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Dombey and Son and the “Parlour on Wheels”

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Dombey and Son is a narrative concerned with the preservation and maintenance of domestic space, from the redecoration of the Dombey mansion and the subsequent estate sale on the premises, to the threatened dispersal of the items in the Wooden Midshipman and the ultimate securing of the shop as a refuge for Rob Toodle, Captain Cuttle, and Florence Dombey. I argue that the novel reflects a broader cultural concern with the ways that the nascent industry of interior decoration imperiled the cherished ideal of the home as a fixed and unchanging refuge. The expansion of the railway in the 1840s is an important context for understanding this effect, since the railway was a visible sign of the mobility of possessions and facilitated the distribution of domestic goods throughout the country. I suggest that the railway emblematizes an anxiety about the stability of the domestic interior. This essay concludes with a rereading of the well-known “take the housetops off” passage in chapter 47, proposing that the perspective is that of a passenger on the railway.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2009

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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