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8 of Earth - Little Paul Dombey

with Dr. Blimber & P. Toots


Dr. Blimber; Paul Dombey Junior; P. Toots.

Roman à Clef:

Henry Burnett Junior


Dombey & Son

      Paul Dombey Junior is the long-awaited heir to the house of Dombey & Son. His mother dies giving birth to him, and throughout his short life he is frail and sickly. His father, incapable of nurturing, sends young Paul to Brighton in the care of Mrs. Pipchin, hoping the sea air will strengthen his failing health. Showing some signs of improvement, Mr. Dombey keeps Paul in Brighton, enrolling him in a boys' school run by Dr. And Mrs. Blimber. Mrs. Blimber is not learned herself, but pretends to be.


 Here, at Dr. Blimber's school, Paul meets Mr. P. Toots, a good-natured but scatter-brained boy. He is the oldest student at the school, “possessed of the gruffest of voices and the shrillest of minds”, and something of a dandy. He falls madly in love with Paul's sister Florence, becoming in her presence even more tongue-tied and nonsensical of speech than usual. Florence eventually marries Walter Gay, and Toots finds happiness with Florence's head-strong maid, Susan Nipper.


 Little Paul Dombey, meantime, sees his health diminish. He is a dreamy child, inordinately fond of his sister Florence, not easy with other children, and considered “old fashioned” by adults. The intense and arduous instruction he receives at Blimber school, considered a “great hothouse”, only serves to weaken and wilt little Paul. He dies at the age of 6, and with him dies his father's dream of primogeniture heir to Dombey & Son.


 Perhaps of note, much of Dombey & Son is a conflation of many personal details from Dickens' own life. Little Paul Dombey is modelled on his sister Fanny's crippled son, Henry Burnett Junior. Dickens' love for his sister Fanny is reflected in little Paul's love for his sister Florence, whose husband Henry Burnett Senior coldly forbid his wife from following her passion for music. The stern boarding-house matron, Mrs. Pipchin, is based on Mrs. Roylance, Dickens' landlady in London when his father was imprisoned for debt. Years before, in Portsmouth, Dickens' father John had been employed at the Royal Navy Pay Office. His supervisor there was Christopher Huffam, who was named Charles Dickens' godfather - and remained so, really, in name only - and gave Charles Dickens his middle name: Huffam. Christopher Huffam's family owned a store of naval instruments and oddities, similar to The Wooden Midshipman of Dombey & Son, called Huffam & Son. Like Dombey, Huffam's brothers traded in the shadows of Lloyd's bank. Huffam had dynastic ambitions, became a widow, and died insolvent.


Shorthand : wishful thinking - possible material success - all your eggs in one basket - efforts in the past may lead to prosperity in the future - investment - self-induced worry - square pegs in round holes - good money after bad - warning that loss is imminent - make hay while the sun shines - securing the fruit of one's labour at emotional and spiritual cost - the misappreciation of fortune.

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