Dickens: Dombey And Son
IDAGIO, and A Sweet Little Bach Piece

I Love (Physical) Books

I was going to mention this in the post about Dombey and Son, but it was already rather long: my pleasure in reading the novel was enhanced by the nature of the physical object which contains it. A few years ago I came into possession of several Dickens volumes which, along with a lot of other books, would otherwise have gone to Goodwill (it's a longish story, not important to tell). I didn't look at them very closely at the time, and there wasn't space for them on our shelves, so they went into a closet and didn't come out again until the fall of 2022, when we moved to a new house. Before the move we culled our book collection fairly severely, getting rid of everything that we had read and didn't expect to read again, or figured we would never read. 

I considered getting rid of these, but on finally taking a good look at them realized they were treasures. They are part of a complete Dickens published by Scribner's ("Charles Scribner's Sons") in 1911. And I very much wish I had the whole set. If you want one, Abebooks currently has it available for $500. Which is really a pretty reasonable price, around $14 per volume. When I put it that way, it's actually sort of tempting....

Here are the nine volumes in their new home. The white spots seem to be paint, the work of some sloppy painter of who knows how long ago. It's lamentable that I only have volume one of The Old Curiosity Shop


Here are a couple of sample pages from Dombey and Son. The illustrations are the original ones by "Phiz," Hablot Knight Browne, and they're delightful. 


Reading these is a physical pleasure. Splitting the novels into two volumes of four or five hundred pages makes for very comfortable handling and reading, in a typeface and size that are easy on the eyes (an increasing consideration for me), and margins that don't make the pages seem crowded. And because they were printed with real movable type you can actually feel the impressions on the paper: a slight but genuine pleasure. 

I'm not a bibliophile, not any sort of collector. A book doesn't have to have any particular charm or excellence for me to like it. It just needs to be a physical book. Too many of mine are really pretty poor physical specimens, bought used or picked up from library discard shelves. Sometimes these are pretty dilapidated, having permanent marks of their library career, sometimes in the form of those rather ugly library bindings, or defaced by the underlining or highlighting of a student (though more than a few instances of the latter will prevent me from getting the book in the first place). But when I read anything longer than, say, a blog post, I want a book, a book made of paper. 

I know a lot of people find reading on a Kindle or similar device perfectly acceptable, with various convenience factors actually making the electronic device more appealing than a book. But I think I can safely say that I never will do that. I've tried it, and I just don't much like it. I could go into more detail about that, but "I don't like it" is sufficient. It's not just my age, as I know several people of similar age, including my wife, who have made the transition. I have a Kindle Fire but only use it to read journalism and similar stuff online. I once tried reading one of those public domain electronic versions of The Pickwick Papers on the Kindle and abandoned it after fifty pages or so. I look forward to reading the Pickwick you can see in the photo above. 

I do like one thing about a book in electronic form: the ability to search for words and phrases. I have electronic copies, obtained from Project Gutenberg, of both Dombey and Son and Bleak House on my computer, and have used them as, for instance, I did yesterday, to refresh my memory about who Gridley is in Bleak House. But I wouldn't sit and read the novels that way, unless I had no other choice. Which may be the situation someday, but not in my lifetime. 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Funny -- I have a Hardy set from the same publisher from around the same time, and they too have some paint splashes. Very similar covers, except the design on the spine is a little different and they are green, not tan. I'm missing a couple volumes, so the set isn't complete. I got it at a used bookstore in rural Pa. around 1990 -- paid $25. I've thought about looking for the missing ones to complete the set, but the ones that are missing are three or four of Hardy's minor works, so I'm not in any great hurry.

Wow, what a find!

I was hoping to find as individual volumes the Bleak House from this set, but a fairly lengthy session of scrolling through Abebooks listings failed to turn it up. There are a LOT of editions of Dickens, including many junky-looking ones enabled by the lack of copyright and the availability of cheap printing.

Try bookfinder.com if you haven't yet. They have filters for publisher, year, etc. You can even do a span of years I think.

The Everyman's Library are nice hardcover classic books, Mac. They're not in two volumes, but the pages are thin so the book itself is no overly large. I have Bleak House, Karamazov, Tom Jones, and Midnight's Children in these editions. Each century has a different color, I think, of soft hardcover. My Rushdie doesn't have a dust jacket because I got it secondhand.

I think I have something or other in that series, and it/they is/are nice. The copy of BH I'm reading is from the Oxford Illustrated Dickens series, which is very good but seems to be out of print. I got it from the library. I discovered, when I was about to start reading it, that the edition I own is abridged. That information is very un-prominent. Unpleasant surprise. I'll give it to the Friends of the Library but first write "ABRIDGED" in large letters on the title page.

"...unless I had no other choice. Which may be the situation someday..."

I hope that is never the situation, in my lifetime or anyone's. I share your dislike of non-physical or online reading, and I can't stand the thought of a world without actual books. And I am only 22, to give further evidence to your claim that it's not just your age.

Also, another good resource for finding books is addall.com. They have various helpful search functions, and combine information from AbeBooks, Amazon, and many other sites.

Good to hear your liking for books made of paper. And that it's not just my age.

I was aware of bookfinder but not addall. Unfortunately neither of them pointed me to a specific volume of my series in such a way that I could be sure it was actually that.

I picked up the Oxford Illustrated Dickens some time in the late 90's as a result of an error at a Borders bookstore. The band I was in at the time played there, and they overpaid us in gift cards. At that time, if I remember correctly, you could take a smaller cash amount or double in gift cards. We were supposed to get a $50 gift card each, but they gave us $150.00. We told the fellow that we didn't think that was correct because of what we were told ahead of time, but he insisted that it was $150.00, not $50. Next time we played there we found out that we had been correct and that he had actually gotten fired over it, because he had apparently made similar errors more than once. I felt bad for him, but I did get the Oxford Dickens out of it.

So Rob and Mac, what do you think of Esther Summerson? She is the main reason I would like to re-read Bleak House sometime soon. On first read several years ago I really didn't enjoy the chapters she narrated, and I can't quite remember why. I feel like it is probably a fault of mine; some underlying misogyny that I am unaware of or something. Then I watched the BBC production (with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock) and felt the same way about the actress playing Esther. So I am curious what others think of her. I didn't have the same negative feelings about Florence, for instance, in Dombey and Son; though perhaps Florence being SO perfect one would be hard pressed to think ill of her in any way! ;-)

Do you mean you dislike the character herself or the portrayal, from the literary and/or cinematic point of view? Or both? Well, in any case, I like both. As I'm reading I see a face which must be that of the actress who portrayed her in the series, which I seem to recall having some reservations about. Possibly Gillian Anderson's English accent which has seemed off to me in other things.

The point of view of BH is a little peculiar, alternating between Esther's first person past tense and the narrator's omniscient third person present tense. I can imagine someone objecting to it as a critic but it works for me. I'm halfway through by the way.

That's a bittersweet story, Rob :-) Nice that you got the sweet, though.

Esther does suffer somewhat (from the literary point of view) from goody-goodiness, like Florence. But it isn’t so monochromatic as with Florence, in part because we get to hear her own thoughts. She seems much more real to me than Florence.

I didn't care for the "Esther" chapters at the beginning but as the book went on she grew on me. Her narration seems Austen-like at times, which is certainly nothing to complain about.

I've got about 120 pages left. One thing I'm hoping is that the TV series keeps a lot of the humor in. As usual with Dickens some of the comic scenes border on the Wodehousian. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Mac - portrayal of
Now that I think about it, the male ward was irritating as well (to me), what with his floundering around trying to decide which career would be a good fit.
I intend to be more diplomatic towards both of them in my second reading of Bleak House!

I think Richard is sort of meant to be irritating. The other characters certainly seem to find his indecision annoying!

"meant to be irritating"--yes, just what I was going to say. If the reader finds him irritating, what must the people around him feel?!?

"Austen-like"--I had the same thought.

Finished Bleak House on Monday -- despite being a tiny bit disappointed by the ending I thought it was very enjoyable overall.

Interesting that in Sitwell's introduction he states that he doesn't like Esther much either! He mentions several of the characters as prime Dickens creations, but skips one of my favorites from the book, Detective Bucket. While reading the book I couldn't help but wonder whether Dostoevsky had Bucket in mind when he created Porfiry Petrovich in C&P. Sitwell also loves Skimpole, who I didn't like much at all.

I ordered the 2005 DVD set from the library and in doing so saw that there was also a 1985 BBC production for Masterpiece Theater that featured Diana Rigg as Lady Dedlock. I have no idea why I would have missed this back then, unless it was because I started watching M.T. slightly later, possibly in '86 or '87. Anyways, I plan to watch the '05 one first, then maybe the older one at some point in the future.

I'm still a couple of hundred pages from the end. But although I hadn't intended to read Sitwell's intro until after I'd finished, I wanted to take that copy back to the library and read one I'd bought, so I went ahead and read it anyway. My main reaction was "I didn't know Sitwell was gay." :-)

I can sympathize to some degree with his dislike of Esther --she is overly and not altogether believably goody-goody--but he goes way beyond that. I'm not one to see misogyny in anything negative said about a woman, but it crossed my mind. I think it was his tone more than the substance. And then he goes on and on about what a wonderful character Skimpole is. I think Skimpole is basically contemptible. Sitwell is extremely Wilde-ish in his effete delight in turning conventional views upside down: the solid person is disdained, the charming parasite is delightful.

I just discovered the 1985 dramatization, too, when I went looking for the later one. Both are on Prime and I fully intend to watch them both when I've finished the book.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)