(Banner image: by Charles Green.)
By the members of the #DickensClub, edited/compiled by Rach
Friends, what a “Thunderbolt” of a read this week! Poor Floy! Losing her second mother, and then having that definitive rebuff from a father that always refused to “see” her, except with dislike or envy. What was your reaction to Chapter 47? Dr Christian and I talked about it as one of Dickens’s best chapters.
The discussion this week centered around characterization–Dombey, Mr Toots, Edith–and around Dombey and Son as a “women’s novel.” What are your thoughts on that?
There’s so much to wrap up. Here are a few quick links:
- General Mems
- Dombey and Son, Chs 17-31: A Summary
- Discussion Wrap-Up
- A Look-Ahead to Week Three of Dombey and Son
If you’re counting, today is Day 434 (and week 63) in our #DickensClub! This week, we’ll be on the fourth week of Dombey and Son, our fifteenth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for the fourth week’s chapters, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.
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!
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 32-48: A Summary
Mr Toots, seeking Solomon Gills but finding Captain Cuttle at The Wooden Midshipman, desires better acquaintance with the Captain when Toots realizes that the Captain, too, views Floy as an “angel.” Unwillingly, Toots shares the news he has recently read: the remains of a destroyed ship, the Son & Heir, have been discovered by another vessel, though no bodies were found. Captain Cuttle, at last, has lost all hope of seeing Walter again.
Cuttle visits Carker again, and is all but cast overboard by his surprise at Carker’s feline, smiling indifference to everything, including the news of the ship, as he dismisses Cuttle and tells him to, effectively, get the h— out.
We then see two contrasting pictures of houses: that of Carker the Manager—cold in all its comfort—and that of his brother John, poor but warmed by the fidelity of their sister, Harriet. Harriet is visited by a mysterious older stranger, a man who, somehow, knows the history of John Carker, and takes an interest in the brother and sister. Though the man has not given his identity, there is a mutual trust between Harriet and the stranger, and he asks her to allow him to pass by the window of a Monday morning, just to reassure himself that he is alright, and to be a silent witness that she always has a friend who is happy to do her a service.
Harriet then encounters another mysterious stranger, a proud, disdainful woman—handsome, about thirty—who appears to be destitute & whose feet are torn with her wanderings. Harriet invites her in to bind up her wounds. Harriet gives her money, and the woman goes upon her way, to find her mother in the wilderness of London.
We come to find that the destitute woman’s name is Alice Marwood, and she has little affection for her mother, “Good Mrs Brown,” feeling how much her mother is responsible for her difficult life and imprisonment. Good Mrs Brown alludes to having taken items from Floy Dombey years ago, since she has seen “him” (by this, we understand: James Carker) in Dombey’s presence often. Alice, enraged at the very idea of this man who had wronged her, comes to find out Harriet’s relation to James, and, in her disdainful pride, trudges her way back to Harriet’s to throw Harriet’s money upon the ground in front of her and John, trampling upon it and cursing them.
“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?”
But the Dombey house is still not made a “home” with the inclusion of Floy’s new mother in it. Edith is proud and haughty to all but her. With Floy, however, Edith’s icy demeanor always thaws, and they spend a good deal of time together. Even the social circles brought together by Mr Dombey and Edith are ill-assorted and uncomfortable with one another, and all appear to be conscious of the fact that this is a loveless marriage of convenience.
Carker, whom Edith feels sees her with complete plainness, comes to speak to Edith about Floy, threatening with false sympathy that, if Mr Dombey knew the degree to which Floy associated with those of lower station as Floy had done with Walter, Dombey would cast her even further from him. By this means, Carker suggests that, if Edith will but request him to keep silent, he would do so (under the pretense that Dombey and Edith are of such a united mind that a command coming from her is as good as a command coming from him). In reality, however, Carker is trying to get into her confidence—almost, into a silent conspiracy with her by this means, and, in a subtle way, showing his power with her. She answers haughtily, but he can see that his words about Floy are not without their effect.
Meanwhile, Mrs Skewton survives a stroke, and complains more and more of Edith’s lack of love and devotion, and begins to confuse names, words, etc.
Miss Tox has no vindictive feelings about her treatment from Louisa, but, still saddened by her separation with the Dombey family (which had been the sun that her life had circled around), she decides to get reacquainted with “Mrs Richards” (Polly Toodle), as Polly occasionally has news from the servants at the Dombey household, and it would be pleasant to talk about the goings-on. Miss Tox offers to teach Polly’s children, and hopes she can feel free to drop in without notice, and reminisce with Polly.
Captain Cuttle’s oracular seafaring friend Captain Bunsby is a witness to the opening of the parcel left by Sol Gills, which states that if he should not return, Walter is to inherit all that he has; secondly, if Walter too does not return, it is to go to Captain Cuttle. Bunsby then astonishes the frightened Captain, who had just been discovered at his new residence by his dreaded landlady, Mrs MacStinger, by wooing the dreaded lady out of her ill-humor. Bunsby manages to get her home, and brings the Captain’s belongings back to him, which Cuttle, in his dread of the landlady, had been too afraid to do.
Mr Dombey berates Edith for her whole demeanor of indifference to him, and the pride and haughtiness which he feels should be pride for him vis-à-vis others, and not against him. He says that she spends too much, and keeps society that is unhelpful to him. Dombey also sees that Edith’s demeanor towards Florence is so warm, so entirely different from her demeanor towards him, that he continues feeling the hatred of Floy that he had dreaded so many years ago.
Mr Toots, after a visit to the old Blimber Academy where he is much praised, shyly declares his adoration to Floy, who begs him not to continue, for both their sakes.
Mrs Skewton has continued to decline mentally and physically, growing more needy towards Edith, and trying to justify her counterpart mother, “Good Mrs Brown,” when Mrs Skewton and Edith happen to meet with their doppelganger pair. On Mrs Skewton’s deathbed, Edith stays near her, reiterating her forgiveness for her mother’s part of all their past wrongs.
Dombey, still in displeasure with Edith and as a means to humiliate her, instructs Carker to be a go-between, and to inform her of his instructions about her behavior and the submission that Dombey requires. This overlapping of the personal and business relations gives Carker a new sense of power and control, and he closely observes Dombey in regard to every reaction to the discussion about Edith, Floy, etc. All the while, Carker continues obsequiously flattering Dombey’s ego, and makes protestations about his regret at the position he finds himself in vis-à-vis Edith, while relishing his new control.
When Dombey and Carker are riding together, Dombey is thrown from his horse, and is saved from being completely trampled—by Carker. Carker informs Edith and Floy of the accident after bringing Dombey home under the care of the new housekeeper, & our old acquaintance & widow of the Peruvian mines, Mrs Pipchin.
Floy steals in at night, while Mr Dombey is sleeping peacefully, to kiss his head, as she sees (for the first time), in his slumber, none of the dislike and dissatisfaction that she is accustomed to seeing in his features. Witnessing to this in secret, Susan Nipper takes courage while Mrs Pipchin is drowsing at her duties as watcher of Mr Dombey, to come into the great man’s presence to give him a piece of her mind. Nipper states plainly that Floy has been a faithful and kindhearted victim to his life-long neglect and mistreatment of her. Mr Dombey helplessly calls out for someone to intervene and take Susan away, but only after she has said what she came to does Mrs Pipchin enter, dismissing Susan with a month’s notice. Susan, however, leaves almost immediately, to the dismay of Floy—who doesn’t know, but suspects, that something related to herself is the cause. Susan, in leaving, is accompanied by the faithful Mr Toots, who takes her to dinner before seeing her to the coach that is to take her back to her home in the country.
Rob the Grinder, meanwhile, lackey to Mr Carker, continues to be haunted by the doting Mrs Brown. He comes to realize that there is some connection, some old animosity, felt by Mrs Brown and Alice towards Carker. Rob is all confusion and fear that Mr Carker will come to find out that he knows these two.
Carker the Manager, aggravated by the presence of his humbled brother John who has quietly entered his rooms—and who would willingly have left as quietly—to deliver some letters, asserts that he knows his brother, or any of Dombey’s underlings, would be happy to see Dombey humbled.
“There is not a man employed here, standing between myself and the lowest place (of whom you are very considerate, and with reason, for he is not far off), who wouldn’t be glad at heart to see his master humbled: who does not hate him, secretly: who does not wish him evil rather than good and who would not turn upon him, if he had the power and boldness. The nearer to his favour, the nearer to his insolence; the closer to him, the farther from him. That’s the creed here!”
John Carker protests that he only wishes him well, but Carker the Manager professes not to believe it; whether to egg his brother on to a confession, or to justify his own feelings about Mr Dombey. Carker’s teeth are now coming out in all their biting cruelty, as we see a more overt confession of his real feelings towards his superior.
Meanwhile, Floy has become a young woman…
“Thus living, in a dream wherein the overflowing love of her young heart expended itself on airy forms, and in a real world where she had experienced little but the rolling back of that strong tide upon itself, Florence grew to be seventeen. Timid and retiring as her solitary life had made her, it had not embittered her sweet temper, or her earnest nature.”
A final humiliating and bitter confrontation between Edith and Dombey–as Dombey berates her again and requests her presence at a formal dinner, presumably to celebrate their 2-year anniversary–takes place in front of Floy and Carker. Edith, enraged long past endurance, requests a separation, which Dombey considers ridiculous and unthinkable. That night, even turning away from Floy in shame, Edith flees the house with the one who can bring Dombey the most humiliation: Carker the Manager. Floy, after recovering from a faint at seeing her stepmother so altered in her demeanor and realizing what had happened, goes to her father to try and comfort him, little hope as she has of ever being an object of care to him.
But her reception is the final blow, so to speak: her father strikes her.
“…in his frenzy, he lifted up his cruel arm, and struck her, crosswise, with that heaviness, that she tottered on the marble floor; and as he dealt the blow, he told her what Edith was, and bade her follow her, since they had always been in league.”
Florence, acknowledging at last that she is essentially an orphan in the world, flees the house. She is followed by her faithful dog, Diogenes. They go to the instrument maker’s shop, and Captain Cuttle, supremely honored by Floy’s trust, welcomes her and prepares a room for her. Mr Toots visits, in a state of romantic dejection, and the Captain is afraid of Floy’s being discovered there. But he leaves none the wiser, and the Captain keeps watch upon the exhausted Florence.
“Long may it remain in this mixed world a point not easy of decision, which is the more beautiful evidence of the Almighty’s goodness—the delicate fingers that are formed for sensitiveness and sympathy of touch, and made to minister to pain and grief, or the rough hard Captain Cuttle hand, that the heart teaches, guides, and softens in a moment!
Florence slept upon her couch, forgetful of her homelessness and orphanage, and Captain Cuttle watched upon the stairs. A louder sob or moan than usual, brought him sometimes to her door; but by degrees she slept more peacefully, and the Captain’s watch was undisturbed.”
Whimsy, and What We Loved
I think the Stationmaster has hit the nail on the head:
And what a gorgeous thought from Rob:
I quoted Harry Stone’s Dickens and the Invisible World on twitter, regarding the “monster” railway:
“Dombey is the first English novel to translate the railroad into artistic vision…the railway is realistic artifact, industrial emblem, and wild supernatural force…” 🧵1/2
🖼️ JMW Turner "Rain, Steam & Speed"
(Thanks to @chrisocco5 and Peter Ackroyd re: the image. Perfect.)
🧵2/2 "…The train is an ambiguous industrial servant, rushing Dombey toward his desire, but since his industrial ethic is distorted, his desire is self-wounding, and the train hastens him toward his destruction."
~ Harry Stone, Dickens & the Invisible World
Originally tweeted by 🎩🖤🌸 Rach (@wren_and_paper) on 12 Mar 2023.
Dickens’s “Writing Lab”: Characterization, Plotting and “Fake-Out Deaths”; Doubling
The Stationmaster reflects on whether the plotting of Walter’s fate is executed well, Mrs Chick’s presence at the dinner (uninvited), and where our sympathies lie in the “transaction” between Dombey and Edith:
Chris responds about “the Mrs Chick incident,” and the “slight” felt by Mrs Chick:
And continuing the thread on Miss Tox, the Stationmaster comments on her surprising shrewdness in regard to the Major:
I commented on the “doubling”–a technique which Dickens is a master of–between our two daughter-mother pairs, Edith/Mrs Skewton, and Alice/Mrs Brown:
Dana agrees, and is particularly fond of this technique, “when well done”:
Characterization #1: the “Opaque” Mr Dombey, and the Timeline of Funeral-to-Marriage
In a previous week, Dana commented on the “opaque” Mr Dombey. We continued to discuss his elusive character quite a bit this week. Daniel asked about what might be a chink in the armor–his acknowledgement of some regret about sending Walter away:
Chris responds, as did Dana:
In continuation of this analysis of Dombey’s character, Chris sleuths out the possible timeline of Dombey and Son, from little Paul’s funeral to Dombey’s remarriage. (The Hamlet fans among us might say, “it followed hard upon,” one way or another! “The funeral baked meats…” etc.)
But Hamlet isn’t the only Shakespeare reference here. Daniel applauds Chris’s research, and compares the Dombey-Floy relationship to a Lear-Cordelia:
I too am grateful for Chris’s timeline, and agree with her that 18 months might even be too “generous.” (Certainly, it can’t be more than that?) And this all recalls to my mind what Chris had brought up earlier: what Dombey wants is not a wife and life-partner, but an heir:
Dana brings it back around to a key point, and a recurring theme in Dickens: the transactional versus relational.
Rob also has a marvelous post about the potential timeline, based on clues from the time of the year, and hurricane seasons:
Chris considers this, and is still inclined to lean toward the 18-month timeframe, as is Rob, ultimately:
Characterization #2: Mr Toots
Here, Chris does justice to the marvelous Mr Toots, and even considers him as a kind of foil to Mr Dombey himself:
Characterization #3: Rob the Grinder, and the Heep-like Underlings
The Stationmaster then brings up a wonderful point about Rob the Grinder, and a certain character type that we will see recurring in Dickens, perhaps best immortalized in Uriah Heep:
Lenny responds about this character type, “representative of the uneducated and impoverished souls…young men who have come under the tutelage of older, more forceful personalities,” the forceful personalities such as Fagin’s and Sir John Chester’s:
Dickens and Women; Characterization #4: Edith Dombey
We continue our ongoing theme of “Dickens and Women” with a highlight of one of Dickens’s most fascinating characters: Edith Dombey. She is the Stationmaster’s favorite character in Dombey and Son:
I wrote on twitter (pardon the grammatical error! *Its!) about that “knockout” of a chapter, Chapter 47, “The Thunderbolt,” and suggested that Dombey and Son is a women’s book. Here is my tweet, with Dr Christian’s marvelous response. (Don’t you want to see his entire marked-up book?)
Dana finds herself “sympathetic to both Edith and Alice,” hoping that they will “at least find some peace and freedom from the mothers who have twisted them,” and the society that has done so:
Lenny reflects on this idea, comparing it to Nicholas Nickleby, which he had dubbed a “women’s novel,” fearing however, in Dombey and Son, that “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.” Some of the women have bought into the “Dombeyism” here, and perpetuate it (e.g. Mrs Chick):
I loved Lenny’s thoughts, and agree that some of the women do contribute “to the false edifice that Dombey represents,” but argue that the emotional center of the novel here, with the exception of little Paul, is women-centered (unlike, for me, Nicholas Nickleby, where the emotional center was primarily Nicholas and Smike). I also consider whether we could say that the women in Dombey are the most proactive characters:
Though Chris’s essay (transitioning here from Toots to Dombey) could have been placed in with our Dombey analysis, I’ve placed it here because of the emphasis given to the role of women in the novel, and Edith’s “direct assault on the supremacy of Dombey and Son“:
Lenny responds, “regarding the ‘ascent’ of women” in what Lenny had considered a “male-driven novel”:
Lenny then reconsiders whether Dombey is really “male-driven” after all:
A Look-Ahead to Week Four of Dombey and Son (14-20 March, 2023)
This week is our final week with Dombey and Son. We’ll be reading Chapters 49-62, which constitute the monthly numbers XVI-XX (the final month being a double number), published from January to April 1848. 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.
Rach: what a masterful job you’ve done, here. Your summary of this last week’s reading was so helpful–full of all the salient issues that the novel makes in these very loaded and complex chapters, and as Daniel said about your last week’s collation of the reading group’s ideas, you are nothing short of a magician! So much to organize, so many ideas to elucidate, so much for us to ponder and rethink about. You’ve done it all. So, many thanks for your thoughtful hard work. You’ve given all of us a veritable treasure trove of information!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Hear Hear! 😀
LikeLiked by 1 person
Aw, Lenny, that makes my day!!! Thank you so much…it IS such a wealth of things to ponder in the coming week!!! Huge thanks for all the great comments, friends 🖤🖤
LikeLiked by 1 person
The hold that “Good Mrs Brown” has over ‘Biler, otherwise Rob, otherwise Grinder, and always Toodle;’ and the manner in which she is able to manipulate him, is very reminiscent of Fagin’s quick acquisition of the same powers over Mr Noah Claypole, aka Morris Bolter, that other notable charity-boy.
Another point the two have in common is their providing information (under duress) which leads to significant consequences!
This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy. – Oliver Twist Chapter 5
LikeLiked by 2 people
Well, well. I’m deeply struck by the impression and feeling that I am enjoying the exchange of insights as much as the reading of the novel. Is that literary heresy?!?
Thank you all for the wonderful enrichments.
1. Mentoring versus use: I am reminded of a book that had a decisive influence on me as I was at the threshold of “elderhood.” The book is “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
In this book, the founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement articulates his vision for a much more connected world, in which “spiritual elders” lovingly encourage the growth and development of “youngers.”
Here’s a quote that captures some of the flavor of the book: “Because they have individuated through facing personal evil and abandoning private ambitions, older people can then work for the well-being of the world. Serving as mediators between the transcendent and everyday realms, they become mentors, teachers, and spiritual leaders.”
Lenny’s perception about the examples of elder men abusing their power vis-a-vis younger men–using them for their own self-interested ends–brought this to mind. Thanks, Lenny.
2. The very title . . . : Considering all of the deep and wide reflections on the male-dominated world that Dombey heads, I was struck forcibly by the absence of the female half of the equation in the title: “Dombey and Son.”
Florence is, as in the novel, utterly unseen by the Hardened Persona characters such as Dombey, Sr. Nice touch, Dickens!
I also enjoy the poetic justice of the callous Dombey begetting two very tender-hearted children: Paul, Jr. and Florence. Hardened Persona characters in the novel, as in life, will NOT have the last word.
3. “Saucy and autonomous Susan Nipper”: Every time Susan Nipper shows up I’m all ears! I delight in her uncensored manner of berating stupidity that is culpable!!! Go, Susan! (And, thanks, Chris, for this great epithet.)
I’m looking forward to the live conversation on Saturday, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. (Pacific Time).
LikeLiked by 2 people
As we move into this last section I’m offering this appreciation for Miss Tox (SPOILER ALERT). Ms Gordon offers some valuable insights and points of consideration, especially in light of our conversations to date re Miss Tox, the “woman question”, “Dombey and Son”, and more. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
LikeLiked by 2 people
What a wonderful read this was… Thanks for sharing, Chris 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Unlike Felicia Gordon, I never got the impression that Dickens saw Miss La Creevy (from Nicholas Nickleby) as needing to get married. I mean apparently, he sort of saw her that way since he had her be happily married in the end when it wasn’t necessary for the plot. But prior to that she seemed fine with being single and if she was lonely to an extent, that seemed to be resolved by her friendship with the Nicklebys and by her reconnecting with her brother (in Chapter 31.)
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading that presentation. Miss Tox is definitely one of Dombey and Son (the book)’s best surprises, for reasons Gordon explains quite nicely, and she deserves to have an entire dissertation devoted to her.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Chris, This was a marvellous piece on Miss Tox & articulated so much for me.
This passage in particular:
“ Though she incarnates the emotional vulnerability of the genteel spinster, rather than functioning merely as a comic butt, she becomes a lynch pin of disinterested kindness, while never abandoning her absurd veneration for Mr Dombey or her class-consciousness. Like other peripheral characters, Toots, Susan Nipper, Captain Cuttle and the Toodles family, she manifests a human warmth [or capacity for sentiment] utterly absent from the Dombey world. The overwhelming greed and selfish egotism of the economic system and its denaturing effect on individuals dominates the ‘real world’. It is only in the small refuges open to the minor characters: Sol Gills instrument shop; Miss Tox’s mews residence, the Toodle family’s welcoming hearth, that good nature and humanity subsist.”
I hadn’t realised, the interface between capitalistic meritocracy & cruelty vs kindness is indeed one of the absolute top themes of Dombey.
Thank you Chris!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Another super spoilery comment. Maybe I should wait until everyone has read this week’s reading, but I don’t want to forget any of my impressions.
I’ve been criticizing the Walter Gay subplot a lot in this group, but the scene where he and Florence propose to each other (more or less) is really sweet. For the record, it’s not really the story itself with which I have problems. It’s the execution that I don’t consider the best in Dickens.
Had anyone else totally forgot about Morfin? Maybe Dickens should have done more with him. But I’ve been rather annoyed with how many subplots there are in the middle of this book, so another one wouldn’t have been good. FWIW, the scene of Dombey’s staged eavesdropping on Rob and Alice Marwood’s confession to Harriet are so thrilling that I’m willing to “allow” their subplots for their sake.
I’ve read somewhere that Dickens originally intended for Edith to actually have an affair with Carker, but a friend (don’t remember whom) told him readers would never accept that. I’m so grateful to that friend since Chapter 54 where she wards off Carker with a knife and sheer charisma and reveals that she’s played both him and Dombey is one of the most awesome scenes in Dickens. The first time I read the book and I read that she’d apparently ran off with Carker, I was like, “Oh, Edith, you were so cool! How could you do this?” Then when I read Chapter 54, I was like, “OK, Edith, you got at least half your coolness points back!”
LikeLiked by 2 people
LikeLiked by 1 person
I finished the book!
I totally forgot about Dombey contemplating suicide. (“He might yet give up what his creditors had spared him (that they had not spared him more, was his own act), and only sever the tie between him and the ruined house, by severing that other link.”) That was darker than I remembered.
It’s interesting that repentance is an overarching theme in Chapter 59. Not only does Dombey admit he was wrong but so do Florence (though I don’t really think she needed to feel guilty for running away), Miss Tox and Rob. Even Towlinson apologizes to Anne the housemaid. (Am I the only one that totally missed there was supposed to be a romantic subplot going on between them? I thought Dickens just spent so much time describing Dombey’s staff to give depth to his world.)
I like the (relative) emotional complexity of Florence’s reunion with Edith, how it’s initially a little awkward and Florence struggles a lit bit before she can forgive her. (“Oh, Mama, Mama! why do we meet like this? Why were you ever kind to me when there was no one else, that we should meet like this?”) Part of me wishes Florence could have had similar mixed feelings toward her father. It might have made her a more interesting character, though, as she is, I don’t consider her a bad character.
Unfortunately, the final chapter contains what might be my least favorite plot point in all of Dickens: Toots still loving Florence while marrying Susan Nipper. I like Susan and I resent seeing her reduced to a contented consolation prize. I assume Dickens did this because he worried that the readers would lose respect for Toots if he decided his love for Florence was just a crush, not to be compared to his love for Susan. Personally, I would have respected him more if that was the case. It’s interesting to compare Toots to a later Dickens character, John Chivery from Little Dorrit, with a similar relationship to his novel’s heroine. Both of them even have a preoccupation with their deaths. (Toots keeps referring to the “silent tomb” and John Chivery keeps fantasizing about what will be engraved on his tombstone.) But John never gets a “consolation prize” and, while the humor with him doesn’t work quite as well as that with Toot, mainly because it’s hard to pin down whether he’s supposed to be funny or not, his character is ultimately the better for it.
According to my edition of Dombey and Son, Dickens originally had a few more paragraphs after what would ultimately be the book’s final lines. While the book was better for the cuts IMO, I thought I’d share them with the curious.
“The voices in the waves speak low to him of Florence, day and night-plainest when he, his blooming daughter and her husband, walk beside them in the evening or sit at an open window, listening to their roar. They speak to him of Florence and his altered heart; of Florence and their ceaseless murmuring to her of the love, eternal and illimitable, extending still, beyond the sea, beyond the sky, to the invisible country far away. Never from the mighty sea may voices rise too late, to come between us and the unseen region on the other shore! Better, far better, that they whispered of that region in our childish ears and the swift river hurried us away!”
LikeLiked by 3 people
Stationmaster: I agree with you, initially, in your response to Toots still carrying the torch for Florence. and then having to “settle” for Susan Nipper as the woman he eventually marries. Yet I think it’s part of the genius of this novel that it doesn’t always allow the readers to get what they would like. And I think in this case the novel reverses our expectations out of the realm of wish fulfillment into the world of psychological complexity. Mr. Toots pines after the “loss” of Florence to Walter, and still seems to “love” Florence even while there is a movement in progress toward his marrying Susan Nipper. Yet, what strikes me here is the novel’s OVERT presentation of the facts of Mr. Toot’s feelings rather than just allowing the marriage between him and Susan to take place with no authorial commentary regarding his emotions toward Florence, or any direct rendering of his thoughts regarding his chronic sense of loss. Dickens could have just abruptly shot down any presentation of Toots’ feelings and simply showed him marrying Susan with no dramatization of his ideas concerning his continuing affection for Florence. But Dickens, In fact, CONTINUALLY allows Mr. Toots to vent his frustrations in this regard even to Florence directly. But I think the most moving–but jarring, as you might say–representation of this inward dilemma Toots faces arises in this extended “confession” he has with Captain Cuttle:
‘“Captain Gills,” said Mr Toots, “what is now to take place between us, takes place under the sacred seal of confidence. It is the sequel, Captain Gills, of what has taken place between myself and Miss Dombey, upstairs.”
“Alow and aloft, eh, my lad?” murmured the Captain.
“Exactly so, Captain Gills,” said Mr Toots, whose fervour of acquiescence was greatly heightened by his entire ignorance of the Captain’s meaning. “Miss Dombey, I believe, Captain Gills, is to be shortly united to Lieutenant Walters?”
“Why, ay, my lad. We’re all shipmets here,—Wal”r and sweet—heart will be jined together in the house of bondage, as soon as the askings is over,” whispered Captain Cuttle, in his ear.
“The askings, Captain Gills!” repeated Mr Toots.
“In the church, down yonder,” said the Captain, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
“Oh! Yes!” returned Mr Toots.
“And then,” said the Captain, in his hoarse whisper, and tapping Mr Toots on the chest with the back of his hand, and falling from him with a look of infinite admiration, “what follers? That there pretty creetur, as delicately brought up as a foreign bird, goes away upon the roaring main with Wal”r on a woyage to China!”
“Lord, Captain Gills!” said Mr Toots.
“Ay!” nodded the Captain. “The ship as took him up, when he was wrecked in the hurricane that had drove her clean out of her course, was a China trader, and Wal”r made the woyage, and got into favour, aboard and ashore—being as smart and good a lad as ever stepped—and so, the supercargo dying at Canton, he got made (having acted as clerk afore), and now he’s supercargo aboard another ship, same owners. And so, you see,” repeated the Captain, thoughtfully, “the pretty creetur goes away upon the roaring main with Wal”r, on a woyage to China.”
Mr Toots and Captain Cuttle heaved a sigh in concert. “What then?” said the Captain. “She loves him true. He loves her true. Them as should have loved and tended of her, treated of her like the beasts as perish. When she, cast out of home, come here to me, and dropped upon them planks, her wownded heart was broke. I know it. I, Ed’ard Cuttle, see it. There’s nowt but true, kind, steady love, as can ever piece it up again. If so be I didn’t know that, and didn’t know as Wal”r was her true love, brother, and she his, I’d have these here blue arms and legs chopped off, afore I’d let her go. But I know it, and what then! Why, then, I say, Heaven go with ’em both, and so it will! Amen!”
“Captain Gills,” said Mr Toots, “let me have the pleasure of shaking hands. You’ve a way of saying things, that gives me an agreeable warmth, all up my back. I say Amen. You are aware, Captain Gills, that I, too, have adored Miss Dombey.”
“Cheer up!” said the Captain, laying his hand on Mr Toots’s shoulder. “Stand by, boy!”
“It is my intention, Captain Gills,” returned the spirited Mr Toots, “to cheer up. Also to standby, as much as possible. When the silent tomb shall yawn, Captain Gills, I shall be ready for burial; not before. But not being certain, just at present, of my power over myself, what I wish to say to you, and what I shall take it as a particular favour if you will mention to Lieutenant Walters, is as follows.”
“Is as follers,” echoed the Captain. “Steady!”
“Miss Dombey being so inexpressably kind,” continued Mr Toots with watery eyes, “as to say that my presence is the reverse of disagreeable to her, and you and everybody here being no less forbearing and tolerant towards one who—who certainly,” said Mr Toots, with momentary dejection, “would appear to have been born by mistake, I shall come backwards and forwards of an evening, during the short time we can all be together. But what I ask is this. If, at any moment, I find that I cannot endure the contemplation of Lieutenant Walters’s bliss, and should rush out, I hope, Captain Gills, that you and he will both consider it as my misfortune and not my fault, or the want of inward conflict. That you’ll feel convinced I bear no malice to any living creature-least of all to Lieutenant Walters himself—and that you’ll casually remark that I have gone out for a walk, or probably to see what o’clock it is by the Royal Exchange. Captain Gills, if you could enter into this arrangement, and could answer for Lieutenant Walters, it would be a relief to my feelings that I should think cheap at the sacrifice of a considerable portion of my property.”
“My lad,” returned the Captain, “say no more. There ain’t a colour you can run up, as won’t be made out, and answered to, by Wal”r and self.”’
That Mr. Toots wears his heart on his sleeve in this dialogue with the Captain can be no surprise to us by this time in the novel. He continually projects his thoughts outwards–almost spasmodically sometimes– to the embarrassment of the person he’s speaking with and also of the reader to the point that what he says is cringeworthy. And that is what is happening here. This young man is hurting, he’s embarrassed, he’s hugely self-conscious about his predicament, he doesn’t want to interfere with the wedding, but he wants the Captain to know that sometimes he just can’t restrain his emotions. Most of all, he wants the sympathy of the Captain and to hope that he understands the pain he is experiencing. And he’s very forthright when he declares that at certain moments during the wedding ceremony he might not be able to “endure the contemplation of Lieutenant Walter’s bliss,” and may have to walk out of the ceremony.
But the Captain, a kind of father/father confessor figure, calms Mr. Toots down and reassures him that he and Walter will understand the emotions that he (Mr. Toots) is feeling. And he does this reassurance in such a way that Toots can contemplate and understand, verifying, indeed, that truly Walter and Florence are deeply in love with one another: “What then?” said the Captain. “She loves him true. He loves her true….” In order to pacify Mr. Toots, then, the Captain has, apparently, to recapitulate for his young friend the absoluteness of this marriage–that it will take place, and that Mr. Toots–even given his longing for Florence, must “standby.” So, he acknowledges Toot’s feelings but counters with the factual reality of this situation. And ultimately cautions Toots to “cheer up.”
This dialogue Dickens did not have to render, but he chose to do so, I think, to put forth what seems to be one of the main emphasis in this novel, the way people process and FEEL about what is happening to them and around them. Or, to some extent, the way people DON’T sense or feel. Here, we see and experience in depth, the emotions expressed by both these admirable characters regarding the impact the Marriage of Walter to Florence has on them.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I can’t wait to catch up on the discussion here, but…WOW–that scene between Edith and Carker in Dijon! What a vengeance! It’s as though Dickens used all the best in stage melodrama but brings it to another level. I confess, as heartsick as I am for Edith and Floy, there is such a satisfying, poetic justice in this move.
LikeLiked by 1 person
As with most chapters in DOMBEY AND SON, Chapter 59 serves as an illustration of how densely packed information in this novel can be—so much so, that an exploration of its entirety would take several pages. It is just chock full of interesting and emotional set pieces—ranging from the discussion of the servants about what to do with their lives now that the great man has fallen, the movement of the heartbroken Mr.Dombey through the various rooms of the mansion, the passionate reconciliation of Florence with her father, and the ‘”sisterly” and warm dialogue between Mrs Toodles , Miss Tox AND the Grinder before Polly closes up the house. It is this last sequence I find so intriguing because it shows these two women so diligently at work and, specifically our dear Miss Tox doing what she has been doing throughout the novel—taking care of people. In this case her “charge” is Mrs. Toodle’s son Robin. But first the segment, itself:
“Then, Miss Tox and Polly came out of their concealment, and exulted tearfully. And then they packed his clothes, and books, and so forth, with great care; and consigned them in due course to certain persons sent by Florence, in the evening, to fetch them. And then they took a last cup of tea in the lonely house.
“And so Dombey and Son, as I observed upon a certain sad occasion,” said Miss Tox, winding up a host of recollections, “is indeed a daughter, Polly, after all.”
“And a good one!” exclaimed Polly.
“You are right,” said Miss Tox; “and it’s a credit to you, Polly, that you were always her friend when she was a little child. You were her friend long before I was, Polly,” said Miss Tox; “and you’re a good creature. Robin!”
Miss Tox addressed herself to a bullet-headed young man, who appeared to be in but indifferent circumstances, and in depressed spirits, and who was sitting in a remote corner. Rising, he dislosed to view the form and features of the Grinder.
“Robin,” said Miss Tox, “I have just observed to your mother, as you may have heard, that she is a good creature.”
“And so she is, Miss,” quoth the Grinder, with some feeling.
“Very well, Robin,” said Miss Tox, “I am glad to hear you say so. Now, Robin, as I am going to give you a trial, at your urgent request, as my domestic, with a view to your restoration to respectability, I will take this impressive occasion of remarking that I hope you will never forget that you have, and have always had, a good mother, and that you will endeavour so to conduct yourself as to be a comfort to her.”
“Upon my soul I will, Miss,” returned the Grinder. “I have come through a good deal, and my intentions is now as straightfor’ard, Miss, as a cove’s—”
“I must get you to break yourself of that word, Robin, if you please,” interposed Miss Tox, politely.
“If you please, Miss, as a chap’s—”
“Thankee, Robin, no,” returned Miss Tox, “I should prefer individual.”
“As a indiwiddle’s—,” said the Grinder.
“Much better,” remarked Miss Tox, complacently; “infinitely more expressive!”
“—can be,” pursued Rob. “If I hadn’t been and got made a Grinder on, Miss and Mother, which was a most unfortunate circumstance for a young co—indiwiddle—”
“Very good indeed,” observed Miss Tox, approvingly.
“—and if I hadn’t been led away by birds, and then fallen into a bad service,” said the Grinder, “I hope I might have done better. But it’s never too late for a—”
“Indi—” suggested Miss Tox.
“—widdle,” said the Grinder, “to mend; and I hope to mend, Miss, with your kind trial; and wishing, Mother, my love to father, and brothers and sisters, and saying of it.”
“I am very glad indeed to hear it,” observed Miss Tox. “Will you take a little bread and butter, and a cup of tea, before we go, Robin?”
“Thankee, Miss,” returned the Grinder; who immediately began to use his own personal grinders in a most remarkable manner, as if he had been on very short allowance for a considerable period.
Miss Tox, being, in good time, bonneted and shawled, and Polly too, Rob hugged his mother, and followed his new mistress away; so much to the hopeful admiration of Polly, that something in her eyes made luminous rings round the gas-lamps as she looked after him. Polly then put out her light, locked the house-door, delivered the key at an agent’s hard by, and went home as fast as she could go; rejoicing in the shrill delight that her unexpected arrival would occasion there. “
What is so evident, even in this small part of the novel, is the role that women—and these women in particular—take in being FACILITATORS of both the mudane and not so mundane tasks that are required by the narrative. Just prior to this sequence, Mrs. Pipchin pays off the servants, says goodbye and leaves the closing of the house to Miss Tox and particularly to Polly. It’s up to them, then, to take care of the final jobs of straightening out Mr. Dombey’s effects and packing his clothes to be sent on to his new residence with Florence and Walter. And I read and watch as they are doing this unselfish work and wonder at their beholden efficiency they have toward their unsung duties. Yet I, the reader, feel some consternation about all this work: WHY, I ask, are they doing this for a man who has had no real love or appreciation for the various ways in which they have supported him and his household? And I have no real answer for this other than that they simply do what they feel is right. Of course Miss Tox has “skin” in this game because she still has great affection for the man she has evidently loved since the beginning of the novel. But Polly has suffered so much at the hands of her employer that what she does here is so magnanimous. On top of her “heroism” she has literally been given the keys to the house (get the irony here!) which she locks up and delivers to whom I presume is the leasing “agent.”
But then there is the other kind of “heroism” that unfolds with Miss Tox’s taking on Robin as her “domestic.” What a wonderful show of caring takes place here as she realizes that Polly’s son needs guidance and something meaningful to do with his life–far apart from being a “cove” living on the street, totally at the mercy of anything or anyone that might befall him. She is kindness personified as she offers him tea and toast and talks to him about his working for her and helps him modify his inappropriate use of language. Suddenly, she’s become a mentor and caretaker to this “ lost boy”–one of many in Dickens’ novels. In short, she’s invited him to become part of her “family” (she becoming a “mother” of sorts) as Polly goes off, finally, to resume being a caring and busy mother to HER very welcoming family!
On the face of it, this little tidbit of information near the end of Chapter 59 seems inconsequential, so slight, that it might be hurriedly passed over by the reader. But in my reading of this novel, It’s rewarding passages like these that present to me so succinctly some of the main themes and positive character traits that inform the richness of DOMBEY AND SON.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Somewhere in my research & reading, though for the life of me I cannot put my finger on the source(s), there is a discussion of Miss Tox’s observations:
“‘Dear me, dear me! To think,’ said Miss Tox, bursting out afresh that night, as if her heart were broken, ‘that Dombey and Son should be a Daughter after all!’” (Ch 16)
“‘And so Dombey and Son, as I observed upon a certain sad occasion,’ said Miss Tox, winding up a host of recollections, ‘is indeed a daughter, Polly, after all.’” (Ch 59)
The discussion revolves around the choice of the words “should be” versus “is indeed” and the choice of “Daughter”, capital “D”, versus “daughter”, small ‘d’. The auxiliary verb SHOULD in the first quote suggests how the family dynamic is changed by Little Paul’s death. As the only child left, Florence’s position in relation to her father and in relation to the family SHOULD become centralized. Now, she alone SHOULD fulfill the role of “child” both to and for Mr Dombey; now, she alone SHOULD be the future of the family and, by extension, the firm. Florence and Mr Dombey SHOULD cling to each other for support based on their child-parent relationship of shared family experience – she comforting him in his loss of a child and he comforting her in her loss of a sibling – and thus become closer. If Mr Dombey sired no new son, Florence SHOULD be the means of perpetuating the firm by being married to a suitably chosen husband (Dombey and Son-in-law). All this Miss Tox suggests in her initial statement – this is what SHOULD happen, the gap left by the lost child SHOULD be filled and soothed by the child that remains.
But this is not what happens. Instead, Mr Dombey actively and purposefully rejects Florence precisely because she is the child left. All Florence’s efforts, and indeed the efforts of other characters, work against her, and, as Mrs Chick prophesies in Ch 5, “She don’t gain on her Papa in the least.” It is not until Mr Dombey is ruined, personally and professionally, that he begins to comprehend what Florence SHOULD be, indeed, what she HAS BEEN to him and to the family. Only with this realization and their reconciliation, can Florence become both Daughter, the epitome, and daughter, the comforting, familiar, loving and beloved girl-child – “indeed, a daughter . . . after all” (Ch 59) Further, with her marriage to Walter, with whom she has children and who embarks on a career eerily similar to Mr Dombey’s, Florence continues both the house of Dombey (the family), and the House of Dombey (the firm). This concept is nicely articulated by Susan as related by her husband, Mr Toots, to Captain Cuttle and Uncle Sol: “Why that, under the very eye of Mr Dombey, there is a foundation going on, upon which a – an Edifice . . . is gradually rising, perhaps to equal, perhaps to excel, that of which he was once the head, and the small beginnings of which . . . escaped his memory. Thus . . . from his daughter, after all, another Dombey and Son will . . . rise . . . triumphant!” (Ch 62)
While Miss Tox’s and Susan’s comments are direct references to Florence, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t consider the other daughters in this novel – Edith and Alice – in light of what should be versus what is. Like Florence, these daughter are also victims of their parent’s dismissal of them as individuals. Mrs Skewton and Good Mrs Brown see their daughters as meal-tickets and scold them for being ungrateful and undutiful for being used as such. Unlike Florence, however, Edith and Alice both have a clear understanding of how and why they are use, and because they understand they chafe against their fate and their powerlessness to change it. (See Ch 27, 30, 34, 53) In her exile, Alice has sussed out the reason, cause, source, of their lot:
“I have heard some talk about duty first and last; but it has always been of my duty to other people. I have wondered now and then – to pass away the time – whether no one ever owed any duty to me.” (Ch 34)
The child – Alice, Edith, and Florence, even Little Paul – is not looked after properly by the parent or, by extension, society. The child is seen as a means to an end with little consideration of its needs, feelings, or future beyond how it can be molded to fit or fulfill that end. The duty owed to the child by the parent, by society to its populace, is to be raised to be a functioning, autonomous adult. This is Dickens again and from another angle preaching his message of “Mankind is my business”.
Cousin Feenix comes to understand this, too late to influence the course of Edith’s life, but not too late to facilitate her redemption. He has faith in her, speaks for her, and pledges support for her: “But while I must, rather peremptorily, request my friend Dombey not to criminate my lovely and accomplished relative until her criminality is perfectly established, I beg to assure my friend Dombey that the family I represent . . . will interpose no obstacle inn his way, and will be happy to assent to any honourable course of proceeding, with a view to the future, that he may point out.” (Ch 51) When no “honourable course of proceeding” is apparent or possible, Cousin Feenix searches Edith out and offers her “protection” based on his “feeling . . . that our family had been a little to blame in not paying more attention not her, and that we are a careless family – and also that [Mrs Skewton] . . . had perhaps not been the very best of mothers”. (610)
Those who innately understand this message – Polly, Miss Tox, Capt. Cuttle, Susan, Mr Toots, Harriet Carker – do what they can to mitigate the effects of those who do not and are, in the end, triumphant and rewarded.
We’ve seen throughout how good Polly is. In direct violation of Mr Dombey’s edict that “When [her wet-nurse] duties cease to be required and rendered, and the stipend ceases to be paid, there is an end of all relations between us” (Ch 2), Polly has maintained a relationship with Florence and Dombey’s servants such that she can be a source of information for Miss Tox, a help to Florence at the Midshipman, and can assume Mrs Pipchin’s housekeeper duties at Dombey’s when even that good lady deserts him (ch 23, 38, 56, 57, 59). No doubt Polly and Miss Tox, now a clandestine daily visitor, put their heads together and sent for Florence to intervene and coax her father out of his room and his funk (Ch 59)
Miss Tox is the only one who cares about the man Mr Dombey: “How does he bear it” she asks of Mrs Pipchin hoping to learn “what he feels within!” (Ch 51). Miss Tox, unlike everyone else in the novel who has close contact with Mr Dombey, including Florence (who, for a time, can only think of her father as one who is dead (Ch 49)), has never deserted him. Once over the initial shock of her excommunication, she takes steps to establish a source of information about him, by reconnecting with Polly (Ch 38). She also has maintained her connection with Mrs Pipchin and so when her idol, Mr Dombey, is most in need she is in a position to offer what little assistance she can. She comes to his desolate house every day to secretly tend to his needs (Ch 59). In the end the “ambition” Maj. Bagstock accused her of (Ch 7, 20) is partly realized: “Miss Tox is not infrequently of the family party, and is quite devoted to it, and is a great favourite. Her admiration of her once stately patron is, and has been ever since the morning of her shock in Princess’s Place, platonic, but not weakened in the lease.” (Ch 62)
For me this is the sweetest description of Captain Cuttle, and describes his character so well: “Florence, with her hand upon the Captain’s arm, so sorrowful and timid, and the Captain with his rough face and burly figure, so quietly protective of her, stood in the Rossy light of the bright evening sky, without saying a word. However strange the form of speech into which he might have fashioned the feeling, if he had had to give it utterance, the Captain felt, as sensibly as the most eloquent of men could have done, that there was something in the tranquil time and in its softened beauty that would make the wounded heart of Florence overflow; and that it was better that such tears should have their way. So not a word spake Captain Cuttle. But the he felt his arm clasped closer, and when he felt the lonely head come nearer to it, and lay itself against his homely coarse blue sleeve, he pressed it gently with his rugged hand, and understood it, and was understood.” (Ch 49)
Following in the footsteps of Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness are Mr Toots and Susan, two of the most brilliant characters Dickens ever created. Their interaction from the start is, as I said before about Mr Toots, 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. Like Kit Nubbles who placed Little Nell on a pedestal, but who married the understanding Barbara, Mr Toots chooses Susan for his bride precisely because she understands and shares his devotion to Florence – and of course because “what [HE] wanted in a wife was – in short, was sense”, a quality Susan has in spades! What a great couple they make! Their behavior towards each other is such fun, especially at the wedding of Miss Blimber and Mr Feeder – he cannot praise her too much or be too solicitous of her delicate condition, and she gently guides him both verbally and with “a whole code of telegraphic dissuasions”. (Ch 60)
Phew – now that this is all out of my head I can read everyone else’s comments! I am so looking forward to discussing them on the 25th!
LikeLiked by 4 people
LikeLiked by 1 person
“Like the Christmas books, and in the selfsame manner as the Christmas books, Dombey and Son blends social, psychological, symbolic, and mythic truth. This felicitous coming together of diverse elements, a coming together that is centripetal and reinforcing, sets Dombey apart from the apprentice novels….Dickens, his mind filled with Christmas-book plans, set out in Dombey to do something that he had never attempted before in a novel, but something that he had often done (and was even then doing) in his Christmas books: he set out to write a realistic story on the most up-to-date subject matter, a story, as it happened, that would be a detailed social and psychological analysis of the Victorian businessman, and at the same time he set out to make that story a magical fable of contemporary life.”
~ Harry Stone, Dickens and the Invisible World, 146-47
Boze has been talking about Stone’s book ever since we read The Old Curiosity Shop—the other one, I’d argue, that makes “a magical fable of contemporary life” thus far—and so I finally bought a copy. He would blend this combination of parable/fairy tale with realism again in A Tale of Two Cities (on revolution; on sacrificing *others* for a cause or for vengeance, versus sacrificing oneself for others), and in Hard Times, on, say, industrialization versus imagination.
I love that Stone pinpoints the real “villain” as the “new business world”–the world that is producing men like Dombey and Carker. “The real villain of Dombey and Son,” Stone writes, “is the soullessness of the new business world; the most condensed embodiment of that world is the manager Carker—clever, compulsive, ruthless, amoral—the first compelling portrait in the English novel of the new managerial class, of the new anonymous power breed.” And this business world contrasts, even physically, with an “old-fashioned” model (there’s that phrase again!): “The business theme, as we shall see is wedded in Christmas-book fashion to the fairy-tale and autobiographical aspects of the story. And like these other aspects, the business theme is developed by contrast. Sol Gills’ old-fashioned nautical instrument shop, small, sleepy, and human, is a perfect counterpart to the great bustling modern firm of Dombey and Son, for Sol’s business, like Dombey’s, takes its living from the sea…Dombey’s empire is flourishing, but Dickens, again using parallel construction, makes Dombey’s business, in contrast to Gills’, a source of infection” (149-150).
But besides, say, *business versus persons*, it seems to me that, on the more personal level, Dombey’s core “parable” or theme here is how we *see*, or neglect to see, what is of most value. Floy’s great value, like Captain Cuttle’s or Walter’s, is her great heart. Her empathy, her self-giving love. Her love is a free gift, beyond price. Walter’s love and protection were given freely for Floy, when she is most alone, orphaned, discarded, and without anything—in monetary terms—to offer in return; just as her love for him has always been for his own sake, his own kindheartedness. Edith, by contrast, has been an object of desire (for her beauty or position) all her life, bought and sold “as infamously as any woman with a halter round her neck is sold in any market-place.” Her self-worth—rather, lack of it—stems from this essential abuse in terms of all those who have looked at her with their own agendas—and neglected to really “see” her. So what is she left with, but to dispose of those who have already discarded her humanity? She humiliates and abandons Dombey, and uses Carker to bring about her vengeance on them both.
Stone writes: “Mr. Dombey’s sin is his rejection of the freely offered love of his daughter; he must come to realize that what Florence yearns to give him is a gift more valuable than anything money can buy.” (147) And again: “At first he merely neglects timid Florence, but gradually he grows envious of her, then jealous of the love she inspires in others, and finally, baffled and guilty, he hates her as the symbol of his own failure to inspire love.” (147) Dombey is seeing her through the lens of his own pride and insecurities—it was, until everything was stripped away, “all about him.”
I was writing earlier about the detail in Phiz’s illustrations, e.g. “Mr Dombey and the World,” versus the later “Let Him Remember It.” Eyes are turned on him with judgement and disapproval in the first, just as his eyes had always been directed that way to Floy. Later, all the images are turned away, and he is left alone—except for the light emerging with Florence in the doorway. Florence who, after everything, can look on him with love and compassion.
There is a sense of deliberation in Dickens’s plotting to a degree that we perhaps haven’t quite seen yet. A sense of momentum, of suspense, of surprise. I love how coherent the themes and imagery are in Dombey from first to last. From the man-made “demon” railway of progress to its counterpart and foil: the eternal ocean, and the rivers that run inexorably along their path to meet it. I love it that, as always in Dickens, things come around again. Just as little Paul was always wondering what it was that the waves were saying, Floy not only remembers this but can finally *answer it* for herself only when she herself is, literally, at sea, held by Walter’s love after almost a lifetime of rejected love:
“The voices in the waves are always whispering to Florence, in their ceaseless murmuring, of love—of love, eternal and illimitable, not bounded by the confines of this world, or by the end of time, but ranging still, beyond the sea, beyond the sky, to the invisible country far away!”
LikeLiked by 3 people
Rach: I think you are right about “seeing and NOT seeing,” but I think the novel goes beyond that opposition and sets up another–“feeling and NOT feeling.” In the case of Edith it is both: She articulates with great rationality her situation as slave being sold on the marketplace, but it is her FEELING that really incapacitates her–something that you urged in an earlier statement. Hence, her final parting with Florence is driven, I think, by the emotional distress of her intense love and the feelings of deprivation she has upon leaving Florence. But then she can rationally articulate what this means : “We will never see each other again.” Her reasoning aspect simply kicks in–probably out of a rational sense of self-preservation.
Florence hurrying to her dying mother’s bedside is prompted by her deep love and sense of loss for her dying parent. She sees and then she feels, or does she feel and then see?? Feeling takes the cake, here.
Captain Cuttle Feels for Walter, Florence, and Sol . Then he sees what he must do in all three urgent instances…. He FEELS with great sensitivity for Florence when she runs to him after being abused by her father and being banished by him, and then he (the Captain) “sees” and goes into action and makes a “home” for her.
As I write this and think about what I am writing, I’m wondering if it’s WE READERS who become the rational seers and react to what we see in “feeling” terms. Or, is it just the opposite??
Ultimately, Dickens the writer is the seer who makes us feel and see.
Overall, as I’ve suggested before, it’s the feeling, sensitive ANIMA banging up against the stubborn, proud, wooden PERSONA that is pervasive throughout the novel–on both a personal and societal/collective level. Railway as PERSONA, sea as ANIMA. Patriarchy as PERSONA, Matriarchy as ANIMA, etc., etc., etc.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I love your comments here, Lenny! And YES: “Railway as PERSONA, sea as ANIMA.” I agree with this 100%–from the personal to the societal, this persona/anima dichotomy is playing out, so beautifully illustrated by the imagery of the rail (metal/wheels) versus the sea (flowing, immense, spanning the horizon).
I think, in the essential question of “seeing” vs “feeling,” perhaps we’re saying the same thing: it is *how* we “see”? Do we see a commodity, a monetary or societal decoration? Or, not to use a cliched phrase, but do we “see” with the “eyes of the heart”? (i.e. Do we see someone to the degree that we feel the love for them that they are worthy of, for their own sake?) It is interesting…I didn’t even realize this until after our comments here, but the very last word of the novel is “eyes”–and of course, at that point, I had tears in mine! 🙂
This passage, from the finale, with my notes/emphases in brackets:
“But no one, except Florence, knows the measure of the white-haired gentleman’s affection for the girl. That story never goes about. The child herself almost wonders at a certain secrecy he keeps in it. He hoards her in his heart. [ANIMA] He cannot bear to see [! he is *seeing* in a new way] a cloud upon her face. He cannot bear to see [!!] her sit apart. He fancies that she feels [!!!] a slight, when there is none. He steals away to look [!!!] at her, in her sleep.”
Seeing/feeling are now one and the same, because he is *seeing* her, and the world, rightly now, and not as commodities.
As you say, Lenny, “Dickens the writer is the seer who makes us feel and see.” Amen.
LikeLiked by 1 person
p.s. Gosh, I’m just catching up on the wonderful discussion here…WOW! These are phenomenal thoughts & essays, friends. I can’t wait to chat more on the 25th! There is SO much to talk about!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Gosh, what a host of truly wonderful comments, and what a gorgeous novel this is… I don’t think any novel has made me weep quite so much and so often (and I am quite often weepy with novels)
I haven’t quite finished… I have a chapter and a half to go – but bear in mind that I DID read the whole novel in five days before we even started! It was compelling then and it has been even more compelling the second and slower time through!
I suppose it would be redundant to add that I’d love to do an audiobook version of it?! (I did actually record a couple of segments, but they are hiding away on my computer at the moment… I may put them up somewhere – one of them was Florence and Mr Dombey early on in the novel and the other was the first meeting with Mrs Skewton)
I have spent most of the week pondering a homage post to Susan Nipper. I am glad to say that after many many hours I have completed said post 😀
What I would like to add here is just a little observation on Toots and Susan and the difference of Toots’ feelings for Florence. I think these differences are among the major things which get thrashed out all the way through David Copperfield, but I would say that Toots’ genuine adoration of Florence is a boyish love – replete with giggles and embarrassment and the answering of questions before they have been answered.. perhaps Chesterton said it best:
To ask for the loved one, and then not to dare to cross the threshold, to be invited by her, to long to accept, and then to lie in order to decline, these are the funny things that Mr. Toots did, and that every honest man who yells with laughter at him has done also
His feelings for Susan one might say are ‘founded on a rock’
He gets a form of closure from Florence in the receipt of her friendship and thanks and from that very instant (and this is a stroke of genius by Dickens) his very speech changes! Gone are the giggles and stutterings and the slidings into the silent tombs! Gone also are the wrong names! And thereafter he remains the same Toots, but better spoken, more self-assured while still being the same soft-hearted, generous helpful soul he has always been. He has gained in confidence and he refers to his union with Susan as Blissful (which just happens to be one of Copperfield’s most beautiful chapters!!)
Here’s the section:
“Mr Toots,” said Walter, on parting with him at the house door, “we shall see each other to-morrow morning?”
“Lieutenant Walters,” returned Mr Toots, grasping his hand fervently, “I shall certainly be present.”
“This is the last night we shall meet for a long time—the last night we may ever meet,” said Walter. “Such a noble heart as yours, must feel, I think, when another heart is bound to it. I hope you know that I am very grateful to you?”
“Walters,” replied Mr Toots, quite touched, “I should be glad to feel that you had reason to be so.”
“Florence,” said Walter, “on this last night of her bearing her own name, has made me promise—it was only just now, when you left us together—that I would tell you—with her dear love—”
Mr Toots laid his hand upon the doorpost, and his eyes upon his hand.
“—With her dear love,” said Walter, “that she can never have a friend whom she will value above you. That the recollection of your true consideration for her always, can never be forgotten by her. That she remembers you in her prayers tonight, and hopes that you will think of her when she is far away. Shall I say anything for you?”
“Say, Walter,” replied Mr Toots indistinctly, “that I shall think of her every day, but never without feeling happy to know that she is married to the man she loves, and who loves her. Say, if you please, that I am sure her husband deserves her—even her!—and that I am glad of her choice.”
Mr Toots got more distinct as he came to these last words, and raising his eyes from the doorpost, said them stoutly. He then shook Walter’s hand again with a fervour that Walter was not slow to return and started homeward.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Beautifully stated Rob. Toots is QUITE a different man at this stage of the novel, and you reveal in what ways with your presentation of this dialogue. No stuttering, no stammering–suddenly he’s speaking like a man with self-confidence. Thus, as you reveal, his love of Susan has vastly matured from his earlier boyish infatuation with Florence. Maybe the anima of Susan has made HIM into a man of sense–coming from the “woman of sense” as Rach has so nicely illustrated her to be…. I’m beginning to feel that another “psychological” subtitle for the novel might be something along the lines of “Listen to the ANIMA and it will teach you.”
LikeLiked by 2 people
Well, I had to finish the book before I dared read any comments, and am left…amazed, on several scores.
First, let me say that while I can usually see what’s coming, the Inimitable left me completely open-mouthedly gobsmacked by Harriet’s running off…with Carker! I was so shocked! Not that she ran off, but with that loathsome creature! I was relieved that it turns out to be calculating on her part, both in disregard for her reputation, but also, perhaps, as a way to bring that nasty gentleman down a peg. Their final interview was *most* satisfactory. I confess I was mentally fist-pumping, “You go, girl!”
And did anyone else see another bit of doubling, the way both Dombey and Carker are brought so low–all pride and pretenses shredded–to the point of madness? In the end, there was something almost poetic, grisly as it was, that it was the huge mechanical beast that had been growing like an almost living thing throughout the book, that finally swallows Carker whole, and as a result of the two men coming face to face one last time.
Too, I’m not sure there’s another author that could have persuaded me of Dombey’s final repentance, but those endless days alone in the dreary house set it up so very well. And I don’t believe it could have happened–at least the way Dickens crafts Dombey–if Floy hadn’t made the first move by coming to him. It was almost a sort of Prodigal Son parable in reverse, where it’s the child who is done wrong by the Father, and yet is the one who makes the first move to forgive. Or as it reads in the Gospel, “While he was still a long ways off…”
Also, several folks have mentioned that Dickens was more conscious of plotting this book out ahead of time, and I think it shows in the relentless momentum of the story, especially after the Thunderbolt chapter. It reminds me of what Rach’s brother John always said about Steven Spielberg, how he lost some of his narrative drive when his new cinematographer, with Schindler’s List, persuaded him to quit storyboarding. All his movies since have been less tight, with less narrative drive. There’s something about knowing clearly where you’re going that allows you to set things up properly, and once all the pieces are set up–boom, boom, boom!
Finally, I liked that Dickens left a couple of things unresolved. Edith’s final disposition, for one–whether she can bring herself to forgive, and ask for forgiveness, although it would appear to be too late, at least for Dombey. There’s also the interesting matter of what, exactly, it was that John Carker did in his past that was so terrible, and of which he is so ashamed. Some sort of embezzlement, maybe? Or did I miss something en route?
LikeLiked by 4 people
Dana – See Ch 13 – Shipping Intelligence and Office Business – John Carker tells Walter about his crime after being verbally abused by his brother. The scene is interesting because of James Carker’s bravado and hubris given what follows – in the end, James Carker’s crime is so much worse John’s!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks for that! I’ll go back and take a look.
The first time I read the book, I was actually wondering if they’d reveal at the end that John Carker really didn’t commit the crime, he just thought he did for some crazy reason and that it was really his brother.
LikeLiked by 2 people