attracts those around her against her will. Mrs Skewton’s “mask” only comes off—partially, anyway—when she and Edith are alone together.

Above left: “Mr Dombey Introduces His Daughter Florence,” by Phiz ; Above right: “The Eyes of Mrs Chick are Opened to Lucretia Tox,” by Phiz.

Upon the return of Dombey, Carker, & Bagstock, Edith and Mrs Skewton accompany them to Dombey’s house, and there they meet Floy, who is hearing for the first time about the upcoming marriage between her father and Edith. Floy, who continues in hope of one day gaining her father’s affection in spite of hearing discouraging words from others (which she wasn’t supposed to have heard), hopes that Edith can help teach her how to love him better, and make her father love her, too. Edith’s icy indifference melts only for Floy, whom she takes to her heart immediately.

As we see the forthcoming marriage anticipated by many of our main characters—Mr Toots, Captain Cuttle, etc—we also meet Cousin Feenix, Edith’s relation, and see the pretense Louisa Chick makes of being affronted at what she believes to have been Miss Tox’s designs upon her brother (conveniently forgetting that she herself had encouraged Miss Tox in her hopes of Mr Dombey), when she sees that Miss Tox is overcome by the news of the upcoming wedding. After all, Miss Tox had faithfully served the Dombey house for years. However, it would appear that Louisa means to get ahead of what she anticipates to be a reproach to herself and her own past designs, by acting surprised and affronted.

Just before the marriage, Edith forbids her mother to keep Floy with her while Edith and Dombey are away. Edith, who has been taught to be mercenary and cruelly conniving towards mankind by Mrs Skewton, will not have Floy corrupted by her.

Discussion Wrap-Up

What We Loved: Dickens as the “Master Heart-Breaker”

Dana M. comment

Dana is “totally engrossed” in Dombey and Son, and we’re all still recovering, I think, from the end of Chapter 16 in Week One. As Dana writes, “Have mercy, Dickens”! Daniel calls Dickens a “master heart-breaker,” as relentless in his ability to make us weep as to laugh.

Priscilla was reminding us of one of the most delightful quotes from the first chapter, where we meet the newborn Paul.

Daniel beautifully summarizes several highlights of last week’s discussion, prompting more discussion in the process.

Daniel M. comment

Dickens, The “Haunted” Man

Lenny responds to Daniel’s comments and the list of what struck him, with the consideration about Dickens’s own haunted mind:

Lenny H. comment

And Daniel responds, including a question about our own “haunted man,” Dickens:

Daniel M. comment
“The Railway Dragon,” by George Cruikshank

The Railway Monster

I was struck by the approximately 2-page gem of writing about the railway monster–the train–during Dombey’s journey to Leamington:

“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.’”

~Rach M. comments

Lenny responds:

“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???”

~Lenny H. comment

I’ll place the final question again below, under the section on “juxtaposition.”

Dickens’s “Writing Lab”: Poetic Narrative & Imagery; Austenesque Comedy; Subplots; Characterization

Lenny here responds to Dana’s comment on Dickens’s relentless capacity to break our hearts (to summarize comments by both Dana and Daniel). I have placed it here, as Lenny relates this to Dickens’s “writing lab,” and the “strategy” Dickens employs for this novel. The strategy: one event (in this case, Paul’s death in the early part of the novel) propels the action and “instigates a series of movements that follow which help to define the characters and milieu of this particular and peculiar fictional world”:

Lenny H. comment

On another note, the Stationmaster brings us back around to the question of Jane Austenesque comedy in Dickens:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Rob responds:

Rob G. comment

The Stationmaster follows up:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

The Stationmaster comments here on the unique ways Dickens portrays several characters in Dombey and Son, turning those who might usually be “stock villains,” and making them “sympathetic”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

He gives a similar analysis of Mrs Chick:

“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.”

~Adaptation Stationmaster

And Chris analyzes several of our characters this week, and their relationships to one another. (Once again, I will keep Miss Tox for a separate section)

Chris M. comment

Characterization #2: “Old-Fashioned,” vs. the “Opaque” Mr Dombey: A “Shadow of a Human Being,” “All Persona”

Early on this week, the Stationmaster noted the unique use of the term “old fashioned” in this novel, and considered the connection between this quality in little Paul, and the instrument maker, Sol Gills:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

I responded:

Rach M. comment

Daniel responded:

Daniel M. comment

The Stationmaster followed up, bringing it around again:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Although this seems like an unlikely transition, I wanted to call attention to Dana’s question about the “opaque” characterization of Mr Dombey. He is, she writes, quoting Dickens, “like a shadow on the wall,” adding: “He’s a shadow of a human being.”

Dana M. comment

Lenny pulls the two themes together–that mysterious, old-fashioned quality that Dickens is drawing our attention to with the likes of little Paul, and the “opaque” Mr Dombey, who is “all persona,” continuing on his character analysis of Dombey from Week One:

Lenny H. comment

Characterization #3: Carker, “That Nasty Little Fanged Feline

Although we’ve not yet written a great deal about James Carker, I place him in a separate section here, as the beginning–potentially–of a longer conversation as we move into weeks Three and Four. Dana describes him as “that nasty little fanged feline”:

Dana M. comment

The Stationmaster makes an interesting comment on the contrast between Carker and Edith’s first meeting, and that of the rescue of Floy by Walter:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Characterization #4: Miss Tox

Chris marvelously analyzes and defends Miss Tox, one of her favorite characters in Dickens, in a continuation of the theme from Week One:

Chris M. comment

The Stationmaster sums it up well:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

And Rob agrees:

Rob G. comment

Women in Dickens: Juvenility in Age; Florence

The Stationmaster also brings up a type of character that we have seen before in our Club, and a type we will meet with again: an elderly female who dresses and acts much younger–not in a complimentary sense (e.g. youthfulness of spirit), but in a kind of perpetual juvenility. Such is Mrs Skewton, to the hilt:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Chris comments here on Florence, and I’ve placed her under the theme of “Women in Dickens,” to consider Floy in the light of our other Dickens heroines thus far:

Chris M. comment

The Reader in Dickens: Subplots, Tedium, & The Labyrinthine Maze of Dombey & Son”–OR, Dickens’s “Best Yet”?

We have some fascinating contrasting opinions during our first two weeks of Dombey and Son. The Stationmaster expresses his frustrations at the “multiple subplots” which he finds “rather wearying”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Lenny responds, with consideration of how differently we are reading Dickens today–specifically, at the pace of the Club read–versus how gradually and episodically Dickens would have been read at the time of publication:

Lenny H. comment

But we have another response: that it is Dickens’s “best yet.” Daniel and Deacon Matthew have both intimated this, and I will begin with Deacon Matthew’s reflections under the next topic heading…

Juxtapositions & Wordsworthian Romanticism: City vs Country; Darkness vs Light (Chiaroscuro); Chaos vs Rest

Lenny remarked that a favorite subject of his is the “reader response,” and, as noted above, we have had some fascinating responses so far to Dombey and Son! Deacon Matthew beautifully and thoughtfully analyzes his own experience thus far, relating it to Dickens’s writing lab and imagery: “the images of the sea and the river, Dombey Senior as shadow…the omnipresent ticking clock, etc.” In his analysis, the juxtaposition of light and darkness (“chiaroscuro”) and the poetic quality of Dickens’s narrative is a primary consideration:

Deacon Matthew comment

Lenny responds:

Lenny H. comment

As Dickens’s poetic narrative is considered, and the imagery of the sea and the reflections coming from it, are we back in the territory of Wordsworthian Romanticism that we’ve discussed in earlier novels?

Here I want to bring into the discussion Lenny’s earlier question, about whether the reaction of the Toodles family to the destruction of the railroad is the ideal response:

Lenny H. comment

I had been considering it for some time before I responded:

Rach M. comment

Dickens and Shakespeare

Though not discussed in the comments this week, I wanted to share two marvelous posts on the subject of Dickens and Shakespeare, by Rob! The second one relates to Shakespeare references in Dombey and Son specifically:

from Rob G.
from Rob G.

The Illustrations: Dombey Prototypes

And a wonderful glimpse from our beloved Dickensian & encourager, Dr. Christian, of Phiz’s early Dombey sketches!

A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Dombey and Son (7-13 March, 2023)

This week, we’ll be reading Chapters 32-48, which constitute the monthly numbers XI-XV, published from August to December 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. In her humble way, Rach did not include my response to her tweet of last week’s Wrap-up, so I will share it as it remains ever-relevant:

    Rach, you’ve done it again! This is such a wonderful summation – not at all the right word – synthesis & analysis. I’m always amazed at your mastery at bringing all the wonderful comments to order & melding them with text at hand.
    Seamstress, indeed!🧡

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Rach, you are a veritable tapestry-weaver!

    Such a layered, rich, multi-faceted conversation. You make us Inimitables sound downright intelligible!

    Question: Why did Dombey, Sr. have a twinge of self-doubt regarding the deployment of Walter?

    “. . . self-doubt about their disposal of Walter, as Mr Dombey requests that, if the ship the Son & Heir (interesting name!) has not yet sailed, he might put another youth in Walter’s place, and keep Walter home for the time being.”

    Is this meant to intimate a softening, a chink in the facial armor?



    Liked by 5 people

    1. Daniel – I think it’s because Little Paul’s last request to his father was:

      “Remember Walter, dear Papa,” he whispered, looking in his face. “Remember Walter. I was fond of Walter!” The feeble hand waved in the air, as if it cried “good-bye!” to Walter once again. (Ch 16)

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Yes, I thought so, too, it’s (weak) response to little Paul’s final wishes…good question whether it’s intended to show a wee chink in D’s cast-iron armor, or illustrate his inability, in its feebleness, to consider anyone, fully, outside of their relation to himself.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been trying to work out the timing between Little Paul’s death and Mr Dombey’s marriage to Edith. It always seems to me that hardly any time passes and that Dombey rushes into his relationship with Edith. So, in an effort to get the timeline down I find:

    1) Little Paul goes home for the Midsummer vacation (Ch 14) and dies shortly thereafter (a few days or maybe a week).
    2) “about a week after the funeral” Mr Toots brings Diogenes to Florence and then Susan tells Florence her father is going to Leamington “to-morrow morning” (Ch 19).
    3) If my reading is correct, it was the second day in Leamington that Bagstock and Dombey meet Edith & her mother (Ch 19 & 20).
    4) Dombey writes to Carker, “I find myself benefited by the change, and am not yet inclined to name any time for my return.” (Ch 22).
    5) While her father is in Leamington, Florence lives alone and then visits the Skettles “in this [Midsummer] vacation time (Ch 23) – so a year after Little Paul’s return home & death.
    6) Mrs Skewton tells Carker she’s known Dombey “many weeks” (Ch 26).
    7) Dombey proposes to Edith a few days later (Ch 27).
    8) Florence returns home when “the holiday time is past and over (Ch 28). Midsummer holiday lasts 6 weeks (wikipedia English School Holidays) –

    Thus, if Little Paul dies shortly into the Midsummer holiday and then the next Midsummer holiday Florence visits the Skettles’s – a year has past. And then another 6 weeks pass (the length of the holiday) and Florence returns home to find her father engaged to Edith, whom he marries shortly thereafter. So being generous it’s probably around 18 months between Little Paul’s death and Dombey’s marriage. Does this sound right to you all?

    Even in the best of situations where two people have genuine affection for each other and genuinely endeavor to get to know each other, 18 month is not a lot of time between meeting and marriage. If this timeline is correct I think it is yet another indication of Dombey’s poor judgment and inadequate vetting of those with whom he surrounds himself.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Chris–wonderful chronology! That helps so much. Your thoughts about Dombey’s poor judgment seem spot-on to me. If pride is blindness . . . .

      Like Lear favoring his duplicitous daughters and disowning Cordelia.

      Thanks for recalling this: “Remember Walter, dear Papa,” he whispered, looking in his face. “Remember Walter. I was fond of Walter!” The feeble hand waved in the air, as if it cried “good-bye!” to Walter once again. (Ch 16)

      Of course! That’s the chink in the armor!



      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah, Daniel…
        your mention of King Lear and Cordelia reminds me of another rabbit-hole I have recently fallen into myself… more on this later too (hopefully)

        Ay me! There is so much I wish I had time to do, and so little time.
        I’m trying to keep up with Dombey business and at the same time, pressing on with the recording of The Pickwick Papers. It is most interesting indeed to be reading both at the same time.
        Today I have been busy with a bachelor party at Bob Sawyer’s! That phenomenal trial chapter looms large on the horizon!! Before that I get to indulge in Sam’s writing his walentine 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, very poor judgment, you are so correct. I suspect because D’s whole sense of other people is entirely transactional–What can he/she do for me? Give me a son? Bolster my reputation and sense of self-importance? Show me off to my best advantage? There can be no depth of human understanding in such cases, and sometimes not even a halfway correct interpretation of the superficial.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks so much for such marvelous insights! Chris, that’s a really good chronology–and I agree, that 18 months seems a generous allowance. And since there is nothing resembling affection–as we know the use of the word (now I hear myself saying it in Mrs Dilber’s accent in the Alastair Sim Scrooge!)–between Dombey and Edith, I think the hasty seeking of a wife so soon after Paul’s death supports the theory that Dombey was eager for a *legitimate* (male) heir to the firm, rather than a life-partner and soulmate. There is little connection between them at all–though they could match one another in haughtiness and disdain, but for very different reasons which ultimately seem to oppose one another.

    I was reading the chapter about Alice Marwood and Harriet & “Good Mrs Brown,” and just relishing the *doubling* that Dickens is doing here again (Alice/Mrs Brown; Edith/Mrs Skewton), and that intriguing paragraph at the end of Ch 34:

    “Were this miserable mother, and this miserable daughter, only the reduction to their lowest grade, of certain social vices sometimes prevailing higher up? In this round world of many circles within circles, do we make a weary journey from the high grade to the low, to find at last that they lie close together, that the two extremes touch, and that our journey’s end is but our starting-place? Allowing for great difference of stuff and texture, was the pattern of this woof repeated among gentle blood at all?”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The endings of so many chapters are quite incredible. I felt this was one of the good ones. If I have time, this is a point I shall likely expand upon as I have felt it both times through the read.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes yes, Rach, I had the exact word in my mind in the Alice/Mrs Brown chapter–“doubling.” When well done, as it is here, it’s a technique I love.

      Don’t know about the rest of you, but I find myself, for all their faults, quite sympathetic to both Edith and Alice. I even hope–no idea what’s going to happen here, other than that I’m sure to be surprised–that Floy and Harriet/John Carker will end up finding the light buried in the hearts of the two women (and in John Carker as well, for that matter); that they will help them at least find some peace and freedom from the mothers who have twisted them. Not to mention, the society that twisted the mothers by way of class nonsense, the social restrictions placed on women, or simple abject poverty. Dickens at his social-critical best.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I think the estimate of 18 months may actually be a year too long. I have just been following through your wonderful reasoning, Chris, from chapter 14 to the wedding in Chapter 31… but I think the answer lies in Chapter 32:
    When Toots comes to visit Captain Cuttle with the newspaper, It has been described as ‘It was a chill dark autumn evening’ which would put us in October or November. It further says that the Captain remembers Toots from the wedding.

    By this means of measuring the time passed, one would have to know how long it would be before Walter’s ship would confirm itself as lost. 14 or 15 months seems to be rather a long time for this uncertainty. 2 or 3 months seems to be more likely.

    Hurricane season in the Atlantic in the 1840s saw hurricanes between June and late October
    (amazing the info that’s out there

    The newspaper report states ‘There can be no doubt that all surmises as to the fate of the missing vessel, the Son and Heir, port of London, bound for Barbados, are now set at rest for ever; that she broke up in the last hurricane’ – and this might put that ‘last hurricane’ somewhere in October.

    The voyage of the ‘Son and Heir’ under favourable circumstances would have been about 6 weeks, but bad weather could have made such a journey 14 weeks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rob – In Ch.26, when Carker goes to Leamington to meet with Dombey (just a few days before Dombey proposes), Carker says, “At Lloyd’s they give up the Son and Heir for lost.” The timing of this is after Florence is at the Skettle’s – during the Midsummer vacation following Little Paul’s death – roughly a year after his death. If Florence stayed at the Skettle’s for the full Midsummer vacation (six weeks) she would have returned home in either late August or early September. I’m estimating that Dombey & Edith were married several weeks later (after the house is redecorated, the marriage settlement completed, and wedding arrangements are made), let’s say late September or early October (still warm enough for the Beadle to sun himself on the church steps (ch 31)). Mr Toots’ visit to Capt. Cuttle in October/November fits into this timeline. The newspaper report tells of wreckage from the Son and Heir being found – which confirms that the ship has broken up, but not necessarily the actual date of its sinking which most likely happened weeks/months earlier. So, I’m going to stand by my 18 month estimate, but, again, please double check my calculation.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yes.. I’ve been thinking about it since I posted. 6 months does seem rather too short a time to cram in all that happens in this section.
        Plus, the feeling is that Florence is alone in the house a long, weary while!
        If only Mr D had been a little more helpful with his clues! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Rob, Rachel, and Chris,

    I’m so grateful to you for the care with which you read our Inimitable, helping us more cursory readers (actually, in my case, audiobook listener) to get better anchored (bad pun, considering the Son and Heir).

    Rob, how splendid that you are doing a rendering of Pickwick and those inimitable characters! “I get to indulge in Sam’s writing his walentine.” Savor it!

    Ah, dear, dear Sam. We all need a Sam in our lives.



    P.S. Rob, I can’t wait to listen to your recording!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m going to allude to some spoilers for the final section of the book in this comment, so please don’t read if this is your first read!

    While I don’t really think the part about Walter is executed that well (I don’t think Dickens could do fake-out deaths that well, not at this point in his career anyway, because he always did lots of foreshadowing when a character really died, making it easy to discern when a death wasn’t real), I love this quote: “Captain Cuttle, like all mankind, little knew how much hope had survived within him under discouragement, until he felt its death-shock.” His comment about how for him several people have died along with Walter, the boy, the lad and the man, is also great.

    The scene between Dombey and his daughter in Chapter 35 is fascinating. On the one hand, Edith unintentionally ruins Florence’s chance at being appreciated by her father. On the other hand, would he have ever considered her as his “household spirit” for even a moment if he weren’t so pleased with his “transaction” in marrying Edith?

    I love Dickens’s description of the bank director in Chapter 36, how he’s “a wonderfully modest-spoken man, almost boastfully so.” Dickens came close to coining the term, humble bragging. I’m a little confused though about what Mrs. Chick was doing at the dinner if she didn’t receive an invitation. Can anyone explain it to me?

    It’s weird, but on this read I actually sympathized with Dombey a little at the end of the aforementioned Chapter 36. (Normally, I root for Edith since it’s so satisfying whenever anyone stands up to the disgusting Dombey.) I know that it can be really aggravating when people snub you by being indifferent. You really have no power in that situation. If you get all mad, like Dombey did, they don’t care, and you just come across as stupid. And if you don’t respond, then they still don’t care, and you feel like a passive punching bag. Of course, what Dombey does in the chapters after that, quickly cancel out any sympathy for him, at least for a while in the story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Stationmaster – My take on the Mrs Chick incident:
      Mrs Chick was not at the dinner but at the reception that followed. This is another example of her being slighted by the new Mrs Dombey, though more correctly we should say by Mr Dombey and Mrs Skewton because Edith steadfastly refused to take part in any activity “celebrating” her marriage (with the exception of making sure Florence was on the guest list). (See Ch 36) It illustrates in the extreme how haughty the Dombey’s have become.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. More about Miss Tox. I’m impressed that she was smart enough to “view the major with some distrust now.” I mean I found her previously to be a sympathetic character but not a particularly shrewd one.

    Rob leaving Captain Cuttle “without malice” reminds me of Uriah Heep from David Copperfield. I guess the charitable school he attended was long the lines of the Grinders’.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Stationmaster: That you bring up Rob the Grinder is important, not only because he operates as an antecedent to Uriah in DC, but that he is representative of the uneducated and impoverished souls who we’ve come across in our earlier novels–young men who have come under the tutelage of older, more forceful personalities like Fagin in OT, Sir John Chester in BR, and even Alfred Jingle in PP. All the young men in Fagin’s gang are tutored and groomed by their elder leader (with the exception of Oliver, who revolts), Hugh is groomed and “formed” by Sir John Chester in their novel, and Trotter is pretty much in thrall to Jingle, and will do as his master does, and go where his master goes in PP.

    To a great or lesser degree, these young men do play important roles in their novels and illustrate how a certain lower level criminal element begins and multiplies in Dickens’ novels. In OT, Fagin’s boys do a lot of criminal damage–rather slight at first but much more violent later and, on the novel’s structural level, actually drive the plot forward–hence Oliver’s various encounters with his intended victims who, ultimately, decide his fate. As “taught” and threatened by John Chester in BR, Hugh plays a major role in the violent activities embedded in the Gordon Riots, and in an initial comic mode, Trotter assists Jingle in his earlier escapades, but later suffers the more tragic fate of being stuck in the Fleet behind bars with his guv.

    In a similar manner, the Grinder is first the victim of Mr. Dombey, as he is sent away from his family to the Grinder school, and then comes heavily under the influence of James Carker who is as nasty and threatening to him as Sir John is to Hugh. He is therefore forced to do Carker’s bidding and become, basically, the spy for him on the activities at the Midshipman.

    I think what strikes me the most about all these young men and the way they are abused and used–is their extreme vulnerability, and the ways in which they are easily “discovered” by the predatory men who use their power over them.

    I’m assuming this will be a pattern that we’ll see in the ensuing novels that we’ll be reckoning with….

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This week’s reading went a lot faster for me than the last one’s, which shouldn’t have been a surprise since it was mainly about Edith, my favorite character in the book. Interestingly though, I don’t have many comments about her. I just think it’s obvious why she’s a memorable character.

    Florence feeling guilty for loving Edith because of her father and then feeling guilty for not loving Edith brings to mind how you feel when you’re friends with a couple who’s going through a nasty divorce. You don’t want to believe the bad things either of them are saying about the other because they’ve both been nice to you, but if you don’t believe them, that’s also “bad.” I don’t remember Dickens exploring that kind of emotional conflict before this.

    Susan Nipper’s speech when she stands up to Dombey is so awesome! It must be a really hard scene for writers adapting the book because it’s really long, but it’d be such a shame to cut a single line from it. A lot of the arguments between Dombey and Edith are like that too actually.

    As tragic as the scene at the end of Chapter 47 is, it’s kind of nice that Florence is finally placing the blame where it belongs, with her father, instead of blaming herself. (At least for the moment.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I absolutely LOVED the Nipper giving a piece of her mind to Dombey, who should have heard it long ago, even if he refuses to take it in–so far as we can tell. Amazing scene!!! And I can easily see why Edith is your favorite character. She’s so fascinating!


    1. Rach: I remember calling NICHOLAS NICKLEBBY a “women’s novel” because in it the women held so well the narrative’s moral center–especially as they were treated so poorly and so evidently by the male antagonists! Ralph, the Patriarchal center of the novel allows his “associates” free reign in their attempted seduction of Kate, and the novel so deliberately shows this abuse of male power as to degrade it immediately. And there are very brief moments where we detect Ralph’s remorse for allowing the seduction scenes to proceed. At the same time, women in that novel work beneath the Patriarchal “system” to accomplish their goals in spite of Ralph’s interference.

      Something similar develops over time in DOMBEY. However, the Patriarchal UMBRELLA that hovers over virtually the entire novel threatens to negate virtually all the attempts by various women to assert themselves in their attempts to ameliorate the damage that the main Patriarch (Dombey) has done. One of the problems in this novel is that the various women like Mrs. Chick and Miss Tox have bought into the claims of the patriarchy–that it IS the most relevant and productive way of life. Dombeyism and all that it stands for has completely invaded the moral consciousness of these women and made them–for the most part–subservient to their “master.” Hence, Mrs. Chick’s notion that the dying Mrs. Dombey hasn’t tried harder to stay alive shortly after the birth of her son–that she was somehow not quite with the Dombey/Patriarchal program. So, then, the novel features them as coconspirators in carrying out the wishes of Mr. Dombey with respect for the plans he has for Paul as the heir to the Dombey enterprise.

      And so it goes for much of the rest of the novel–except that their ARE multiple eruptions wrought by various characters–Susan Nipper, Florence, and–stridently–Edith…that challenge this male-dominated policy. While the novel, for the most part, is a master illustration of the ruinous effects of the Patriarchal “system” that Dickens portrays so vividly, there is hope–for the really substantial personalities in this novel are the women who, over time, see the ruinous effects of Dombey’s, Carkers, and Bagstock’s authoritarian and vastly immoral outlooks on how to treat women and society at large, and in their own measurable way work around these men or directly confront them. Edith, then is the twin heroine of this novel, in so far as she views the absurdity of her situation and the dire position the social norms have placed women in. In her interactions with her mother–and with Dombey, she activates one of the central moral issues of the novel, and she, along with Florence, helps tear down the edifice built by the male characters as they represent a key facet of Victorian society at large. Ultimately, then, this novel belongs to the various anima figures who, for the most part, teach and revenge themselves on the Hardened Persona figures represented by Dombey, Bagstock, and Carker–who, by the way, are also victims of this heavy-handed male-oriented society!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Beautifully said, Lenny! Yes, some of the women are, perhaps unconsciously, contributing to the false edifice that Dombey represents — and then there is Edith! And the Nipper, and Floy, too. I see that about Nickleby as well, and I love that! I think, for me, the emotional center of NN is still so much with Nicholas and Smike (though I *love* Kate); but here, in D&S, the women have it all (with the exception of little Paul). And they are the most proactive ones too, in a sense…I feel that Dombey, while being the ultimate hurdle/obstacle to the thriving of so many characters, ends up having to react to circumstances, and others’ choices as they rebuff him. I won’t comment too much on Carker yet, as we have a bit of a ways to go to see whether he ends up being the “protagonist” of his own sabotaging actions…

        I love this: “Edith, then is the twin heroine of this novel, in so far as she views the absurdity of her situation and the dire position the social norms have placed women in. In her interactions with her mother–and with Dombey, she activates one of the central moral issues of the novel, and she, along with Florence, helps tear down the edifice built by the male characters as they represent a key facet of Victorian society at large. Ultimately, then, this novel belongs to the various anima figures who, for the most part, teach and revenge themselves on the Hardened Persona figures represented by Dombey, Bagstock, and Carker–who, by the way, are also victims of this heavy-handed male-oriented society!” Beautifully expressed, as always, Lenny!! I confess, as distraught as I am for Edith and Floy, part of me is like: tear down that edifice, Edith! The thing is, she is taking the only recourse she feels left to her, because the life that society has set out for her is unbearable.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. There are SO many wonderful comments, thoughts, analyses here – what a great way to enjoy a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning! I have so much to add – but will limit it, at this point, to what follows:

    “And gentle Mr Toots, who wanders at a distance, looking wistfully toward the figure that he dotes upon, and has followed there, but cannot IN HIS DELICACY disturb at such a time, likewise hears the requiem of little Dombey on the waters, rising and falling in the lulls of their eternal madrigal in praise of Florence. Yes! and he faintly understands, poor Mr Toots, that they are saying something of a time when he was sensible of being brighter and not addle-brained; and the tears rising in his eyes when he fears that he is dull and stupid now, and good for little but to be laughed at . . .” (Ch 41) (emphasis added)

    What a sweet guy Toots is! Yes, he’s awkward and silly, but he’s genuine. Despite his education and his money, he retains and indeed cultivates his heart. No doubt the experience of the strange and sickly Little Paul and beautiful and attentive Florence at the right moment, when he’s floundering for direction in his last days at Blimbers, influenced him to keep his heart open. The tutelage of the Chicken, I think, also helped to persuade Toots toward the gentler side of life. He’s not quite sure where he fits, or how he fits, but he doesn’t entirely shrink away from putting himself forward – which he does in a manner that isn’t, really, obtrusive, we like having him around. When he is around he is always solicitous – ready to help, ready to listen, ready to commiserate. Such a breath of fresh air from the many other characters who are too caught up in self to recognize that others actually have feelings.

    Toots is an especially telling contrast to Dombey. What a brilliant creation Dombey is! So hard and rigid on the outside, yet so insecure and vulnerable on the inside. I’m especially struck by is Dombey’s statement: “Common people to talk of Mr Dombey and his domestic affairs! Do you seriously think, Mrs Dombey, that I would permit my name to be handed about in such a connexion?” (Ch 47) He is so clueless in his isolated egotism that he can’t see what’s right under his nose, that he and his domestic affairs have been the tabloid fodder of his domestics, his clerks, his sister, Miss Tox, Maj. Bagstock, the Midshipman, and even Good Mrs Brown since the novel began. Carker is too right when he describes Dombey to Edith:

    “You did not know how exacting and how proud he is, or how he is, if I may say so, the slave of his own greatness, and goes yoked to his own triumphal car like a beast of burden, with no idea on earth but that it is behind him and is to be drawn on, over everything and through everything.” (Ch 47).

    He (with a capital H), as the embodiment of “Dombey and Son”, must always come before he (small h), the man Dombey, and thus the man’s better impulses must be suppressed because they threaten the Man’s superiority. Again, Carker to Edith:

    “. . . if [Dombey] has a fault, it is a lofty stubbornness, rooted in that noble pride and sense of power which belong to him, and which we must all defer to; which is not assailable like the obstinacy of other characters; and which grows upon itself from day to day, and year to year.” (Ch 37)

    But, I ask along with Edith, WHY must we all defer to him? Because he is (1) a man, and (2) holds the purse strings. The explanation for the former rests in patriarchy (addressed below). The explanation for the latter lies in the mystique that people with money, with the power of money, are to be deferred to as a matter of course – but when that course is wrong we must object and confront. This is what Susan gathers her courage to do (Ch 44) – and her example I think at least helps to strengthen Edith’s resolve to do the same.

    “Without a word, without a shadow on the fire of her bright eye, without abatement of her awful smile, she looked on Mr Dombey to the last, in moving to the door; and left him.” (Ch 47)

    That phrase, “and left him”, reminds me so much of Jane Eyre’s “Reader, I married him.” (“JE” Ch 38), because it asserts female autonomy in contradiction of the general, patriarchal nature of domestic relations in Victorian England. SHE married him; SHE left him. That the female could AND DOES determine her fate for herself is, in the 1840’s at least, shocking! (Note, no surprise that “JE” was published in 1847, during the publication of “D&S” in 1846-1849.) Edith’s act turns the world of Dombey and of Dombey and Son on its head for the first time. Other incidents may have weakened that world – the death of little Paul, Dombey’s struggle against his feelings for Florence, even his troubled marriage – but Edith’s spurning of the “worldly advancement that has befallen” her by virtue of her marriage (Ch 40), abetted and assisted by his right hand man, confident and “friend”, Carker, is a direct assault on the supremacy of DOMBEY AND SON.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. the requiem of little Dombey on the waters, rising and falling in the lulls of their eternal madrigal in praise of Florence

      That phrase and concept is almost too beautiful!!

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Chris: Your statement, which I’ve quoted below, is beautifully written and so thoughtful regarding the “ascent” of women in this male-driven novel:

      “… because it asserts female autonomy in contradiction of the general, patriarchal nature of domestic relations in Victorian England. SHE married him; SHE left him. That the female could AND DOES determine her fate for herself is, in the 1840’s at least, shocking! ”

      This is an action all the more shocking because of all the repressive actions that have taken place before her final revolt against Dombey and Carker! I say WOW, and WOW again!!!


      At the beginning of the novel and for the first several chapters, I held out little hope for the women characters. So much of what they said and did was wholly under the supervision of Dombey and his business–aided and abetted by Carker. During the first 30 or so chapters of the novel, the only “freedoms” the women seemed to have happened out of the hearing of Mr. Dombey and in conversations amongst themselves. And even then, the dialogues between Mrs. Chick and Miss Tox were generally informed by the patriarchal sway of events and people. Luckily, Florence had the saucy and autonomous Susan Nipper to confide in after the tragic death of her dear mother. And to Susan’s further credit, she really “puts it” to her employer in Chapter 44, and of course is discharged by him.

      So, there is a kind of subversiveness brewing among the various anima figures in the novel, which as I said earlier, rises up to interject their (the women, the anima figures) purposes and meanings to the individual and collective psyches of the novel. Most notable in this regard, are the many conversations between Florence and her “new” mother (“mama”)–Edith. Here we see the anima in full sway, hugging caressing, loving her stepdaughter–all while under the terrible dominance of her husband and Florence’s father.

      On another important note, there are various MALE actors in this novel who have well-developed anima characteristics and who, though held captive by the novel’s patriarchy, seem to be able to NOT completely fall prey to its hidebound domineering aspect. Walter, Captain Cuttle, Sol Gills and, of course, Mr. Toots navigate fairly well the societal repressions that threaten their beings, their autonomy. The Child archetypes within them are fully dimensional and they also reveal wonderful caring and sensitive aspects of their collective animas. What a contrast, then, between these more individuated men who seem comfortable within their own skins and that of Dombey and Carker. Of course, the questions(s) moving forward, then, is/are there going to be further improvements in the individual and collective psyches of the domineering men in the novel, or will they tragically continue to remain ossified and insensitive to the people and events surrounding them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I would probably describe the story as equally driven by male and female characters, though I tend to think of it as being female-driven because the female characters our better developed IMO. Our main interest is in Florence and whether she’ll ever find love. (Not necessarily romantic love, just someone and some group who will give her the stability she should have gotten from her father.) The characters whose actions drive the plot are Walter, Dombey, Edith, Carker and “Mrs. Brown,” so some men and some women. (Of course, there are a lot of characters I’m leaving out here; I’m just trying to pinpoint the most vital ones to the story.) Of those, the ones we get to know best are Dombey and Edith with Edith being the more sympathetic of the two, relatively speaking at least.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Rach: this quote from you earlier–“The thing is, she is taking the only recourse she feels left to her, because the life that society has set out for her is unbearable.”–really resonates with me and compounded with what Chris said earlier about Edith trying to hold on to her autonomy and make HER decision for HERSELF… captures so much of the way I, and I hope others, feel/felt about what is going on in his novel and what might be a path for women in the 19th century to follow. In looking back a bit–say 30 years before DOMBEY, I can’t help but feel this same outrage (though sublimated) from Jane Austen and the women in her novels. Entrapment in social norms, seeking some kind of recourse!!! In many instances, their situations are unbearable, too!!! Hence, Austen chose, deliberately NOT to marry!

        Liked by 2 people

  12. What a section this has been this week. So many points of interest and drama, and all of these comments make my wild and whirling thoughts whirl even more wildly to the extent that once again they hjave not settled into a shareable state! I want to remark on too many things – which is wonderful, and infuriating at the same time because I can’t order them succinctly enough!

    I absolutely love the chapter with the night of the return, with Dombey watching Florence and almost relenting!! Then his observation of the softened features of Edith!

    After my wanderings down the Shakespeare rabbit hole last week, I did want to mention a little more about the King Lear—Cordelia dynamic in the Dombey—Florence relationship. The novel has other features of Lear too. Lear and Dombey both bask in the homage which the flatterers pay them, for instance!

    Charles Dickens wrote a review for The Examiner in October 1848 (Some 6 months after the final instalment of Dombey) of William Macready’s performance of King Lear.

    There was one line in it that had major Dombey/Florence echoes

    From his rash renunciation of the gentle daughter who can only love him and be silent

    I couldn’t find a linkable source for the review online, so I made one myself… the full review can be read, if you wish, here:

    Charles Dickens’ 1848 Review of William Macready’s King Lear

    Liked by 1 person

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