Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*London. The British capital portrayed in this novel is a curiously fragmented city. One part barely seems to connect to another. The isolating effect of money is its theme, and the geography bears this out. Many houses are described, however, each one symbolic of its occupants. The novel is dotted with a vast array of houses in and around London, of all social classes. Many, like Mrs. MacStinger’s house near the India Docks represent entrapment, both relationally and economically. Others suggest the pretence of shabby gentility, such as Miss Tox’s house and Cousin Feenix’s house in Brook Street. Virtue can exist only in homes outside the city, such as the home of Dombey’s agent John Carker and his sister, Harriet, or later, in the new home of Dombey’s daughter, Florence, and her husband, Walter Gay, to the west of London. The separateness of each house suggests the lack of nexus, of community, in London. Each house represents the strangeness of the modern city, its unreality.
Dombey’s house. Home of the merchant Dombey in a fashionable part of London, between Portland Place and Bryanstone Square. Within the novel, the term “house” means both “home” and “business.” Because Dombey cannot separate the two meanings, his family relationships become riffed, and possibilities of life are thwarted by death and separation. His house is gloomy and sunless; the images Dickens uses are of death, prison, enclosure, and decay. Within the house, both Dombey’s son Paul and his mother die, and the charade of his second marriage is enacted with all its attempted refinements and moving upscale socially. The house’s contents are finally auctioned off as part of the collapse of the commercial “house” of Dombey and Son. It then becomes a lonely prison for...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Andrews, Malcolm. Dickens and the Grown-up Child. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1994. Sees Dombey and Son as a reflection of the world through a child’s eyes, as well as making “familiar use of the child as an agent of redemption”; Paul Dombey is radically different from earlier male children in Dickens’ work.
Armstrong, Frances. Dickens and the Concept of Home. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research, 1990. Contains good sections on Dombey and Son. Concludes that Florence must make her own home “in the face of mental and physical abuse from the man that should be the center of that home.” Focuses on the creative process of homemaking that increasingly leads Florence outside of herself as the novel progresses.
Auerbach, Nina. “Dickens and Dombey: A Daughter After All.” Dickens Studies Annual 5 (1976): 95-104. Good treatment of the novel’s feminist theme, which Auerbach defines as “Dickens’s most thorough exploration of his own and his contemporaries’ doctrine of the ‘two spheres,’ with each sex moving in a solitary orbit inaccessible to the other.”
Donovan, Frank. The Children of Charles Dickens. London: Leslie Frewin, 1969. Good exploration of the themes of childhood and parenting in Dombey and Son. Sees Mr. Dombey as a classic “rejective parent,” whose rejection of Florence is done consciously whereas his rejection of Paul is unconscious.
Shelston, Alan, ed. “Dombey and Son” and “Little Dorrit.” Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1985. Provides a very good introduction to the novel, with information on the origins of Dombey and Son, an overview of contemporary critical appraisals, and several important critical studies since 1941.