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Dombey and Son > D&S Chapters 39-41

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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3400 comments Mod
Chapter 39

The COVID-19 pandemic continues and I hope all of you and those you love are safe and healthy. Here in Canada the various provinces have begun to slowly ease restrictions on self-isolation, movement, assembly, and business. These are the first steps, and I for one am in no rush to get back to normal, whatever that new normal will be. We have not seen our granddaughter since early March and am looking forward to seeing her (and of course our son and daughter-in-law :- )). I really need a haircut. How about you?

Meanwhile, we have Dickens, and Dombey and Son, and in this chapter a visit from Mrs MacStinger so let’s see what’s up in the Wooden Midshipman.

Time marches on and Captain Cuttle realizes that he can open the sealed packet from his old friend Sol Gills. What to do? What does the letter contain? We know the captain will honour his promise to Sol Gills. For good people like the Captain, a person’s word is their bond. Cuttle wonders if his intervention with Carker was the wisest course of action for Walter and Florence. Consequently, he avoids the Dombey house. Thus in this “self-imposed retirement, the Captain passed whole days and weeks without interchanging a word with anyone but Rob the Grinder.” Here, I admit, the last quotation was given partly as a reflection to us all during the COVID-19 crisis...

The Captain continues his attention to Rob the Grinder. Cuttle keeps a record of the city’s activity and the weather much like he would if he were aboard a ship. Mr Toots becomes a frequent visitor with Cuttle and their conversation generally revolves around a discussion of Florence. Toots calls Captain Cuttle by the name Captain Gills. Poor Toots. He is so in love with Florence his brain is more addled than it would normally be. Toots says “[i]f I could be dyed black, and made Miss Dombey’s slave, I should consider it a compliment. If, at the sacrifice of all my property, I could get transmigrated into Miss Dombey’s dog - I - I really think I should never leave off wagging my tail.” The friendship between Cuttle and Toots seems odd on one level, but it does make me smile and is a welcome distraction from Carker.


Captain Cuttle is portrayed as a man of honour. In what ways might such character traits be used by Dickens as we get further into the novel?

Poor Toots. Do you think his character is meant to create laughter, derision, pity, innocence, or another reaction from the reader?

In this chapter and the previous one it seems Dickens is bringing together various characters like Cuttle and Toots who seemingly have little in common. What might be his purpose?

Captain Cuttle is surprised to learn that Rob the Grinder wonders if the Captain might like some of his pigeons. We then learn that Rob is planning to leave the Wooden Midshipman. Rob’s attitude is quite aggressive and self-serving. He says that Cuttle has “throw’d [dirt] because I’m poor, and can’t afford to stand in my own light for your good.” Our good Captain warns Rob to say no more and that Rob may find himself at “a rope’s end.” Why has Rob made such an abrupt departure from the wooden Midshipman?

The Captain prepares for the future as the sole guardian of the Midshipman. He is alone. The envelope from Sol remains unopened. The year of waiting to open the letter is expired. He turns to his old friend Captain Bunsby for support and advice. Inside the envelope are two folded papers. One was the Last Will and Testament of Solomon Gills. The other was a letter addressed to Cuttle. The letter to Captain Cuttle informs him that Sol went to The West Indies in search of Walter. It further states that if Ned is reading the letter after a year it means, in all probability, that Sol is dead. The letter informs him that if Walter ever returns he is to make what living he can from the Wooden Midshipman. If Walter does not return, then the Midshipman is to be Cuttle’s. One has to begrudgingly admire Bunsby’s logic that if Sol is “dead, my opinion is he won’t come back no more.” Sounds like the logic of that other great philosopher Yogi Berra.

The tone of this chapter changes significantly with the unexpected arrival of Mrs MacStinger who bursts through the unlocked Midshipman's door and heads directly towards Captain Cuttle. His face takes on a look of “horror.” He tries to escape but his legs are pinned by two of MacStinger’s children. The delightful (?) Mrs MacStinger is all aflutter and wants to know if Captain Cuttle is coming home. Cuttle is at a loss for words and is cowered by MacStinger’s presence, but then a seeming miracle occurs. Captain Bunsby advances and “boldly, put his shaggy blue arm round Mrs MacStinger, and so softened her by his magic way of doing it.” Mrs MacStinger melts in tears and she allows herself and her children to be returned to Brig Place. Captain Cuttle is flummoxed by this event and has “immeasurable admiration” for Bunsby. Is it possible that Captain Bunsby can control Mrs MacStinger?

When Cuttle does not hear from his friend for some time after he left the Midshipman with Mrs MacStinger in tow, he worries that Bunsby may have been “attacked and defeated by Mrs MacStinger.” One day Captain Cuttle hears Bunsby hail him from the street and discovers that Bunsby has brought Cuttle’s chest from Mrs MacStinger’s house. This duty performed, Bunsby went to rejoin his ship the Cautious Clara. As our chapter ends we see Captain Cuttle standing alone by the door of the Midshipman waiting for Captain Bunsby, or Sol Gills, or Walter, or even the Grinder, but no one comes. He is alone.


This chapter brings us the somber realization that Sol Gills is probably dead as well as Walter. Also, we are presented with the fact that Rob the Grinder has suddenly left the Midshipman. The chapter ends with the humourous invasion of the Midshipman by the feared Mrs MacStinger and the curious magic and talent of Captain Bunsby as he rescues his friend Cuttle from the clutches of Mrs MacStinger. What questions do you have about the unresolved events highlighted in this chapter?

Captains Cuttle and Bunsby have a unique and very strong bond. What might the purpose be of creating an example of a strong, trusting bond between two men? How would you characterize the bond between Mr Dombey and James Carker?

message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3400 comments Mod
Chapter 40

Domestic Relations

This chapter divides itself into two parts. The first part is a conversation between Mr Dombey and his wife. I cannot think of a single extended in-depth character study in a Dickens novel like this before Dombey and Son. It is raw, psychologically intense, and a wonderful example of Dickens’s progress as a writer. Let's have a look, shall we?

I’ll start with a sweeping generalization. The confrontation between Dombey and Edith is a clash of wills and pride. Both have iron resolves, both, in their own ways, demand to be respected, perhaps even feared by the other. Is Dickens completely objective? I would argue that he sides with Edith, if for no other reason than for the fact that the shadow of Florence is present in their clash. Edith, a mother, is both compromised and ennobled by the fact she has consideration for Florence. Dombey, on the other hand, is completely self-absorbed with himself.

Dombey is a man with “a cold hard armour of pride in which he lived encased.” This pride “enslave[d] the breast in which it has its throne; and worshipped or rejected, is as hard a master as the Devil in dark fables.” In his first marriage Dombey had “asserted his greatness ... and she had meekly recognized it.” For Edith, Dombey imagined that her proud character “would have been added to his own - would have merged into it, and exalted his greatness. He had pictured himself haughtier than ever with Edith’s haughtiness subservient to his.” Ah, that single word “subservient.” Could this be Dombey’s flaw? Dombey never believed that Edith’s strength and pride would rise up against him rather than to bow to his desires.

Dombey realizes that Florence is the person who has diverted attention away from his imperial demands. He questions himself: “Did he hate her in his heart?” The answer is yes, he did hate her. Dombey’s twisted mind questions “[w]hen had she ever shown him duty and submission? Did she grace his life - or Edith's? Had her attractions been manifested first to him - or Edith?” Dombey’s “pride was set upon maintaining his magnificent supremacy.” Dombey decided that he will confront Edith and he is “determined to bend her to his magnificent and stately will.”

And so the confrontation is set.

Dombey notices how Edith's room is scattered with the luxury he has provided for her. Symbolically, and literally, Edith has rejected the edifice Dombey created. He tells Edith that “[y]our conduct does not please me, Madam.” Edith mocks him. “You insist! To me!” The stage is set for the storm. The one fact that Dombey does not realize is the one word that “was whispering in the deep recesses of [Edith’s] heart, to keep her quiet; and that word was Florence.”

Dombey shifts his vocabulary and he now refers to Edith as Mrs Granger and he refers to himself as Mr Dombey. This shift to the third person is shocking. Dombey demands that “I am to be deferred to and obeyed.”


We need to take a breath here. A deep breath. I think it best just to sit back. What are your impressions of Dombey, Edith, and all the events that are unfolding before us in this chapter? Whew.

Dombey tells Edith that her trip to Brighton with her mother will be overseen by Carker. Full stop. With the mention of Carker, Edith “changed suddenly.” Mrs Skewton will act as the housekeeper in Brighton. Listening to Dombey’s plans, Edith subconsciously turns a bracelet round and round her wrist until it rubs “a bar of red” on her wrist. The bracelet symbolizes a restrictive handcuff. Edith is trapped, captured. She cannot escape the power or plans of Dombey or Carker. Into the rawness of her wound Dombey pours the salt of Carker. Dombey tells Edith that “I shall not scruple to avail myself of his services if I see occasion.” Edith is so trapped. First, her mother is ill and needs attention. Second, she must protect Florence as well as possible. Finally, Carker is going to be her overseer, her jailer. Dombey’s intention to have Carker act as an overseer to Edith suggests that Dombey sees his wife as no more than a commodity to be dealt with by his manager. Edith is not so much his wife as a necessary commodity and accessory to the firm of Dombey and Son.

In her defence, Edith questions Dombey. She asks “ did I tempt you to seek my hand ... . Did you think I loved you? Did you know I did not. Did you ever care, Man!” Dombey’s response is that the questions are “all wide of the purpose, Madam.” Such a cold, cruel, and I would suggest calculated response.

For her part, Edith tells Dombey that they share no tenderness but points out that “we are linked together; and in that knot that ties us, as I have said, others are bound up. We both must die; we are both connected with the dead already, each by a little child. Let us forbear.” Edith offers an olive branch. Dombey replies by saying “”I have stared my ultimatum, Madam, and have only to request your very serious attention to it.”


What just happened in Edith's room?

Next, Dickens takes us to view Mrs Skewton who is “lean and shrunken, more uncertain in her imbecility, and made stranger confusions in her mind and memory.” One outward manifestation of her illness is that she confuses and mixes up the names of her two son-in-laws. One part of the medical advice concerning Mrs Skewton is that she should be taken out daily for a carriage ride. One one of these outings Edith and Mrs Skewton see before them two other figures. Both sets of figures regard each other, and then approach. Each set of figures consisted of a mother and a daughter. When within earshot of each other Edith asks the younger stranger what she has to sell. The answer is “I sold myself long ago.” The stranger’s mother says that her daughter did not sell herself but is her dutiful daughter. At this point Edith realizes she has seen the older woman before, and the place she saw her was in Warwickshire, in the morning, among the trees. For her part, the old lady recalls that upon that occasion Edith did not give her anything, but a gentleman did give her something. Here we have an example of Dickens drawing from earlier chapters to bring seemingly separate characters and elements of the together. As readers we are both tantalized and now alert to the possible meanings of this connection. Mr Carker is a figure that is tangentially connected to both pairs of women? Can this be a coincidence? What might it suggest to our unfolding plot?

Mrs Skewton seems delighted to have met this other older woman and gives her money. During this meeting Dickens tells us that Edith and the other younger woman never took their eyes off each other “for a moment.”

As our chapter ends Dickens refers to the other young woman as “Edith’s shadow.” As they depart the other young woman says to Edith “You’re a handsome woman ... but good looks won’t save us. And you’re proud woman; but pride won’t save us. We need to know each other when we meet again.”


What is Dickens up to with this meeting of two mothers and two daughters? Dickens's character matrix is evolving. Let’s hear your ideas and speculations of what is going on at this point of the novel. Always remember, Dickens does love coincidences and character cross-overs.

message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3400 comments Mod
Chapter 41

New Voices in the Waves

I’m going to begin this chapter by focussing on the first paragraph. As we will see, it has many layers.

“All is going on as it wont. The waves are hoarse with repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled upon the shore; the seabirds soar and hover; the winds and clouds go forth upon their trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight of the invisible country far away.”

So, is there a subtext to these words? Does symbolism make an appearance? Is it possible to connect these words somehow to other areas of the text? First, we have a reference to waves, and thus to the sea. Paul heard waves and much of our novel is peopled with those connected to sailing. The waves “are hoarse with repetition of their mystery.” What is this mystery? Then the word “dust” is mentioned. Where does this dust come from and why does it pile “upon the shore.” We then read that “white arms beckon in the moonlight.” What or who do these arms refer to and why do they appear “in the moonlight” and what and where is “the invisible country far away.” Perhaps there are hints in the earlier chapters of the novel.

Dickens begins the second paragraph with the evocative phrase “tender melancholy pleasure.” The words suggest a seeming contradiction but when placed in the context of describing Florence reflecting on her brother Paul and how they spent time by the sea with the “water welling up about his couch” we develop more understanding of the first paragraph. The sea tells a story of little Paul and his words, we read, are repeated in Florence’s ears. Could it be that the “white arms” belong to Paul and the “invisible country far away” is heaven? If so, the subtext seems to suggest we will all be beckoned someday. We will all hear the waves.

To “gentle Toots” who follows Florence from afar the waves tell him of an earlier time when he was brighter. He approaches Florence and offers to take a walk to Blimber’s. When they arrive Florence looks up to the window where she would see Paul and wave to him. When they enter Blimber’s they are treated with “the sober ticking of the great clock in the hall.” Time. The reference to time, eternal time. This novel is framed and marked by time and its passage through one’s life.

After the visit to Blimber’s Mr Toots escorts Florence back home and then, in a flood of confusing and floundering words, finds himself on the brink of a confession of love if not a proposal of marriage. Florence politely stops Toots from speaking further. Toots, for his part, assures Florence that what he was attempting to say was of “no consequence.” That evening Toots dines with Mr Feeder. Feeder tells Toots that he has his eye on Cornelia Blimber. After leaving Toots Mr Feeder takes a stroll upon the beach where he “plainly hears the waves informing him” that Dr Blimber will give up the business one day and he will take over.

Mrs Skewton and Edith hear the waves as well, and what they hear is unpleasant. Skewton believes she sees a stone arm raised to strike her. In the conversation that follows there seems to be a softening of the sharp edges that exist between mother and daughter. As Mrs Skewton’s illness worsens, we see Edith more attentive to her mother. At this point in the chapter a very remarkable thing happens. Dickens takes the exact words he used to begin this chapter and repeats them word for word. Then he focusses on Mrs Skewton’s health again and repeats that she imagines the stone arm, “part of a figure of some tomb,” is raised to strike her. Edith reminds her mother of how on the night before her wedding they agreed to put their past behind them. Edith then asks her mother to kiss her. With this gentle act of love, Mrs Skewton dies.

News of Mrs Skewton’s death reach Mr Dombey and cousin Feenix. They decide to have Mrs Skewton buried in Brighton. For the third time in this chapter Dickens incorporates the words found at the beginning of the chapter and again in mid-chapter. To end the chapter, however, one sentence is added. Dickens writes that Edith stood “upon the margin of the unknown sea, and ... standing there alone, and listening to its waves, has dank weed cast upon her feet, to strew her path in life withal.”


What do you think the purpose was to repeat verbatim the same phrase three times in the paragraph? Is there any significance to the fact that the same words were used to frame the opening and the conclusion of the chapter?

Did you find the reconciliation between Mrs Skewton and her mother satisfying? Believable?

The chapter ends with Edith listening to the waves with “dank weed cast upon her feet.” What do you think Edith hears the waves say?

Here we find yet another reference to feet. Do you think there is any significance to it?

message 4: by Jantine (last edited May 23, 2020 09:48AM) (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 638 comments I'm happy Edith and her mother parted with forgivenness.

I also wrote the quote below down while reading:
and saying of Miss Dombey, 'But really though, now - aint she like her brother, only prettier?'

To me it felt like some sort of presentiment. If she is so much like her brother, and so tied to the sea as he was, what will her fate be? I hope it will be better.

message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1335 comments Peter wrote: "Dombey’s response is that the questions are “all wide of the purpose, Madam.” Such a cold, cruel, and I would suggest calculated response."

Before I read this commentary, I would have said Dombey's response is less calculated than clueless: he can't keep up with Edith intellectually so he just tells her what she's saying is irrelevant.

But maybe you're right. Maybe it's less that Dombey can't keep up with Edith than that he doesn't have to, because he has all the power.

Which is pretty tragic for both of them. He's no less unhappy in his complacency than she is in her despair.

message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1335 comments Peter wrote: "What is Dickens up to with this meeting of two mothers and two daughters?"

It's cold of me but I was mostly just relieved in this section that we no longer have to worry about Florence being delivered into Mrs. Skewton's clutches and generating another debased old-woman--young-woman pair.

But I guess there's still Carker looking on in the wings for her, like a vulture waiting for a ship to wreck.

message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1335 comments Peter wrote: "After the visit to Blimber’s Mr Toots escorts Florence back home and then, in a flood of confusing and floundering words, finds himself on the brink of a confession of love if not a proposal of marriage. Florence politely stops Toots from speaking further. Toots, for his part, assures Florence that what he was attempting to say was of “no consequence.”"

Toots and Florence, though mis-matched, are so good to each other.

message 8: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 638 comments Julie, indeed they are.
I noticed myself wishing a lot that they weren't so mis-matched. If only Florence loved Toots too, just enough that she wants to marry him (I wanted to say 'as much as he loves her', but such an infatuation is not even needed I think). Dombey couldn't say no, could he? I mean, Toots has inherited quite a lot of money apparently, and morally he is way above and beyond Dombey, so he couldn't been seen as not good enough for Dombey's daughter, and Dombey would be rid of her. While she would have the means to get away from that toxic place, into a marriage with someone who loves her a lot and wants to make her happy. It would've been so awesome!

And now I'm writing this down, I think it also is a way Dickens shows Florence is better than her father. Florence's mother was as infatuated with him as Toots is with her, and Dombey took it for granted as something he's entitled too and used it up, while Florence does not take it for granted, nor has she the intention to use Toots' devotion for her for her own gain.

message 9: by Francis (new)

Francis | 37 comments Peter wrote: "Chapter 41

New Voices in the Waves

I’m going to begin this chapter by focussing on the first paragraph. As we will see, it has many layers.

“All is going on as it wont. The waves are hoarse wit..."

Does the "dust" have anything to do with Time? The passage of toime Dickens is using dust as a tool?

message 10: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3400 comments Mod
Francis wrote: "Peter wrote: "Chapter 41

New Voices in the Waves

I’m going to begin this chapter by focussing on the first paragraph. As we will see, it has many layers.

“All is going on as it wont. The waves ..."

Hi Francis

Yes. I can see such a reading of the word dust. To me, time is one of the central motifs of the novel and dust certainly fits into the concept of time, time past, and one’s time after death as being as dust to dust.

message 11: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6271 comments Mod

"And you're a-going to desert your colours, are you, my lad," said the Captain

Chapter 39

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

But rich as Captain Cuttle was in the latter quality, he received a surprise that same evening from a no less ingenuous and simple youth, than Rob the Grinder. That artless lad, drinking tea at the same table, and bending meekly over his cup and saucer, having taken sidelong observations of his master for some time, who was reading the newspaper with great difficulty, but much dignity, through his glasses, broke silence by saying—

‘Oh! I beg your pardon, Captain, but you mayn’t be in want of any pigeons, may you, Sir?’

‘No, my lad,’ replied the Captain.

‘Because I was wishing to dispose of mine, Captain,’ said Rob.

‘Ay, ay?’ cried the Captain, lifting up his bushy eyebrows a little.

‘Yes; I’m going, Captain, if you please,’ said Rob.

‘Going? Where are you going?’ asked the Captain, looking round at him over the glasses.

‘What? didn’t you know that I was going to leave you, Captain?’ asked Rob, with a sneaking smile.

The Captain put down the paper, took off his spectacles, and brought his eyes to bear on the deserter.

‘Oh yes, Captain, I am going to give you warning. I thought you’d have known that beforehand, perhaps,’ said Rob, rubbing his hands, and getting up. ‘If you could be so good as provide yourself soon, Captain, it would be a great convenience to me. You couldn’t provide yourself by to-morrow morning, I am afraid, Captain: could you, do you think?’

‘And you’re a going to desert your colours, are you, my lad?’ said the Captain, after a long examination of his face.

message 12: by Kim (last edited May 27, 2020 05:31PM) (new)

Kim | 6271 comments Mod

original sketch

The Midshipman is boarded by the enemy

Chapter 39


working drawing

Text illustrated:

And now a surprise occurred, so overwhelming and terrific that Captain Cuttle, unsupported by the presence of Bunsby, must have sunk beneath it, and been a lost man from that fatal hour.

How the Captain, even in the satisfaction of admitting such a guest, could have only shut the door, and not locked it, of which negligence he was undoubtedly guilty, is one of those questions that must for ever remain mere points of speculation, or vague charges against destiny. But by that unlocked door, at this quiet moment, did the fell MacStinger dash into the parlour, bringing Alexander MacStinger in her parental arms, and confusion and vengeance (not to mention Juliana MacStinger, and the sweet child’s brother, Charles MacStinger, popularly known about the scenes of his youthful sports, as Chowley) in her train. She came so swiftly and so silently, like a rushing air from the neighbourhood of the East India Docks, that Captain Cuttle found himself in the very act of sitting looking at her, before the calm face with which he had been meditating, changed to one of horror and dismay.

But the moment Captain Cuttle understood the full extent of his misfortune, self-preservation dictated an attempt at flight. Darting at the little door which opened from the parlour on the steep little range of cellar-steps, the Captain made a rush, head-foremost, at the latter, like a man indifferent to bruises and contusions, who only sought to hide himself in the bowels of the earth. In this gallant effort he would probably have succeeded, but for the affectionate dispositions of Juliana and Chowley, who pinning him by the legs—one of those dear children holding on to each—claimed him as their friend, with lamentable cries. In the meantime, Mrs MacStinger, who never entered upon any action of importance without previously inverting Alexander MacStinger, to bring him within the range of a brisk battery of slaps, and then sitting him down to cool as the reader first beheld him, performed that solemn rite, as if on this occasion it were a sacrifice to the Furies; and having deposited the victim on the floor, made at the Captain with a strength of purpose that appeared to threaten scratches to the interposing Bunsby.

The cries of the two elder MacStingers, and the wailing of young Alexander, who may be said to have passed a piebald childhood, forasmuch as he was black in the face during one half of that fairy period of existence, combined to make this visitation the more awful. But when silence reigned again, and the Captain, in a violent perspiration, stood meekly looking at Mrs MacStinger, its terrors were at their height.


In the comic plate, "The Midshipman is boarded by the enemy" (ch. 39), the Cuttle-Mac Stinger story echoes certain aspects of Edith and Dombey's situation. Browne offers considerable iconography both to illustrate this theme and to tie the two couples together. There are, for example, prints of a sea-battle and a foundering ship, an overturned globe, the upset vestiges of such masculine activities as smoking and drinking, and what is apparently the skin of a huge predatory bird with frightening talons. But further, when we recognize that Mrs. MacStinger holds nearly the same position and strikes the same pose as Edith in the companion plate, we realize that the tiny Medusa head near Mrs. MacStinger and the caption, "Medusa" make up a fitting emblem for both women — for do not both reduce men to powerlessness by a mere look. Browne's "Medusa" conceivably could refer to Géricault's famous painting, The Raft of the Medusa, which would at least explain the linking of this title with a sea scene, although the picture looks more like a ship than a raft. The theme of cannibalism associated with the Medusa's shipwrecked passengers is even relevant to the predatory world of Dombey and Son.

The Raft of the Medusa

message 13: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6271 comments Mod

original sketch

A Chance Meeting

Chapter 40


Text Illustrated:

Almost as she stopped, the two figures stopped; and that one which to Edith’s thinking was like a distorted shadow of her mother, spoke to the other, earnestly, and with a pointing hand towards them. That one seemed inclined to turn back, but the other, in which Edith recognised enough that was like herself to strike her with an unusual feeling, not quite free from fear, came on; and then they came on together.

The greater part of this observation, she made while walking towards them, for her stoppage had been momentary. Nearer observation showed her that they were poorly dressed, as wanderers about the country; that the younger woman carried knitted work or some such goods for sale; and that the old one toiled on empty-handed.

And yet, however far removed she was in dress, in dignity, in beauty, Edith could not but compare the younger woman with herself, still. It may have been that she saw upon her face some traces which she knew were lingering in her own soul, if not yet written on that index; but, as the woman came on, returning her gaze, fixing her shining eyes upon her, undoubtedly presenting something of her own air and stature, and appearing to reciprocate her own thoughts, she felt a chill creep over her, as if the day were darkening, and the wind were colder.


The effect of the parallels between comic and serious plates is not so much to ridicule the more serious elements in the novel as to help unify the narrative structure by stressing the theme of sexual conflict. To view "A Chance Meeting" (ch. 40) alongside its companion (ch. 39) is to receive sudden enlightenment. Dickens has already been making great play with parallels in juxtaposing the stories of Edith and Alice. Browne's illustrations extend the parallels further, beyond the emphasis upon high-life and lowlife prostitution to a vision of the terrifying power of woman. To put the matter another way: through the parallel between Alice and Edith, Dickens expresses his social vision of the cash-nexus between human beings, but through the illustrations Browne stresses the underlying view of woman as a potentially destructive force. Edith and Alice in "A Chance Meeting" are drawn with so little attention to scale that they appear to be giantesses; but this serves to emphasize the almost mythic power of women. And the parallel of Edith and Mrs. MacStinger, implied in their similar positions, further promotes this theme.

message 14: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6271 comments Mod

Mr. Toots replies by launching wildly out into Miss Dombey's praises

Chapter 41

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

Poor Mr Toots goes home to his hotel in a state of desperation, locks himself into his bedroom, flings himself upon his bed, and lies there for a long time; as if it were of the greatest consequence, nevertheless. But Mr Feeder, B.A., is coming to dinner, which happens well for Mr Toots, or there is no knowing when he might get up again. Mr Toots is obliged to get up to receive him, and to give him hospitable entertainment.

And the generous influence of that social virtue, hospitality (to make no mention of wine and good cheer), opens Mr Toots’s heart, and warms him to conversation. He does not tell Mr Feeder, B.A., what passed at the corner of the Square; but when Mr Feeder asks him ‘When it is to come off?’ Mr Toots replies, ‘that there are certain subjects’—which brings Mr Feeder down a peg or two immediately. Mr Toots adds, that he don’t know what right Blimber had to notice his being in Miss Dombey’s company, and that if he thought he meant impudence by it, he’d have him out, Doctor or no Doctor; but he supposes its only his ignorance. Mr Feeder says he has no doubt of it.

Mr Feeder, however, as an intimate friend, is not excluded from the subject. Mr Toots merely requires that it should be mentioned mysteriously, and with feeling. After a few glasses of wine, he gives Miss Dombey’s health, observing, ‘Feeder, you have no idea of the sentiments with which I propose that toast.’ Mr Feeder replies, ‘Oh, yes, I have, my dear Toots; and greatly they redound to your honour, old boy.’ Mr Feeder is then agitated by friendship, and shakes hands; and says, if ever Toots wants a brother, he knows where to find him, either by post or parcel. Mr Feeder like-wise says, that if he may advise, he would recommend Mr Toots to learn the guitar, or, at least the flute; for women like music, when you are paying your addresses to ‘em, and he has found the advantage of it himself.

This brings Mr Feeder, B.A., to the confession that he has his eye upon Cornelia Blimber. He informs Mr Toots that he don’t object to spectacles, and that if the Doctor were to do the handsome thing and give up the business, why, there they are—provided for. He says it’s his opinion that when a man has made a handsome sum by his business, he is bound to give it up; and that Cornelia would be an assistance in it which any man might be proud of. Mr Toots replies by launching wildly out into Miss Dombey’s praises, and by insinuations that sometimes he thinks he should like to blow his brains out. Mr Feeder strongly urges that it would be a rash attempt, and shows him, as a reconcilement to existence, Cornelia’s portrait, spectacles and all.

Thus these quiet spirits pass the evening; and when it has yielded place to night, Mr Toots walks home with Mr Feeder, and parts with him at Doctor Blimber’s door. But Mr Feeder only goes up the steps, and when Mr Toots is gone, comes down again, to stroll upon the beach alone, and think about his prospects. Mr Feeder plainly hears the waves informing him, as he loiters along, that Doctor Blimber will give up the business; and he feels a soft romantic pleasure in looking at the outside of the house, and thinking that the Doctor will first paint it, and put it into thorough repair.

message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6271 comments Mod

"Dombey," says Cousin Feenix, "upon my soul, I am very much shocked to see you on such a melancholy occasion"

Chapter 41

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

Intelligence of the event is sent to Mr Dombey in town, who waits upon Cousin Feenix (not yet able to make up his mind for Baden-Baden), who has just received it too. A good-natured creature like Cousin Feenix is the very man for a marriage or a funeral, and his position in the family renders it right that he should be consulted.

‘Dombey,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘upon my soul, I am very much shocked to see you on such a melancholy occasion. My poor aunt! She was a devilish lively woman.’

Mr Dombey replies, ‘Very much so.’

‘And made up,’ says Cousin Feenix, ‘really young, you know, considering. I am sure, on the day of your marriage, I thought she was good for another twenty years. In point of fact, I said so to a man at Brooks’s—little Billy Joper—you know him, no doubt—man with a glass in his eye?’

Mr Dombey bows a negative. ‘In reference to the obsequies,’ he hints, ‘whether there is any suggestion—’

‘Well, upon my life,’ says Cousin Feenix, stroking his chin, which he has just enough of hand below his wristbands to do; ‘I really don’t know. There’s a Mausoleum down at my place, in the park, but I’m afraid it’s in bad repair, and, in point of fact, in a devil of a state. But for being a little out at elbows, I should have had it put to rights; but I believe the people come and make pic-nic parties there inside the iron railings.’

Mr Dombey is clear that this won’t do.

‘There’s an uncommon good church in the village,’ says Cousin Feenix, thoughtfully; ‘pure specimen of the Anglo-Norman style, and admirably well sketched too by Lady Jane Finchbury—woman with tight stays—but they’ve spoilt it with whitewash, I understand, and it’s a long journey.’

‘Perhaps Brighton itself,’ Mr Dombey suggests.

‘Upon my honour, Dombey, I don’t think we could do better,’ says Cousin Feenix. ‘It’s on the spot, you see, and a very cheerful place.’

‘And when,’ hints Mr Dombey, ‘would it be convenient?’

‘I shall make a point,’ says Cousin Feenix, ‘of pledging myself for any day you think best. I shall have great pleasure (melancholy pleasure, of course) in following my poor aunt to the confines of the—in point of fact, to the grave,’ says Cousin Feenix, failing in the other turn of speech.

message 16: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3400 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "

original sketch

A Chance Meeting

Chapter 40


Text Illustrated:

Almost as she stopped, the two figures stopped; and that one which to Edith’s thinking was like a distorted shadow of h..."

Thanks for giving us the illustration of the mothers with their two daughters. Edith and Alice give us much to consider. Perhaps we should also begin to wonder about any connections that might exist between Mrs Skewton and good Mrs. Brown. There are clear indications of the similarities between Alice and Edith. The next questions might be how and why they have so many similarities.

In an earlier illustration in Chapter 24 where Carker greets Florence and the Skittles we see how Browne details the background with frightened animals. This is emblematic of how the natural world reacts when Carker is in the presence of Florence. In this illustration we see in the background the clear suggestion of an impending storm. There is clear evidence of a strong wind blowing from the left of the illustration. A man’s hat is blowing off his head and the carriage horses are bolting. The veils and hair of Edith and Alice give further evidence of the winds. The prominent foreground position of Edith and Alice serve to frame the entire illustration. Edith and Alice face each other. Clearly, there is something brewing between these two families, their social positions, and the secrets that remain to be unfolded between them as we progress deeper into the novel.

message 17: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1335 comments Peter wrote: "Perhaps we should also begin to wonder about any connections that might exist between Mrs Skewton and good Mrs. Brown. There are clear indications of the similarities between Alice and Edith. The next questions might be how and why they have so many similarities."

Oh. Hmm. That's intriguing!

message 18: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1335 comments Peter wrote: "The sea tells a story of little Paul and his words, we read, are repeated in Florence’s ears. Could it be that the “white arms” belong to Paul and the “invisible country far away” is heaven? If so, the subtext seems to suggest we will all be beckoned someday. We will all hear the waves."

This is all true but may I please make a pitch to Mr. Dickens (who did not even listen to such pitches while he was still around to read them, I know) that he allow Florence to manage to stay alive at least until the end of this book? She's been through enough.

Also I am rooting for at least some legacy for the first Mrs. Dombey. And there doesn't seem to be anyone remaining who cares about her memory except Florence.

message 19: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4824 comments Mod

I really enjoyed looking at the illustrations and reading the comments, which I usually do enjoy, but this time they gave me something extraordinary to think of, namely the Raft of Medusa and the parallelism one commentary sees between Edith and Mrs. MacStinger in that both are women who stun and intimidate their (male?) beholders - Edith through her proud and cold beauty, and Mrs. MacStinger through her imperious character. That had indeed never occurred to me.

On the other hand, I had the impression - though it may prove wrong - that Mrs. MacStinger has been quite impressed with Captain Bunsby. At least, that wise and hoary seafarer must have cast a temporary spell on her, or otherwise he would not have been able to lead her out of Cuttle's presence. I must say that I particularly enjoyed that scene, when Bunsby soothed the foaming landlady and just led her away - he was probably not half-aware of the danger he was toying with (and he is a man living in different spheres altogether).

But if there is really a parallel intended between Edith and MacStinger, I have two questions: One, who will lead away Edith? Second, are there any other instances of parallels between the serious and the comic plot elements in this novel?

message 20: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4824 comments Mod
Like Peter, I am impressed with Dickens's excursion into a psychological analysis of Dombey (actually before psychology was invented ;-)), although it was a grim and breezy journey. While I was reading it I couldn't help thinking of my own surmises as to why Dombey was so jealous of Florence when he noted the special feelings of his new way towards his daughter. I said that so far, Florence has always succeeded in winning the hearts of people Dombey thought he had the first claim on - little Paul and Edith.

I said that Dombey thinks he has the first claim on those people, which will probably mean that he is of opinion they should respect him and show this respect by deference, but I am also sure that he loved his son - whereas I am not so sure he ever thought that Edith might be a woman to be loved by him instead of just one to contribute to his greatness. With regard to Paul, but maybe also with regard to Edith, I am still inclined to think that what Dombey really wishes for is a sign that he is loved by these two, and probably loved more than Florence because his pride would not accept the position of number two, nor be ready to share the position of number one with his daughter.

Dombey, in that respect, reminds me a bit of Gul Dukat from Deep Space 9: Dukat tortured and mistreated the Bajoran people, and yet, after all that, he wishes to be loved by them and he thinks he has a claim to their love because he did so much for them, e.g. avoiding worse consequences of the Cardassian occupation. One can see this as a feature of Dukat's megalomania and arrogance (he is clearly mentally unhinged, at least in the later episodes), but I think Mr. Dombey's pride works a little bit the same way.

message 21: by Alissa (new)

Alissa | 317 comments I loved the clash between Dombey and Edith and how he kept calling her "Madam." It was so formal, yet so raw. They seemed like a match for each other too, in terms of pride and stubbornness. The sheer tension in that chapter kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought this quarrel was much more sophisticated than husband-wife quarrels in previous Dickens novels. Those quarrels were typically portrayed as comical and over the top. This one was more mature and psychological, by comparison. Well done, Dickens!

message 22: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4824 comments Mod
Yes, Alissa, the quarrel between Dombey and Edith is by far deadlier, fiercer, and it's very breath-taking to see those two unbending spirits - the one blindly, the other knowingly - head towards destruction.

I was struck by the haughty use of "Madam", too, but then I often come across spouses referring to each other as Mr. X and Mrs. X in Dickens's novels. I wonder whether it was really common practice to Victorians to address each other as "Mr. X" or "Mrs. X" in the company of guests. Mr. Dombey also extends this usage to the private intercourse with his first wife, as can be seen in the first chapter - and the fact that the narrator makes a point of it shows me, or suggests, that at least this kind of formality was unusual.

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