Dombey and Son: A Final Wrap-Up


(Banner image: by Phiz.)

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

Friends, we come to the end of our journey with the firm of Dombey and Son–who is really “a daughter…after all”! But not to the end of our conversation, and I hope to see you this Saturday for our online group chat.

This week, we’ve shown a lot of love for our secondary/ensemble characters: Susan Nipper, Mr Toots, Captain Cuttle, Polly Toodle.

We’ve been surprised by redemption and remorse, by acts of vengeance, by hearts hardened by false mentoring, and softened by compassion.

We’ve talked about essential dichotomies, Dickensian contrasts: progress versus the old-fashion; commodification versus love–perhaps best illustrated by the man-made “demon” railway, versus the eternal Sea.

There is so much to wrap-up in our journey–but first, a few quick links. If you have time for nothing else, I’d highly recommend looking at the Final Thematic Wrap-Up to see just how much we’ve covered:

  1. General Mems
  2. Dombey and Son, Chs 49-62: A Summary
  3. Discussion Wrap-Up
  4. Final Thematic Wrap-Up
  5. A Look-Ahead to Our Break and Upcoming Reads

General Mems

Reminder: This weekend is our Zoom group chat on Dombey and Son! Join us on Sat, 25 March, 2023, 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern / 6pm GMT. I’ve sent email links to those whose email I have who are interested; please email me (or message me on twitter) if you’d like the link!

Ongoing: 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 442 (and week 64) in our #DickensClub! We’ve just finished Dombey and Son, our fifteenth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for any final impressions! What did you think? How does Dombey compare for you to our previous novels?

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 49-62: A Summary

“The Shadow in the Little Parlour,” by Phiz.

Captain Cuttle accompanies Floy as she purchases some necessities that she had to leave her old home without. She had brought some money with her, and so, to Captain Cuttle’s dismay, she won’t take him up on using any money of his. Later, Captain Cuttle appears to be acting strange towards her, continuing to repeat, in regard to the long-lost Walter, “he’s drownded, an’t he?”—as if that brings him some reassurance. He tries to tell her a story, and tries to keep her from turning around to look at the room behind her, where there is a light on, and a shadow in the parlour. Floy comes to realize that what he is trying to tell her is that Walter is alive, and is there, behind her. He was one of two who survived the shipwreck, clinging to a makeshift raft until picked up by a passing vessel.

Floy and Walter reunite with unspeakable joy—but also with a difference. They are both older; Walter had kept the image of her as a revered and beloved child, and she is now a young woman. Captain Cuttle sees no difficulty in this, but that this is the natural course of things—Walter, however, deeply in love but feeling unworthy of her and that she is now in some way under their care, withdraws himself from her more and more. Captain Cuttle is distressed to see this.

Mr Toots, initially frightened at hearing that Floy has disappeared, is let in on the secret by Walter and Captain Cuttle. Toots overcomes any natural feelings of resentment towards the one he sees as his rival—Walter—and shows his disinterested, hopeless love for Floy by offering his service. He promises to fetch her old nurse, Susan Nipper, whom Walter suggested applying to in order to arrange for a suitable companion for Floy.

The Captain wasn’t the only one distressed to see Walter, though always as amiable and enthusiastic as ever, withdrawing himself from Floy unless expressly summoned. Floy fears that it is because Walter blames her for being the cause of his distresses—as she is connected, as a Dombey, to that firm that had sent him on a disastrous voyage. She finally speaks to him of this, and the truth comes out: he had never had any feelings towards her but reverence and love, and he only withdrew himself because he could no longer feel as “brotherly” to her as before. She acknowledges her own love, too, and asks Walter to let her come with him on all his voyages as his wife. The Captain is overjoyed.

Meanwhile, the world has begun to turn from Mr Dombey, or so it feels. Servants are talking of the incident, and it seems as if there is no corner of the metropolis that doesn’t know of the humiliation brought upon him by Edith and Carker. Dombey is informed that Mrs Brown has something to communicate to him regarding where they have gone to, so he visits them, willing to pay for any information that he deems helpful in locating them. Alice corrects Dombey in his impression that money is the most powerful motive among the likes of her and her mother; she says that her mother could use the money, but as for herself, hatred and revenge (for they have the same enemy, Carker) for past personal wrongs towards her which she will not disclose, is her driving force. Following Mrs Brown’s instructions, Dombey listens from a place of concealment to a conversation between Mrs Brown and Rob the Grinder, who, she is sure—and it proves to be a correct assumption—knows more of Edith and Carker’s destination than anyone. After a combination of emotional, guilt-ridden cajoling and threats, she gets the information from Rob: they are headed for Dijon.

John Carker, because of his relation to the treacherous James, is dismissed from Dombey’s firm. Harriet, as a means of encouraging her brother who feels friendless, tells John that they do have a friend: the mysterious, nameless gentleman who visited once, and knows of John’s history, and feels concerned for them and has passed by every Monday morning (but one), in case of Harriet and John needing anything. The gentleman then visits while they are both there, having heard of John’s dismissal, and John recognizes him as one he has seen daily at work: Mr Morfin. Morfin had inadvertently heard the conversation with James Carker, John, and Walter, and, having long observed him, took an interest in him.

“Mr Carker in his Hour of Triumph,” by Phiz.

Harriet is then visited by, of all people, Alice Marwood, who had thrown her money back at her and trampled on it when they were last together. Alice begs to be heard. She tells Harriet how James had used her for his own pleasure and then cast her aside, driving her to wretchedness, misery, and theft; and when she was convicted for the latter and about to be sent abroad for her crimes, James Carker snapped his fingers in mockery at the request for help from Alice’s mother, Mrs Brown. Therefore, Alice has hated him and would have traveled half the world to stab him if she had the chance. However, she has begun to “relent” towards him, and regrets her part in Dombey’s finding out where the fugitives have gone, and begs Harriet that if there is anyone who can go to Dijon to warn Carker to get away, and that Dombey is in pursuance, she should make it happen.

But the vengeance upon Carker has come, whether Alice wishes to prevent it or not. Edith has not only seen Dombey in the streets that night—and tells a bewildered James Carker so—but she is abandoning him too. She had used him only as her getaway, and as the ultimate means to humble Dombey; but Carker’s slightest touch is abhorrent to her, and she despises the man as much as the master.

“I am a woman…who from her very childhood, has been shamed and steeled. I have been offered and rejected, put up and appraised, until my very soul has sickened. I have not had an accomplishment or grace that might have been a resource to me, but it has been paraded and vended to enhance my value, as if the common crier had called it through the streets…Grown too indifferent for any opposition but indifference, to the daily working of the hands that had moulded me to this; and knowing that my marriage would at least prevent their hawking of me up and down; I suffered myself to be sold, as infamously as any woman with a halter round her neck is sold in any market-place.”

Edith threatens Carker with a knife if he comes any nearer, and leaves him to flee from Dombey on his own.

“On the Dark Road,” by Phiz.

Carker, fleeing the pursuit of Dombey, decides to return to England. The passage is a “troubled vision, then, of bridges, quays, interminable streets; of wine-shops, water-carriers, great crowds of people, soldiers, coaches, military drums, arcades…” and “no rest” in any of it, “as if there were a curse upon him that he should never rest again.” Arriving finally at a quiet English stopover en route to a remoter destination after a long journey, he sees eyes everywhere, particularly in the “fiery devil”—the “demon” train. He appears to be obsessed by watching or listening for each passing train. Still trying for that elusive sleep, he hears from a porter at the inn he stays at that two gentlemen on their way to London have just arrived. He goes out, restless, watching the sun rise. At the station, waiting for the next train and having paid his fare, meets the eyes of Dombey. At the shock, he steps back, loses his footing, and falls down below the platform, and is run over by the monster of the railway, where, later, dogs are sniffing at and licking up all that is left of cat-like Carker.

“He…was beaten down, caught up, and whirled away upon a jagged mill, that spun him round and round, and struck him limb from limb, and licked his stream of life up with its fiery heat, and cast his mutilated fragments in the air.”

Meanwhile, the marriage is underway between Walter and Floy, and the good-hearted Toots (who has parted with the “Game Chicken” due to “incompatibility of moral perception”—presumably because Mr Toots was not about to go and pick a fight with Mr Dombey because of past wrongs), is consoled in his dejection by the spirited Miss Nipper. Sol Gills returns, to the astonishment of all, from his adventures abroad, having heard news that Walter was alive and was sailing home. Captain Cuttle is flushed with astonished embarrassment to hear that Sol had been writing letters to Cuttle all along—and that the only reason that he didn’t know this is because the Captain was too afraid of Mrs MacStinger, and had “cut away” from his former lodgings–and it was to those lodgings that Gills had, naturally, sent his missives.

Susan helps Floy to prepare for her upcoming sea voyage with Walter. The crew of the ship that had saved Walter had taken such a liking to him that he was offered a place with one of their trading ships to China. Susan begs to be allowed to accompany Floy, but Floy protests that she and Walter must rely on one another, and she doesn’t want Walter to feel that she has any hesitation in relying wholly upon him. After the wedding, as Walter and Floy leave, the Captain proposes opening the bottle of old Madeira, but Sol feels that the time has still not yet come.

Floy, in the arms of Walter as they sail away, thinks she hears what the waves are saying, and what they’ve always been saying.

“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!”

A year passes. But when “the year was out…the great House was down.” Dombey’s firm is bankrupt, and Dombey too proud to ask for assistance from anyone; he has let the business go, and is more solitary than ever. The Major has no more cause to boast of his “friend” Dombey, and the Major’s social circle is unimpressed by him. Mr Perch, Mrs Chick…none can or would comfort him now. Mr Morfin, still faithful to the affairs of the Dombey firm, has been working early and late, to try and settle whatever business matters he can for Dombey, as effectively as he can, before all is done.

“Let Him Remember It In that Room, Years to Come,” by Phiz.

Harriet Carker, dressed in mourning for her dead brother James—who left no will and whose only relations were herself and John—has now enough of an inheritance to be of hidden assistance to the bankrupt Dombey. Harriet appeals to Mr Morfin to assist her and John in secretly helping Dombey financially; this will be a kind of restitution of the old wrongs, she feels, and make herself and James peaceful and happy. Morfin assures her of his help, should Dombey need it.

Harriet visits the dying Alice Marwood, who is nursed by the same nurse of Paul’s—Mrs Wickham—who had taken Polly’s place. Mrs Brown tells of Alice’s history, as a cousin of Mrs Dombey–the child of Mrs Dombey’s uncle. Alice, comforted by Harriet’s reading of Scripture, has become softened, with remorse and with hope, for “the invisible country far away.” Alice dies.

And as to the Dombey house…the servants are having things their own way, and even “the rats fly from it.” Inventories of the furniture are being made, and things taken out, until “at last it is all gone. Nothing is left about the house but scattered leaves of catalogues, littered scraps of straw and hay, and a battery of pewter pots behind the hall-door.”

“Changes have come again upon the great house in the long dull street, once the scene of Florence’s childhood and loneliness.”

Mrs Pipchin is unsympathetic to Dombey’s misfortune, and intends to take herself “off in a jiffy,” and Mrs Chick feels her brother should have made more of an effort. Only Polly and Miss Tox are faithful at heart, and are saddened at the change, and wonder how Dombey is.

“Miss Tox’s sympathy is such that she can scarcely speak. She is no chicken but she has not grown tough with age and celibacy. Her heart is very tender, her compassion very genuine, her homage very real.”

Dombey has grown more solitary than ever, ruminating in the ruins of his old house on how alone he is, and begins to “see” Floy and her love and fidelity for the first time in its true light—the light of her true character and not the one that his prideful, self-absorbed vision had superimposed on her. He remembers the image of her carrying little Paul up the staircase so long ago.

“Every night, within the knowledge of no human creature, he came forth, and wandered through the despoiled house like a ghost.”

Contemplating suicide, he is prevented from final despair by her entrance, as she seems to bring the sunlight in with her. Hearing of his distresses, now having a child of her own, Floy had returned to him, remorseful of ever leaving him, and he, at long last, softens toward her, and they embrace one another. She helps him away from the dreary house, aided by Polly and Miss Tox, ever faithful.

“‘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.'”

Rob the Grinder has now been reclaimed and is given a trial as a domestic servant for Miss Tox, who corrects his errors of speaking and instructs him on proper behavior towards his mother.

Time passes; other marriages have taken place (our beloved Mr Toots–and Susan Nipper!) or are coming on–Cornelia Blimber and Mr Feeder, or Mrs MacStinger and Bunsby. Captain Cuttle tries to save his old shipmate from the impending disaster which Bunsby can’t see his way out of, and encourages Bunsby to “sheer off” post haste, but to no avail. Mrs MacStinger has her way. (Harriet too will eventually be married–to Mr Morfin.)

Mr Toots cannot say enough of the Sense of his revered wife, and is infinitely attentive to his wife’s needs and careful of her over-exerting herself.

We learn that Mr Dombey is very ill, and cared for by Floy, and “he remained like this for days and weeks.” Cousin Feenix reenters the scene, and has arranged a meeting between Floy and Edith–a final reconciliation and parting. Floy is reluctant at first, as she and her father have reconciled and are “very dear” to one another. Edith assures her of her innocence in regards to Carker–that though she fled with him, she did not sleep with him. Floy begs to be able to take to her father some sign of Edith’s regret, well wishes, or begging for forgiveness. Edith, after some time, relents to the degree that she will allow her to say such words, and to say that she regrets not fully understanding what made Dombey what he is, to the degree that he regrets his former demeanor towards Floy, and to recall what has made Edith what she is. Floy is the one remaining common ground between them.

More time passes, and it is finally time to drink the old Madeira, and Mr Dombey, who has been secretly given money by an anonymous source–but reassured that it is a just compensation for a past wrong–recovered. Now a white-haired gentleman, he joins gratefully in drinking with the party. He dotes on Walter and Floy’s children–his grandchildren–Paul and Florence. Dombey and his grandson speak of the little Paul who had died. And as to Dombey and his little granddaughter?

“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.”

Discussion Wrap-Up

What We Loved–and Didn’t

I think Priscilla speaks for us all here:

Daniel had a wonderful list of insights to share, which I will break up by the various subjects we’ve discussed this week, but I just had to begin with his enthoosymoosy for the fabulous discussion:

Daniel M. comment

Here, the Stationmaster discusses some of the issues he has with Dombey and Son–e.g. the execution of the Walter plot, and the amount of subplots in general, but also his love for the vengeance that Edith gets on both of our businessmen:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Underlings and Mentors; “Mentoring vs. Use”

One of the topics that Daniel discussed in his list is one that we had begun in a previous week: the role of underlings (e.g. Rob the Grinder, or James Carker) and how they go wrong, depending on their own dispositions, or those who are above them. This relates to the roles of “mentor” or teacher–and how many poor examples of mentor-figures we have in Dickens:

Daniel M. comment

Rob relates this trend to “Fagin’s quick acquisition of the same powers over Mr Noah Claypole, aka Morris Bolter, that other notable charity-boy”:

Rob G. comment

Dickens’s “Writing Lab”: Suspense, Payoff, and the Finale; Forgiveness and Remorse; Doubling

We’ve talked about the upping of the dramatic thrust of the narrative, particularly from Chapter 47 and on. Rob talks about several other Dickensian chapters with this kind of momentum, and gorgeous writing, such as Carker’s flight from Dombey:

I mentioned the fabulous scene–as did the Stationmaster, above–when Edith takes vengeance on the man as much as the master:

“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.”

~ Rach M. comment

Dana discussed several of the things that surprised her most in the book, one of which was not that Edith ran away, but that she ran away with “that loathsome creature,” Carker:

Dana R. comment

Dana also continues the theme that she and I had discussed in a previous week: doubling. This time, with Dombey and Carker:

Dana R. comment

The Stationmaster had forgotten that Dombey had contemplated suicide. He also considers the final theme of forgiveness/repentance–where it is most effective, and where not as effective–which is even shown in some of our minor characters:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Dana discussed how only a Dickens could have pulled off the final repentance of Dombey:

Dana R. comment

The Illustrations

I mentioned how marvelous are the details in Phiz’s illustrations, comparing two of them which reflect Dombey’s state of mind/situation:

Dickens and Women: Miss Tox, Miss Nipper, and Women as “Facilitators” of Tasks “Required by the Narrative”

Rob gives Polly Toodle his vote for “top Victorian Mother,” in honor of Mother’s Day in the UK. Hear, hear!

Chris continues in her appreciation of Miss Tox by sharing an article well worth reading:

Chris M. comment

Rob and the Stationmaster respond:

Rob G. and Adaptation Stationmaster comments

The Stationmaster comments on the “emotional complexity of Florence’s reunion with Edith”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Lenny looked at the complexity of the finale too, and “how densely packed information in this novel can be” as we explore the new or developing relationships between characters, and we continue in our appreciation of Miss Tox and her new motherly/mentoring role:

Lenny H. comments

It is interesting, in a way, that Miss Tox should have the key line in the novel, and Chris explicates this beautifully, comparing the first iteration of it, and the last:

Chris M. comment

In Praise of Susan Nipper and Mr Toots

In Daniel’s marvelous list, he speaks for all of us here in #3:

Daniel M. comment

Chris writes of this marvelous pair:

Chris M. comment

Everyone loves Susan Nipper. (I may not be a Solomon, but I can see that much!) Stationmaster thinks so well of her that he’s inclined not to like the idea of Mr Toots still “loving Florence while marrying Susan Nipper”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Lenny responds, delving into the nature of these two beloved characters, Toots and Nipper, and how Cuttle becomes a positive mentor figure for Toots:

“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…

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.”

~ Lenny H. comment

Rob considers the different kinds of love that Mr Toots shows, and how both his love and his character matures from his “boyish” love for Floy, to the solid love for Susan, and how even his speech is different and less awkward as this transformation comes to pass:

Rob G. comment

Lenny responds:

Lenny H. comment

And friends, though I am running out of room and time to gather all the things I would love to gather from this MARVELOUS hommage to Susan Nipper, I highly recommend your visiting Rob’s blog here:

Temporal vs. Eternal: Dombey as “Fairy Tale”; Anima vs. Persona; Seeing and Feeling; What the Waves Were Saying

I discuss the overarching themes of Dombey, reflecting on Harry Stone’s essay in Dickens and the Invisible World:

Rach M. comment

Lenny responds, arguing that it is not only “seeing and NOT seeing,” but “feeling and NOT feeling,” and bringing us back around to that theme of Persona vs. Anima:

Lenny H. comment

I respond, thinking that perhaps, depending on how we are phrasing it, “seeing” (true seeing, right seeing) is the same as “feeling”:

Rach M. comment

Perhaps it is best to give the “last word” to Daniel’s second point in his list here, which, one might say, sums up the rest:

Daniel M. comment

Final Thematic Wrap-Up

  1. Contrasts: Light & Dark; Heat and Cold; Life and Death (This is an ongoing theme in our Dickensian journey, ever since the Sketches. We discussed these Dickensian contrasts mostly in the first week–the contrast between fire and chill/heat and cold at the opening–little Paul toasted like a muffin–Priscilla on twitter loved this image!–versus his father’s cold and distant looking-on from the shadows.)
  2. Self-Definition Through Characterization; Dickens as the “Haunted Man” (Though we’ve not discussed this very pointedly with Dombey, this is an ongoing theme that will, perhaps, come more to the fore as we move forward in the Dickens chronology. How his own life echoes things in his stories, or how Dickens “makes” and shapes himself through his writing. Authors such as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Peter Ackroyd have written of this extensively. Daniel and Lenny discussed Dickens as the “haunted man”.)
  3. The Joys of Reading Dickens Aloud (Boze and I read Dombey aloud together, delighting in the theatricality of the characterization and how some things can only truly be brought out in audio. Rob has been especially eloquent about this, as a professional audiobook narrator. Dana and Daniel have both been listening to and reveling in audiobook versions of the work.)
  4. Dickens’ Women; “Gender Essentialism”; Dombey & Son is “A Daughter After All” (Boze first brought up this point in his Introduction, and it has arguably been the most discussed topic during our month with Dombey. Is Dombey a “women’s novel” after all? Chris, Lenny and I all have considered that it is; Edith is the Stationmaster’s favorite character; Lenny and I see the women in the novel as the “protagonists”–in terms of those who are making things happen, and/or reacting to the business-patriarchal model. Stationmaster wrote of the “juvenility in age” of many of Dickens’s women.)
  5. “The Transactional Nature of Much of our Social Life”; Transactional vs. Relational (Daniel had first brought up this phrase in reference to an earlier novel, and we’ve discussed it with Dombey too. Chris, Lenny, the Stationmaster, Dana…we’ve all hit on the “transactional” marriage between Dombey and Edith; versus the freely-given love, with no money or status inducements, of Floy and Walter.)
  6. Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Characterization & Character Arcs; Dombey vs. the “apprentice novels”; Suspense; Atmosphere, theme and motif (We’ve talked about various aspects of Dickens’s craft each week, and though there are things that some felt were less effective than others–e.g. the Stationmaster not being entirely in love with the way Walter’s plot progressed–we have mostly agreed that Dickens’s has refined his working methods. Deliberate plotting, suspenseful pacing, coherence of theme/imagery. Deacon Matthew and others have thought Dombey his “best yet”–away from hit usual “pantsing” style, to a more plotted approach.)
  7. Progress vs. the “Old-Fashion”; Haste vs. Rest; Change vs. the Unchanging; the “Demon” Railway versus the Sea (We’ve all been discussing this quality that was attributed to little Paul, but which was also used to describe Sol Gill’s shop: “old-fashioned.” It is a quality both inner and outer; in hearts as well as in businesses. The Stationmaster, Lenny, myself, and Daniel have all discussed it. It is, perhaps, that which is actually eternal and unchanging in the midst of progress; a way of life that is “old-souled” and thoughtful and slower than the speed of the demon train; which seems to go out of style, but never does. Boze and Rach alluded to the monster railway; Chris shared the marvelous Turner painting, referenced by Peter Ackroyd in his Intro to Dombey, shared by Chris. The speed of progress, represented by the railway, appears to be in contrast with the eternal, unchanging, yet ever-moving Sea, and the rivers that flow inexorably to meet it.)
  8. What the Waves Were Saying (This is connected to #7. Several of us have alluded to this theme; it was little Paul’s meditation, and Floy can finally answer it herself, as I mentioned in Week 4, when she herself is at sea, and with Walter. Deacon Matthew discussed this in reference to what little Paul was seeing at the end of the first quarter of the novel.)
  9. Dombey as a Modern Fairy-Tale; Enchantment (Boze introduced this in his Introduction to Dombey & Son, echoing Harry Stone’s Dickens & the Invisible World; Boze wrote that Dombey was Dickens’s “first fully successful attempt to weave together magic and the more mundane world of shipbuilding and offices and dingy riverside pubs.” I continued the theme particularly in the Week 4 comments; it is a fairy-tale/parable of what is of real value, and of what is unchanging in the midst of “progress.” I discussed this at length in the final week. Daniel had brought out the “enchantment” of Dickens in our first week.)
  10. A “Pilgrim’s Progress” From One Novel to Another (In keeping with #2 and #6, I will continue this theme throughout our journey, though we’ve addressed this more in context of the “writing lab” in the case of Dombey. But Dickens not only has a regular Pilgrim’s Progress theme and structure–less so here–but there is a kind of progress from one novel to another, in terms of his growing skill and mastery.)
  11. Doubling (Dana and I discussed the daugher-mother doubling in Edith/Mrs Skewton and Alice/Mrs Brown. This “doubling” is a kind of Dickensian specialty. Dana brings it up again this week re: Dombey and Carker.)
  12. Dickens & Shakespeare (Rob in particular has kept going the theatrical/Shakespearean connections in Dickens’s work, though several of us love this ongoing reference. The Stationmaster and I have commented on this also.)
  13. How we “See” and Value–or Don’t; Money versus Real Worth (We’ve all discussed this to one degree or another. Just as “money” is a consistent issue for Dickens, and was a key theme in Martin Chuzzlewit, it is given a slightly different emphasis here in Dombey: What is its real value, in the end? What has real worth, in the end?)
  14. Forgiveness and Repentance (Dana and the Stationmaster alluded to this theme particularly in our fourth week.)
  15. Persona vs. Anima; Seeing and Feeling; the “Opaque” Dombey (Lenny has masterfully analyzed the Persona/Anima contest here in Dombey and Son. Dana finds Dombey a particularly “opaque” character; as Dana says, “a shadow of a human being”; Lenny says he is “ALL Persona.” Lenny called this the “tragic split” in Dombey’s personality.)
  16. Fidelity: Floy, Polly, Captain Cuttle, Walter, Miss Tox, Toots, the Nipper (We’ve all shown love for our faithful characters; Chris has been a real champion of Miss Tox, though we’ve all grown to appreciate her more and more. There is a universal admiration for the Nipper; Rob in particular has really done justice to her in his recent post.)
  17. Underlings: Power, Subservience, Revenge, Rebellion (We’ve discussed this in relation to Rob the Grinder; Daniel, Lenny, Stationmaster, and Rob have particularly focused on his characterization, and on “mentoring vs. use” and the effects of bad parenting, leadership, or mentorship in Dickens. We’ve seen this most notably in Fagin in Oliver Twist; this will come up again and again in Dickens. Look out for other possible examples in future works, a few of whom are sympathetic–e.g. Pancks in Little Dorrit–but many of whom are either “educated” into villainy–e.g. Jerry Cruncher’s son in A Tale of Two Cities–or ambitious and lusting for control, e.g. Uriah Heep in our next novel, David Copperfield.)
  18. Cinematic Dickens (Lenny and Stationmaster have especially alluded to the vibrancy of images and the cinematic quality of Dickens’s narration.)
  19. Dickens and Time (Rob has written on this, particularly in our first week; the emphasis on time and clocks; the passage of time; the eternal sea.)
  20. “Isolation in the Midst of Connectedness” (Chris, Daniel and others have written of this. Chris wrote: “no one lives in isolation, no one can live in isolation, all things and people are connected whether they will or not.”)
  21. Dickens and Romanticism (Lenny has kept this theme going from our earliest works, and Deacon Matthew and I have discussed it here too. Deacon Matthew referenced “the cloud of poetry” that hovers over the narrative; the power of Dickens’s imagery.)
  22. Dickens as “Master Heart-Breaker” (Several of us have written of this, and I think it is needless to say that we will have abundant proofs of this in the novels to come. On twitter, Priscilla and Lucy have been commenting on how unexpectedly moving it is.)

A Look-Ahead to Our Break and Upcoming Reads

From today (21 March) to 3 April, we have our usual 2-week break between reads! It’ll be a 3-week break if you decide not to join us for the final Christmas book, The Haunted Man, which we will read just prior to beginning David Copperfield, in order to stay faithful to publication chronology.

This Saturday, 25 March, is our Zoom group chat on Dombey and Son! Join us 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern / 6pm GMT. I’ve sent email links to those whose email I have who are interested; please email me (or message me on twitter) if you’d like the link! We’d love to have you join us.

On 10 April, I’ll have a final Christmas book wrap-up, to be followed the next day by Boze’s introduction to a novel very close to Dickens’s heart, David Copperfield! We’d love to have you join us for this marvelous work.


  1. This final wrap-up proved to be a bigger undertaking than I’d anticipated, and I already caught one omission and one repetition, both of which I’ve corrected! 🙂 Forgive any errors, friends, and let me know if I have missed something–“when found, make a note of!” 🙂

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  2. Good heavens, Rach, don’t fret over any omissions. What you’ve done here is just so marvelous, that I doubt anyone could find any fault with the massive amount of material you’ve put together. It’s just a gargantuan task that you’ve committed yourself to, and I worry that you are just doing too much! So take it easy on yourself and don’t feel any guilt about leaving something out. These are big, complicated novels, where many books have tried to take them on–aside from the hundreds of articles that have been published on them. Your efforts here are really in-line with the academic ventures that are out there in Dickens’ scholarship circles, and to my mind, far surpass them. So take it easy on yourself and be advised that all of us are just so proud to be a part of this reading club. And you (and Boze) can rest on your laurels and know that your work is being appreciated to the max!

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    1. This is Daniel (on Dana Rail’s computer). I wish to utter a resounding AMEN to everything that you, Lenny, wrote!

      I’m not reading the wrap-up for now, because I still have a few chapters to go and want to experience them before I read Rachel’s amazing recapitulation.

      Blessings, All!


      P.S. I’m eager to read Rob’s homage to Susan Nipper–again after I’ve completed the novel.

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    2. Oh Lenny 😭 and Daniel and all– thank you so much for the kind words! What an amazingly thoughtful and committed group we have! I do think it could prove to be an invaluable resource for current & future literature students and teachers, and all those committed to “close reading” of Dickens in particular. And I don’t know of anything quite like this having been done: a concerted group effort to tackle all of Dickens’s novels (and his other major works), analyzing them so closely in chronological order. It really is an amazing journey, and I think will be a fantastic resource for others!

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  3. Afterthoughts on Dombey – the stuff fan fiction is made of –

    More than any other Dickens novel, “Dombey and Son” sends me down rabbit holes to other universes. I always feel like I’ve missed several episodes or am coming to the series in mid-season. Like Mrs Perch and the Dombey domestics and office staff my inquiring mind wants to know!

    What were the past Dombey households like, specifically, the one that raised our Paul and his sister, Louisa, the future Mrs Chick? How did the firm of Dombey and Son begin and how did it grow, over three generations, to be so important that our Paul became so absorbed in it and so inflated in his own sense of importance: “He had risen, as his father had before him, in the course of life and death, from Son to Dombey, and for nearly twenty years had been the sole representative of the Firm”? (Ch 1)

    How did our Paul and Fanny come together, what was their courtship like, what was Fanny’s backstory, and whatever possessed her to marry him? Her unread letter in Ch 5 haunts me so! What is it that Mrs Chick has to forgive her for? Is it just because she had a daughter first or because she isn’t quite a Dombey, or is there something more? How did Fanny endure 10 year marriage to Mr Dombey? In light of their stiffness towards each other, how on earth did they have any children at all? What were those first 6 years like for little Florence and her mother?

    What is the full story of the John Carker embezzlement? How was it exposed? What part did brother James play in it, in its discovery, in its aftermath? How was John’s “punishment” negotiated and to what end? Was it to save the Firm from scandal, was John to be simply an example or, perhaps, did James’s vindictive nature exert itself to use his brother as a stepping stone? Why did the situation escalate to the point where Harriet was forced to choose between her brothers?

What is the Edith-Colonel Granger story beyond the obvious match-making of Mrs Skewton? This May-December marriage (I’ve calculated that she was not quite 20 and he was 40ish when they married) ended with Granger’s death at 41 “before his inheritance descended to him”. (Ch 27) What were the details of his inheritance such that at 41 he had not yet have come into his money (look, for example, at Mr Toots’s coming into his property just a few years after leaving Blimbers’ (Ch 50))? And what of their little boy who at age four or five was drowned “[b]y the upsetting of a boat in which his nurse had no business to have put him”? (Ch 21) Even if Edith didn’t care much for the father one wonders what she felt for her son and then what she felt about his death. (Ch 21)

    Going back even further, what’s the story of the Skewton boys – one who married into the Feenix family and one who took advantage of “a fresh country lass” – who were “so alike . . . as you could see two brothers, so near in age”? (Ch 58) How did Good Mrs Brown learn know that the young Mrs Skewton “was handsome” – did they know each other in the past or was Good Mrs Brown already a watcher and a sneak?

    How did Walter come to live with Uncle Sol, what happened to his parents? We get a description of Walter’s adventure on the Son and Heir and bits about Uncle Sol’s adventures when looking for Walter, but how did Walter and, especially, Florence fare on their adventure to China? And what about Captain Cuttle? How did he and Uncle Sol become friends? And, more importantly, how did he lose his hand?

    And then there’s Miss Tox’s backstory of which we get tantalizing bits in Chapters 7 and 29. But, was she the favored niece or the only niece of the “owner of the fishy eye in the locket . . . with the powdered head and a pigtail”? (Ch 7) How did she end up at Mrs Pipchin’s establishment and what happened to her while she was there? Why did none of the “youthful vowers of eternal constancy, dressed chiefly in nankeen” ever propose to her? (Ch 29) How did she meet Mrs Chick and become her “particular friend”? (Ch 1)

    Of Susan and Mr Toots, I think we get pretty much the whole story, except to wonder who Toots’s guardian is and why Toots “always considered [him] as a Pirate and a Corsair”? (Ch 60) What had he done to justify this opinion, or – maybe he really was one?!

    Will the Native ever get away from the awful Major Bagstock – or perhaps murder the Major in his bed or poison the “private zests and flavours . . . with which the Major daily scorched himself” or the “spirited unknown liquids” which he dispenses out of “strange machines” for the Major to drink? (Ch 26) One can only hope!

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    1. I forgot one – What were Alice’s adventures during her exile? Where exactly was she – Australia, or somewhere else? Was her “relationship” with Carker – I think it had to be more than just a quickie because she hates him so!

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    2. Chris, I feel like this could be a whole separate post–just exactly as you wrote it here, sparking conversations and “what-ifs”!!! Talk about, as you say, fan fic!!!!

      As to Mrs Brown, I think she must have known the younger Mrs Skewton if only from a distance, since, if I read it right(?), Alice and Edith are cousins (another “doubling”)–Alice was the child of her father’s brother? but A & E were clearly raised so differently… but maybe some characters’ lives overlapped a little/crossed paths once in a while?

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      1. Dombey & Son, for me, just goes on and on and on. The comments I made above are very condensed versions of my musings and questions. I imagine so many different scenarios of paths the characters could have followed to get them where they are, or could follow in the future based on what we know of them – and then, jumbling all these together leads to other, different scenarios. It’s maddening but wonder-ful!

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  4. Just a personal hug to Rach.
    I’m still mulling over the riches & wonders of Dombey & Son. But in the meanwhile, I just want to say that even in six weeks, your endeavour has given me so much pleasure, Rach. And that’s only little me. I can’t even guess at the commitment involved, and perhaps you’re one of those people who is good with time (one of the best blessings for a child would be, I think, May she or he be good at time), but it’s wonderful, and it stands up and is real, and is just amazing. It most certainly improves the world! Big hug.

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    1. Lucy, I so, so appreciate this & it makes my day completely!!!! 🖤🖤 I’m SO thrilled you joined our merry little band of Dickensians!!! We just *loved* the spirit and insights you brought to the chat last Saturday, and Boze and I were just talking about that again. I love how Dickens brings people together 🙂

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