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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.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-06-01

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