After all, ‘destruction of the world’, the phrase used here, is a loaded one in this novel.
He states that ‘it is the woman who watches over, teaches, and guides the youth; it is never the youth who watches over, or educates his mistress’ (Ruskin 2008, 49). She has a greater capacity for feeling and sympathy, which should be cultivated and applied to ordering and comforting, first at her home, and then in the outside world: ‘Within his house, as ruled by her, need enter no danger, no temptation, no cause of error or offence’ (Ruskin 2008, 54).
Oxford Companion to Dickens states that ‘whilst projected marriages [â€¦] are positively represented, actual marriages rarely match the ideal’ (Schlicke 2000, 191). Ruskin begins by defining ‘the relations of the womanly to the manly nature’ and rejecting the polarised notions he assumes to be wrong (Ruskin 2008, 45). Her place was primarily in the private, domestic sphere, while man belonged to the public world. It was important for anyone wishing to discuss the role of women first to establish what their nature was. No plagiarism, guaranteed!
Previously, I offered a long analysis of Dickens’s history-book for children, arguing for its comic inventiveness and trademark Dickensian flair for characterisation. She is intelligent – it is never really explained in detail who teaches her and how, but she seems to be learning by herself, naturally, just as Ruskin claimed girls would do. Oliver Tearle is the author of The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.
Ruskin reminds his audience that woman was initially created as a helper for man; she was designed simply to be a suitable helper. Bagstock is the comic foil to Mr Dombey, much as Sam Weller is the comic foil or sidekick to Mr Pickwick in Dickens’s first novel. His distinctive use of language is perfectly demonstrated in the novel, Dombey and Son. (In his brilliant study of Dickens’s imagination, The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens’ Imagination, John Carey remarks that, when Esther Summerson gets smallpox, it means nothing to us, because as far as we’re concerned she has no face.). Many Victorians would agree, no matter what their position, that ‘woman’s role was to be accepted as divinely willed’ (Norton 2000, 1719). Where Dombey is dull, straight-laced, and impossibly prim (the chapters involving him, and his alienated daughter Florence, are the dullest in what is otherwise a very colourful novel), the Major is loud, obnoxious, and endlessly entertaining: in appearance, in speech, in action.
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