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.



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!


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,


Italian impressions

Dear Charlie,

Renovations completely ate into my usual weekend blogging time, so I apologize for my tardiness and hope you weren’t waiting in too much anticipation for my letter. And having just finished your “Pictures from Italy,” you might have wanted to leave this unopened. I have learned from painful personal experience that no matter how wonderful your vacations are and how much you experience, no one sincerely wants to hear about it or see your holiday photos when you get back. And if they say they do they’re lying. Unless it’s your mom, and even she might just be humouring you.

I’m kind of glad you didn’t take actual photos; it means there’s no photo of you propping up the leaning tower of Pisa.

Without photos, it’s hard for us readers to envision the multitude of churches you visited, or all the tiny Italian towns you try to describe (or, in the case of Switzerland, consciously do not describe). But there are a lot of them. So many. My eyes may have glazed over a little. Maybe.

So, let me recap: you get kind of stung by your American audience after criticizing their country, and decide to spend a year in Italy, and then preface your Italian observations by trying to pacify your audience up front by telling them you have the best of intentions. So you clearly learned something from your American adventures and your book’s reception. All well and good.

Well, I don’t know how large your Italian fan base was, but I can’t imagine this book improved it any. Perhaps our definitions differ, but I hardly think calling a town a “pig sty” is an entirely objective observation, or one designed to gain an affectionate Italian following! My overall impression is that very few cultural events or locations raised themselves in your estimation out of the general dirt, squalor and primitive Catholic rites that seem to be your primary preoccupation in your travels. For a guy who declares he has such an open mind, you’re very concerned with foreign standards of cleanliness.

An actual picture of Italy in the 1840s. There are more if you click the photo.

That said, there are several vignettes that were fascinating reading. Your dream of Venice was a lovely, soft interlude, and your descriptions of the Easter week celebrations in Rome were really interesting – I can imagine you and your wife in a carriage surrounded by flowers and sugarplums, and you loving every crazy, giddy minute of it. I enjoy picturing you standing each day in the coliseum, which you clearly fell in love with. And your hike up the sides of Vesuvius was pretty epic – it’s not everyone who would risk flying lava to peer into the mouth of a volcano. And while I’m on the subject, I think it’s fascinating to think that when I visited Rome I probably walked the same ancient roads and wondered at the same buildings and sights that you did. The coliseum still stands, and it connects us, somehow. This is cool.

All in all, and in spite of your less than charitable observations, you must have enjoyed being away from home, since you began writing Dombey and Son, the novel I’ve just begun, on a return trip to the continent. I’m looking forward to getting into a new story, now that I’ve learned more about you as a traveler. If I have to sit through anyone’s travel stories, I’m glad they were yours. And I remain,

Yours affectionately,


P.S. How much do I love that you describe the first Italian villa you stayed in as “the pink prison”? 🙂


Dear Charlie,

Just a quick note to wish you a very happy 201st birthday.

It may not be the milestone last year’s was, but it’s special to me because it’s the first we’ve spent as friends.

Also, I made you a card:

I’d tell you to go out and live it up, ‘cept you’re kind of dead.

But don’t let that stop you. You’re only 201 once.