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.



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,