Florence Dombey

Moss Hart

Ballet of Despair


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Probably the most remarkable allusion to be found in all of Dickens appears in Dombey And Son . . .

In Fanny Hill by John Cleland, the innocent, 15-year-old eponymous heroine travels to London to Seek Her Fortune. Tricked into a brothel as a companion to a ‘lady’, she’s seduced into a life of prostitution. Fanny relates her various sexual exploits in such explicit detail that the book was banned in the US and UK until the 1960s. And it wasn't until the 1980s that an encounter between two homosexuals was restored.

Yet it’s to this book (still banned in Australia!) that Dickens alludes in his novel.

The woman who lures Fanny into her brothel is ‘good Mrs Brown’ and in Dombey And Son it’s Good Mrs Brown who waylays Florence: “I want that pretty frock, Miss Dombey,” said Good Mrs Brown, “and that little bonnet, and a petticoat or two, and anything else you can spare. Come! Take ‘em off”.

The implication, then, is clear: as a young girl wandering the streets, Florence might have met a very different Mrs Brown and lost more than just her garments.

But could lonely, love-starved Florence have been corrupted like the equally innocent Fanny and become a ‘Woman of Pleasure’?

Dickens makes it plain that she could.

Most girls take after their mother, and the name of Florence’s mother

. . . was Fanny.

“And the child, you see,” said Mrs Chick, in deep confidence, “has poor dear Fanny’s nature.”