Montreal Dickens Fellowship Study Questions: “Dombey and Son”
Westmount Public Library
November 6, 2018 1:00-3:00
Chapters 11 - 20
- The end of Chapter 11 shows Dickens wit and mastery in describing emotions. Conveying the bleakness and hopelessness of Paul’s condition, he doesn’t just say “Paul was weak and sad”. Instead he says, “It was as if Paul had taken up life unfurnished and the upholsterer was not coming”. Comment.
- Another significant gait is that of Dr. Blimber. It is very telling of his personality. Do you think Dickens made a study of how people walk?
- Do you think little Paul has an overactive imagination and an abnormal interest in nature, or is it just a natural result of being under stimulated at home? Florence had her mother and Susan Nipper. Paul had depressed Mrs. Wickam, Aunt Louisa and Miss Tox (and Florence to some extent). Discuss.
- Who taught Paul to read? Mrs. Pipchin? Her daughter? Do you think a boy of six would be capable of reading the classics and discussing them?
- Comment on Dickens comparing the curriculum to a wheel that went round and round with all the boys stretched on it. (Like a form of torture!).
- Dickens vents his feelings about booksellers in Chapter 12. Do you think he may have had difficulty in obtaining books? He encourages the voracious reader to be perseverant like Florence.
- Comment on Dickens use of a hothouse of plants when describing Dr. Blimber’s students and their “forced” education.
- Do you think Dickens may have been like Paul as a small child? He loved books, was slightly sickly and instead of joining in rowdy games with other boys, was a solitary reader who had a very active imagination. Although surrounded by a large family, one gets the sense that he might have felt deprived of love in some way.
- Compare and contrast Paul’s relationship to Florence with Dickens relationship with his own older sister Fanny.
- Why is Mr. Toot’s head empty and why is he always writing meaningless letters? Is Dickens trying to show the absolute lack of practicality in Dr. Blimber’s educational system?
- What do you think “Old-Fashioned” means?
- In Chapter 14 we are introduced to the dog Diogenes. Who was Diogenes named for? Dickens loved dogs and all animals and always had many pets. Research Dickens and his pets and discuss.
- Little Paul Dombey is said to be based on Dickens’s sister (Fanny)’s son who died of consumption at age 7. Comment.
- Comment on little Paul’s death scene. Was it too maudlin? Were you moved to tears? Why? Why not?
- Do you think Walter has the option of quitting his job at Dombey and Son to avoid the hazards of going to sea?
- What do you make of Mr. Carker’s teeth? He appears to be a predatory cat. Dickens liked cats and had several as pets. Comment.
- Although much of Dickens’s writing is unrealistic and coincidental, his description of Paul’s funeral and how the neighborhood reacts has a ring of truth about it. Childhood mortality was common (Dickens himself lost two siblings in childhood) and would have been a familiar scene to describe. Comment.
- Dickens often refers to the Greek classics (and classic literature in general). Does this add or detract from the narrative? Do you think this confused his readers or gave them more respect for him as a writer? Can you find some examples?
- The statue of the “Little Midshipman” stood outside of a Leadenhall St. nautical store for many years before and after the writing of this novel. It now is owned by the London Dickens Fellowship and is on display at the Dickens House Museum on Doughty Street. Comment.
- British history and economy are tied to the sea through its geography, its naval defense and its trade. References to the seas’ “life giving” and “life taking” qualities are made t throughout the novel. Discuss.
- Compare and contrast the Dombey mansion and Uncle Sol’s home. How does Mr. Dombey’s relationship with Florence compare to Uncle Sol’s relationship with Walter?
- Joey Bagstock and Captain Cuttle are both military men, one having served in the army, the other having served in the navy, yet they couldn’t be more different. Joey B. fawns to Mr. Dombey and strokes his ego, while Captain Cuttle is always open and honest, seeing themselves on equal footing. Discuss.
- What do you make of Joey’s “Natural Servant”? Discuss the status of slavery in the British Isles in 1846.
- Comment on Joey B.’s overindulgence in every way (even his luggage is overstuffed and oozing!) Vs. Uncle Sol’s saving his Madeira for a special occasion.
- Do you sympathize with Mr. Dombey’s grief? Can you understand his not wanting to share his grief with a “ commoner like Mr. Toodles?
- Although Dickens admired progress, he likened the coming of the train to the coming of death. Comment.
- Read aloud and comment on Dickens memorable description of the train in Chapter 20. “With a shriek, rattle and roar…” Discuss his use of repetition as an effective literary device.