Научная статья на тему '«Dombey and son» as bilduingsroman: peculiarities of plot development'

«Dombey and son» as bilduingsroman: peculiarities of plot development Текст научной статьи по специальности «Языкознание и литературоведение»

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Ключевые слова

Аннотация научной статьи по языкознанию и литературоведению, автор научной работы — Makhmudova N. A.

В данной статье рассматривается отображение своеобразия жанровых признаков английского романа воспитания в творчестве писателя-реалиста Ч. Диккенса. Отдельное внимание уделяется отображению характерных для жанра признаков в романе «Домби и Сын».

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Текст научной работы на тему ««Dombey and son» as bilduingsroman: peculiarities of plot development»

Вестник Челябинского государственного университета. 2011. № 28 (243).

Филология. Искусствоведение. Вып. 59 . С. 62-64.

N. A. Makhmudova


В данной статье рассматривается отображение своеобразия жанровых признаков английского романа воспитания в творчестве писателя-реалиста Ч. Диккенса. Отдельное внимание уделяется отображению характерных для жанра признаков в романе «Домби и Сын».

Ключевые слова и фразы: роман воспитания, Bildungsroman, линия сюжета, нарратив, Викторианская эпоха, концепция, роман.

Almost every writer in his/her creative work absorbs the social problems, then injects them with the powerful energy of their own thoughts, ideas, viewpoints and at last shares the final product with the readers and expects the reaction of audience and critics. Only a few of them find their own niche in the universe of literary heritage and remain in readers’ mind forever. Even passing time and changes of generations cannot diminish the value and significance of such literary works. Without any hesitation I can address these words to the great Victorian writer-artist, who pictured contemporary life and galleries of characters, “inimitable” humourist, convincing educator, actor, and, of course, “novelist for all seasons” - Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens had legendary popularity in the Victorian Epoch. Worldwide activities of Dickens’ fellowships, including various events, conferences, grants and assistance to scientific research, prove that Dickens’ creations are still in focus of literary critics and researchers.

It is difficult to overestimate the impact of Dickens’ literary heritage on world literature. For example, his creativity influenced such well-known Russian writers F.M. Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy and thanks to translations his books became popular among Russian and Uzbek readers as well. Later in the 20th century Uzbek writers Oybek and Gafur Gulom, impressed by Dickens’ novels, created literary works dealing with children’s upbringing issues, raising problems of family relations and impact of a society on the formation of individuality.

Dickens’ influence on readers was tremendous. Approaching various matters from a sociological or a psychological viewpoint he reached his literary goal depicting the naked truth about the contemporary society by highlighting such problems as social injustice, crime, education, upbringing, moral and ethical issues, and family relations. He

really believed that society and family environment shaped all the character traits, individuality and personality of every human being. This was the main reason why Dickens’ most novels belong to Bildungsroman.

This term, well known among literary critics, came into use in the period of German Enlightenment and denoted the formation of a protagonist from early childhood up to the maturity or some stable period of his/her life. The term is hotly disputed. Nowadays several definitions of this genre exist in English literature: coming-of-age novel. education novel, novel of formation, apprenticeship novel, and pedagogic novel. Russian scholars also use several terms for this genre: roman vospi-taniya (upbringing novel), roman stanovleniya (character-moulding novel), roman formirovaniya (formation novel), didaktiko-pedagogicheskiy roman (didactico-pedagogic novel). Encyclopedia Britannica online gives the following definition to this literary term: 'Bildungsroman is class of novel that deals with the maturation process, with how and why the protagonist develops as he does, both morally and psychologically.1 The German word Bildungsroman means “novel of education” or “novel of formation.” A common variation of the Bildungsroman is the Kunstlerroman, a novel dealing with the formative years of an artist. Such other variations as the Erziehungsroman (“novel of upbringing”) and the Entwicklungsroman (“novel of character development”) differ slightly from the Bildungsroman, and these terms are sometimes used interchangeably”. I prefer to use German term Bildungsroman in this article because it combines all the above mentioned characteristics.

The famous Russian critic M.M. Bakhtin wrote several research works on problematic issues of the genre Bildungsroman. And his outlook coincides with J. H. Buckley’s view that the plot of novels is primarily chronological.2 According to Bakhtin’s conception the chronological structure

of narration may vary; it doesn’t necessarily depict all the stages of life of the protagonist from birth to death. The narration may start at any stage of life and stop when protagonist finds a place in society. The hero’s character is not “ready-made” and static, as in other genres of novel. The psychological and moral development of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, formation of character is the main and crucial theme of Bildungsroman. Other story elements include orphanage (or at least fatherless or motherless), apprenticeship, life experience, portrayal of society, internal and external conflict, love and marriage.3

Traditionally literary critics characterizing genres of Dickens’ novels consider David Cop-perfield, and Great Expectations as a classic Bildungsroman. But in spite of the multitude of research works on Dickens’ novels, it is important to reconsider the criterion which defines the characteristic features of this genre in the framework of constantly changing literary world.

The novel Dombey and Son marked the turning point in Dickens’ creative world. The Russian literary critic V.G. Belinsky was greatly astonished with this novel and wrote in his letter to another critic, P.V. Annenkov, that after reading Dombey and Son all the previous Dickens’ novels seemed to be “faint and feeble”. The first translations of Dickens’ works into Russian were made at the end of the 30s and beginning of the 40s of the 19th century. These translations were poor and they diminished the real value of the works. But when in 1847 the Russian journal “Otechestvenniye zapis-ki” began to publish the novel Dombey and Son, Belinsky wrote to his friend, a Russian writer V.P. Botkin: “now Dickens is an absolutely new writer to me - the writer that I did not know before. He is a miracle. I have never seen so much imagination in drawing such deep and real portraits of literary characters”.4

The Soviet scholar, T.I. Silman, who deeply studied Dickens’ creative work, described the novel, it as the first draft of Bildungsroman genre in Dickens’ novels.5 It is acknowledged now, however, that it is neither Dickens’ first education novel nor the draft of the genre. Bakhtin’s conception makes it possible to classify this novel as a typical Bildungsroman, which possesses specific features and structure of the plot and narration.

Traditionally, Bildungsroman is concentrated on character-shaping of one main protagonist, who is surrounded by a chain of events and secondary characters. The novel Dombey and Son is unique -it has three parallel lines of the plot development.

Authors rarely describe evolution and formation of three protagonists within one novel. It is difficult to single out the main one in this novel, because Dickens changes the focus of the narration from one protagonist to another, depending on the significance of each episode and the problem that he highlights:

- the first line of the plot is little Paul’s destiny;

- the second one is Florence’s life;

- the third one is Dombey father’s life.

Every line has its own meaning and impact on

the reader. Social issues, morality, problems of teaching and getting education, interpersonal relations are in the center of the narration and shown by the author from three angles. It is clear that Dickens deliberately constructs his heroes along these lines from his direct personal statements. The personalities and individual circumstances of his heroes evolve from episode to episode. Such a type of characterization, as well a desire to render these characters into fictional form, permits Dickens to settle technical difficulties in finding an adequate structure for his novel.

The first line - Paul Dombey - the son

The first line of the plot follows the rule of chronological narration and covers such periods of Paul’s life as infantry and childhood. A vivid and expressive image of a child - Paul Dombey, is presented here as the ideal hero. Dickens shows the features of the child, rebelling against the treatment of children as small adults. The writer poeticizes the world of childhood conveying the immediacy and simplicity with which the little man appreciates what is happening. The image of Paul Dombey enables the writer to let his readers look at everything around him through the eyes of a little “sage”(the technique, which he also uses in The Old Curiosity Shop when the world is depicted through the eyes of little Nell), who with his “strange” and carefully targeted questions takes adults aback. The boy permits himself to doubt even in such “immutable values” of the adult world, as money, irrefutably proving its impotence in saving his mother. For the father, the birth of the son very much reminds a profitable agreement - now there is a man to continue his business. The long-awaited son is, first of all, the future partner, the successor of business, and this circumstance defines the father’s relation to the boy, which Dombey takes for genuine feelings. The imaginary love gets a destructive character, as well as everything that Mr. Dombey touches.

This line of the plot development finishes with Paul’s death. The main theme of this line shows that interference with the natural development of a child, overloading him with education and depriving of leisure and cheerful games ruins the world of childhood. Let child be a child.

The second line is Florence’s life

In this case, Dickens narrates the life history from childhood to adulthood, or at last reaches the stable period of Florence’s life. If Dickens had narrated from Florence point of view and made her the sole primary heroine of his novel, then it might have turned into the classic Bildungsroman, as David Copperfield or Great Expectations, with only one difference - a female protagonist.

Children in Dickens’ novels are generally unfortunate, deprived of childhood, human warmth and caress. The girl doesn’t suit for the business purpose; therefore she doesn’t get her father’s love. Florence silently and obediently suffers her father’s attitude. Ordinary people, such as nurse Toodle, do not understand how the father cannot love Florence, why he makes her suffer his scornful attitude. And she suffers a lot: her brother’s death, poor relationships in the family, losing her beloved, etc. But the burden of life problems cannot change the core, the nature of her character. Right to the end of the novel she lives up to the image of virtue and patience - the image of a kind “family-minded” angel, who can rescue the world. Here the sense of family is one of the key assets in the life of the heroine. At last she is “awarded” with an ideal family.

The third line is Dombey-father’s life

In this line of the plot the author starts the chronological narration from maturity and finishes with old age. Despite the realistic basis of the novel, this line of the plot is constructed according to the law of “Christmas tales”: There is a fantastic transformation of the cruel old man Dombey into the kind and sensitive person, under the influence of strokes of bad luck, i.e. with the outwardly realistic motivation.

Dickens created very complex psychological characteristics of the image. Detail after detail he draws a portrait of a typical character of a bourgeois businessman. Mr. Dombey resembles Scrooge’s character. As in Christmas Carol, commercial interests heavily influence Mr. Dombey, so that there is never left a place for ordinary human feelings. Money becomes a uniform value for Mr. Dombey, and this life perception is transferred to his wives and children. Through this line, Dickens “educates” his readers that money, being the

source of mighty power, is very weak and even fragile, and fails to substitute human feelings. The betrayal of business partner and Edith, bankruptcy, illness make Dombey understand the true values very painfully, through humiliation. After all misfortunes, Dombey turns into another kind of person. He pays almost all debts of his firm, proving his nobleness and decency. Possibly, it is the result of that internal struggle, which constantly goes on in the person, and which helps to revive for a new life. Florence plays a considerable role in the moral regeneration of Dombey. Dombey opens up in himself those vital forces, that help “to make an effort”, but now - for the sake of good and humanity. At the end of the novel the author shows Dombey as a careful father and grandfather, nursing Florence’s children.

The novel Dombey and Son was immensely popular the English society of that time. Using a complicated technique of three plot lines Dickens depicted a triangle of in-depth psychological analysis of such phenomena as family-society-money-relations. Analyzing morality through the formation of his main characters in the novel Dombey and Son, Dickens “educates” his readers that the main values of this world is not money, but love, kindness, ability to sympathize - everything that makes the world worth living in. These are key motifs of most Bildungsromans, and of this novel as well.


1 Encyclopedia Britannica online. URL : http:// www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/65244/bil-dungsroman

2 Buckley, J. H. Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Cambridge : Harvard UP, 1974.

3 Бахтин, М. М. Эстетика словесного творчества. M., 1979. 416 с. URL : http://www.iu.ru/ biblio/archive/bahtin_estetika/

4 Белинский, В. Г. Оливер Твист. Роман г-на Диккенса (Boz) Retrieved February 22, 2011. URL : http://az.lib.ru/b/belinskij_w_g/text_0710. shtml

5 Сильман, Т. И. Диккенс. Очерки творчества. Л.: Худож. лит., 1970. С. 210, 213.


1. Charles Dickens. “Domby and Son”, Signet Classic Editions. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1964.

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