Places Discussed

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*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

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 Florence, attended only by her faithful servant, Susan.

Dombey’s offices

Dombey’s offices. Headquarters of Dombey’s merchant business, located within the City of London, Greater London’s financial center, near the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. The complex contains separate offices for Dombey, Carker, and the third manager, Morfin. The offices represent the betrayal of family values: Carker’s insulting enmity to his older brother John is an example, as is Walter’s being consigned to the West Indies, thus depriving his uncle of his only family and Florence of her “brother.” The final stages of Carker’s undermining the house also take place here.

Gill’s shop

Gill’s shop. Small shop of the nautical instrument maker Sol Gill, near Dombey’s offices. The entrance is guarded by a wooden midshipman, a nautical rank. Gill’s stock is mostly outmoded and unsalable. However, the shop represents the true hearth of warm family ties, a place of safety, refuge, and celebration. It is fitting that Dombey’s daughter Florence finds refuge here—both when she gets lost as a young girl and later when as a young woman she is rejected by her own father. Gill’s hearth becomes her reconstituted family, and her reunion with Walter marks this. As the novel develops, it becomes more and more focused on the polarities of Gill’s shop and Dombey’s house, as true and false homes for Florence.

Stagg’s Gardens

Stagg’s Gardens. Poor street in London’s Camden Town where the members of the Toodles family first live. The neighborhood is torn down to make way for a new northern railroad line out of London, on which Mr. Toodles finds employment. There is a certain ambiguity in Dickens’s depiction of the railroad: its speed kills Carker, but it also brings redevelopment and employment opportunities to a poor area. The ambiguity suggests the double edge of rapid industrial progress.


*Brighton. Fashionable...

(This entire section contains 753 words.)

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resort town, some fifty miles south of London, on the south coast, to which Paul and Florence are sent to attend a boarding school. There Paul receives his education at Dr. Blimber’s house, a school that spells the death of learning, just as the ocean’s waves become a requiem for Paul’s death. Mrs. Skewton also dies there. Florence’s presence in the place, however, redeems it somewhat. Life can be lived there, though distorted and emotionally unhealthy.


*Leamington. Another fashionable spa town, north of Oxford, where Major Bagstock introduces Dombey to the woman who becomes a new wife, Edith. In the artificiality of culture here, this new relationship becomes riffed as a desirable transaction, to the ultimate ruin of Dombey.


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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.


Critical Essays