Friday, January 19, 2018

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

'Tis a sad gift, that much applauded thing, a constant heart. - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

This was by far my biggest literary emotional ride in 2017. I agonized with Florence's unrequited love, chortled at Dickens' sly jabs at human nature, dreaded the villains, and rejoiced with the book's true-hearted characters.

The title is ironic since the book focuses on the lives of several women. Young Florence, the main character, is rejected by her father for not being a son. Beautiful Edith has been groomed by her mother to marry for wealth. Even Alice Marwood,  a beggar's daughter, has been wrongfully used by her mother for selfish gain. The powerful secondary male characters are the prideful Mr. Dombey, the odious Carker, the gallant Walter, the devoted Toots, and the well-meaning Captain Cuttle.

Chesterton wrote that Dickens could make inanimate objects come to life in his novels and never have I seen that more than I did in Dombey and Son. The statue of the midshipman plays a prominent part in the narrative. And the descriptions of Carker's teeth are fundamental to the reader's understanding of Carker's various moods.

Capt. Cuttle and the Midshipman

I tried to watch the movie version of this book and it was too depressing. Dickens is MUCH easier to enjoy through his novels because he injects joy and hope in places that the movies have difficulty replicating. Yes, Florence's plight is horrific, but her moments of despondency are interwoven with scenes of the loving Toodle family, the humorous Captain Cuttle, and the bumbling, but loveable Mr. Toots.

Dickens makes delightful jabs at Victorian scholastic methods: It was part of Mrs. Pipchin's system not to encourage a child's mind to develop and expand itself like a young flower, but to open it by force like an oyster; he refers to this type of education as the perpetual bruising of intellectual shins. Then there are all the private jokes between the author and the reader (impossible to convey on film) like frequent mentions of Mrs. Pipchin's husband and the Peruvian mines and Captain Cuttle's precious sugar tongs. I was also amused by an early example of the phrase, "If he doesn't like it, he can lump it."

Dombey and Son has its share of unhappy situations, but the ending is satisfying. I appreciated the fact that various characters experienced redemption, but the changes in them were true to the limits of their personalities. 

My listening pleasure was doubled by the fantastic (free) narration done by Mil Nicholson at Librivox. It was worth every minute of the 40 hours.



Michele Morin said...

Yes, a chortle. That's the greatest way to describe Dickens's humor.
Great review. Your reading choices always challenge me.

Carol said...

Dickens is able to run the whole gamut of emotions and like you said, his humour lifts what could otherwise be depressing content. Great book & a great review. Carker would have to be one of his most evil characters.

Farm Girl said...

I agree!!! This was one of the best. I had no idea when I started and it ended up being my favorite. I even got to the point where I would go get the book and sit and read the part I had just listened to, so I could see the words.
Mil Nicolson is my favorite of all time I think. She is a master at Dickens. I love your review well done.