The first year students are moving into the dorms at Mount Holyoke today. One of my daughters is in the cohort. Not surprisingly, it’s a happy day.
It also makes it a good time to reflect a bit on Dombey and Son, which despite the title has much more to do with Dombey and his Daughter than his Son. But first a note about the book as a whole. Of all the Dickens books I have read, and I have read almost all the major novels now, this is far and away the messiest. Dickens wrote serials, and I have enjoyed reading them as such. Before I start, I find out the original chucks (Wikipedia, thou art so fair—indeed, Wikipedia is the only place I can find this rather interesting bit of information), and read the novel in those chunks. It’s fun. One thing was immediately obvious in this book, however. After about the fifth installment, Dickens had no idea what came next. By about half-way through, he was totally lost. Two-thirds of the way through, the novel was the aforementioned mess. Then, at the end he redeemed it with a very Dickensian ending and all was well. But, my goodness, was this book unbelievably disjointed. Characters kept wandering in for no apparent reason, stuck around for an installment or two and then wandered off. Whole subplots were introduced for no apparent reason and then they just ended. Characters just vanished from the scene, almost as if they were forgotten. Dickens books are long, to be sure, but this is one which could easily have been shortened just by eliminating all the pointless extraneous material. If Dickens can’t be bothered to figure out why Alice Brown and her mother matter, then why should I be reading their…I was going to say “tale” but that makes it seem like there was a story about them. When we show up at Mr Feeder and Cornelia Blimber’s marriage, it is worth wondering why these characters have been completely absent for the last 650 pages (truly, not an exaggeration)—if they aren’t worth mentioning for that long, why am I supposed to be glad they are suddenly, out of the blue, getting married? And so on, ad nauseam. If this was the first Dickens novel I had read, I am not sure I would have read another. Fortunately, having read and loved Dickens for quite some time, I leave this book with a warm glow of admiration at the cast of caricatures I have now met.
But, about daughters. Dombey doesn’t like his daughter, for nothing more than the reason that she isn’t a son. That’s the firm name, after all: Dombey and Son, not Dombey and Daughter, and the firm is everything. The son, Paul, is Little Nell on Steroids—the death scene will give you a cavity if you aren’t careful. The daughter, Florence, is an admirable heroine. She loves her father, deeply, despite the fact that she knows full well he barely knows or cares that she exists. And it is there that causes me to have a really hard time sympathizing with Dombey. Sure, I get the whole “In the Old Days, Sons mattered more” thing. But to be so ridiculously cold toward your daughter? Well, that I cannot imagine. Yeah, I know it’s all sickly sweet to say this, but my daughters (all three of them) are amazing.
And so as Lily settles into her dorm, I do hope she knows that I love her and am truly very proud of her. She is an amazing, fantastic young woman. I cannot imagine my life without her in it.
This is her song. I used to hum that to her every night when she was very young and I was trying to get her to go to sleep. I can’t hear it without thinking about her.