6a00d83455e40a69e20168ea495528970c.jpgI’m reading Dickens. I cannot say exactly why this is. Just that about once a year I get an urge to read a Dickens novel, and since I’ve already read most of the popular ones (and some of the unpopular ones, like Little Dorrit), I’m now moving on to the truly obscure ones (in this case, Dombey and Son).

Rachel asked me what the book was about, and I genuinely had no answer for her. There is really only one Dickens plot: waif is mistreated by their relatives and then cared for by kindly strangers. (Not incidentally, that was also the story of Dickens’s own life.) Dombey and Son falls well into this category. It’s about a businessman who is a very serious and very pompous person (in the way of all of Dickens’s businessmen) who cares only that his child grow up into the “and Son” who will someday join him in their eponymous mercantile concern.

The son, I imagine, doesn’t want to do this? It’s unclear. So far I’m just along for the ride.

One thing Dickens gets insufficient credit for, I think, is being a really good prose stylist. People forget this. They’re always bagging on him for being wordy. Which he is. But he also has a tremendous sense of rhythm. Dickens writes sentences that you can say aloud. And since the human tongue tends to be less terse than most written sentences will allow, this often leads to a certain amount of wordiness. Take this passage from the beginning of the book:

“Dombey was about eight-and-forty years of age. Son about eight-and-forty minutes. Dombey was rather bald, rather red, and though a handsome well-made man, too stern and pompous in appearance, to be prepossessing. Son was very bald, and very red, and though (of course) an undeniably fine infant, somewhat crushed and spotty in his general effect, as yet. On the brow of Dombey, Time and his brother Care had set some marks, as on a tree that was to come down in good time— remorseless twins they are for striding through their human forests, notching as they go— while the countenance of Son was crossed with a thousand little creases, which the same deceitful Time would take delight in smoothing out and wearing away with the flat part of his scythe, as a preparation of the surface for his deeper operations.”

That there is a vivid and beautiful passage. Dickens is full of them.

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