Dombey and daughter

Dear Charlie,

March may mean spring in England, but here in Calgary Mother Nature decided that what we really needed today was a winter snowstorm, so I’m curled on the couch watching the snow slowly obscure the window, cat draped around my neck like a warm and purring scarf, writing to you, having just finished “Dombey & Son.”

There were the usual basket load of weddings and babies and reconciliations to signify that we’ve come to the end of this journey together, and the Scrooge-like Dombey has seen the light and realized that daughters are people too, especially if they produce sons. Oh, and I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time about the title – it becomes more significant and appropriate at the end of the book. And holy cow did Carker ever meet a grisly end! That’s gotta be a contender for the ‘Messiest Death in Dickens’ award.

Mr. Carker’s hour of triumph. Not so triumphant, actually.

If there are two characters that really stand out for me, though, it’s Edith and Alice. Edith because she remains very much unbowed by her actions – I don’t know if you meant the reader to see her as an object lesson in the evils of female pride, but I for one was glad she was so unrepentant, even when faced with Florence’s account of her and her father’s reconciliation. Florence may be the epitome of female virtue rewarded with domestic bliss (oh, and thank you for not killing Walter, btw), but Edith is by far the stronger character, living life on her own terms, even if those terms are proscribed by both social convention and her own upbringing. And avoiding social stigma by travelling to southern Italy seems like a pretty awesome consolation prize, especially on a day like today.

On the other hand, Alice is a bit of a mystery. She clearly functions as a mirror of her cousin and an image of what befalls the proud woman who’s commoditized by her mother and who doesn’t have money or station to cushion her. But repentance doesn’t seem to earn her anything but a slightly more comfortable death. I feel like I’m missing something important about her function in the plot.

All in all, I must thank you for another highly satisfying read, my friend. It’s now on to one of your own personal favorites, “David Copperfield.” Seems like the best way to spend a snow day.

Affectionately,

Melissa

P.S. I was all set today to hover over this blog and cheer when we hit ten thousand visits. But what do I see when I log on this morning? Only that we’ve already passed 11,000! Yay us! :-)

Red letter day!

Dear Charlie,

Highlights of my lunch time during the week are usually confined to whether the turkey quesadilla special is on in the office cafeteria, or if someone is playing an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in a meeting room. But not today. Today it was meeting you.

And when I say meeting you, I don’t mean that I popped over to Westminster Abbey and exhumed your body, because that would be impractical, impossible, and more than a little gross. But I did go over to the Center for Arts and Culture at the University of Calgary with my friend Blair and we were allowed to see their very early copy of The Pickwick Papers.

This image isn’t in my edition

This was neat enough in itself, since it appears to be a kind of author’s proof, and includes notes about where the illustrations are to appear and a list of errata and what looks like a newspaper clipping from you pasted on one of the first pages.

There’s a small note card describing the book that says:

This is a unique first edition, containing first of all a letter from Dickens to his publishers, Chapman and Hall. It contains all 43 illustrations by Seymour and Phiz. In addition it contains the plates originally done by Buss, which were later withdrawn from other issues. And, finally, it contains an extra set of illustrations by Thomas Onwyn.

Wait a second. A letter? From you? It’s true! For a few minutes today my hand rested where yours did 165-odd years ago as you tried to explain that a terrible headache had prevented you from putting pen to paper. I wonder if your friendly publishers were at all sympathetic? Probably not, if they had to work as hard as I did to decipher your doctor’s-prescription-worthy penmanship. Even if they weren’t, and even if it’s not your finest literary achievement, to me it’s almost like meeting you to see that fantastic flourish underneath your name first hand. Please excuse my going all fangirl on you, but it was just awesome to see a little piece of you.

We have now touched the same piece of paper! Omg!

And the fun didn’t stop there. The woman who had dug out the book had also found a huge, beautiful tome called “Dickens’ Working Notes” by one Harry Stone. It contains copies of your plot outlines, working titles and other notes on one page, and on the other the undoubtedly patient Mr. Stone has painstakingly typed them out. Since I’m almost finished Dombey & Son, I peeked at your notes for that particular work. They’re fascinating.

One page of your plan for “Dombey & Son”

And the very necessary transcription.

I especially liked seeing the questions to yourself. Things like ‘Describe Mr. Morfin here?’ and your answer  ‘No.’ I’ll have to go back when I have more time and take a more leisurely look inside your brain at work. From what I saw, though, Dombey was comprehensively plotted beforehand (and it’s a great plot, as I slowly reach the final pages of the book – but more on that in another post).

But now it’s almost time for bed. It was lovely to meet you today, however ephemerally. And in spite of your terrible penmanship, I remain,

Affectionately yours,

Melissa

 

 

Dombey’s domestic disasters

Dear Charlie,

Remember when I was telling you I felt a bit becalmed in Dombey & Son?

Yeah, I’m so over it.

Paul Jr. has become a fading memory alongside the cartload of new developments. It feels like you said “screw it,” put all your characters into a box, shook it violently, and then dumped them all out again and looked to see where they landed, because pretty much no one is where they were fifty pages ago (except poor Toots, who is still pining over Florence).

Me. Last night.

First the awesome Susan Nipper gives Dombey a piece of her mind and gets sacked, which really surprised me (in a good way). And then last night I stayed up far too late reading about that fantastically tense dinner with Dombey, Edith, Florence and Carker, when BLAM! Suddenly Edith’s gone AWOL with Carker, Dombey gets all violent with Florence, and Florence finally reaches her breaking point and is now hiding out with Captain Cuttle.If you’ll pardon the language, holy shit! Take THAT, Dombey, you arrogant asshole! I don’t know about “Dombey & Son” – maybe “Dombey’s Disastrous Domestic Delusions” would be a more appropriate title at this point.

Before you say anything, yes, I recognize that Edith is just as proud as her husband and is not entirely blameless for the mess their marriage was right from day one, but boy was I cheering in my head for her when Dombey finds her gone. Not that things will be rosy for her now – assuming that she is, in fact, holed up with Carker, he’s not exactly the type of guy you want to get cuddly with.

So the seeds have been scattered to the winds, there are a ton of loose threads right now, and I definitely care enough about the characters to want to find out what happens to them all. That temporary lull is now a tempest of interesting developments. Nice work, Mr. D.

Affectionately,

Melissa

P.S. Walter better not be dead. Just sayin’.

The halfway point!

Dear Charlie,

It’s been almost exactly six months since we began our journey together, and last night I finished the first volume of Dombey & Son, which is the 18th of the 36 volumes of your complete works.

We are here.

Reaching the halfway mark is kind of surreal – I can’t believe six months have passed so quickly, I can’t believe I’ve read 18 volumes without getting completely sick of you (on the contrary, I become more attached to you daily), and I can’t believe we’ve had almost 9,000 visitors to this humble blog. Yay us!

Also, while we’re on the subject of Dombey, can I just say that Edith Granger is frickin’ awesome. I didn’t think I’d like her, but those were some intense conversations with her mother before her wedding. She has to be the most self-aware and realistic female character I’ve seen from you so far, and I really feel for her. Nicely done, Mr. D.

Onward, my friend!

Melissa

Another one bites the dust

Dear Charlie,

It seems fitting that I spent Family Day long weekend visiting family both here and in BC, while reading Dombey & Son, which is very much centered on family concerns. I’m reaching the latter part of the first volume, and I hate to mention it, but I’m questioning your choice of title again; because unless Dombey Sr. has another offspring in the wings, you’ve gone and rather tragically excised the ‘& Son’ from your narrative, with three quarters of the story to go.

Florence Dombey, definitely NOT the favorite child.

Not that I’m complaining about your homicidal tendencies (although I am a little surprised, after the pain of Little Nell, that you chose to off another innocent so soon). We could kinda see the writing on the wall as fall as Paul Jr. was concerned, and I figured it was just a matter of time before the dear boy succumbed to the Heavenly voices bourn on the waves (I also suspect that this is the first and only instance in literature of death by homework). I was genuinely sad to see him go – he was a sweet little thing, and it would have been interesting to see him interact with his frighteningly single-minded father when the time came for him to take his place in the family business. But with Paul gone, Walter MIA on the way to Barbados, and poor, poor Florence abandoned in her own house, you’ve rather effectively cleared the stage of the characters we’ve come to care about. There are only so many pages you can fill with Florence wandering from room to room.

Perhaps the wooden Midshipman can spy brighter days ahead.

On this less populated stage, then, we have Carker, the very dangerous and feline Manager, clearly up to no good, while Dombey and the purple-faced Major are making new friends in Leamington. But we’re kind of back to where we were in Martin Chuzzlewit – watching characters with few redeeming features start to set things in motion we’d rather they didn’t. To borrow some nautical terms from Captain Cuttle, I feel we’ve been becalmed and are waiting for a stiff breeze to blow us forward in the narrative.

However, dear Charlie, I do have faith that new and interesting plot developments are in the works, so I’ll stop complaining and get back to the reading. I have faith, and am ever,

Yours affectionately,

Melissa