The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel

By Jeff Nunokawa | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
For Your Eyes Only: Private Property and the
Oriental Body in Dombey and Son

1

AFAMILIAR PASSAGE in Dombey and Son describes the limitless contours of the “one idea of” capital, the conviction that all parts of the universe are comprehended by the shape of the commodity, that the site of the “system” of capitalized exchange is pervasive.

The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light. Rivers and seas were formed to float their ships; rainbows gave them promise of fair weather; winds blew for or against their enterprises; stars and planets circled their orbits, to preserve inviolate a system of which they were the centre. (50) 1

Dombey's conception of the entire world as the site and accessory of capitalized trade accords with a strain of nineteenth- and twentiethcentury enthusiasm within the Occident for the exportation of capitalism to the Third World, as well as various critical accounts of it. 2 Both the exponents of capitalist imperialism and its historians and theoreticians regard the globalization of capitalist trade as the tool of capitalism, casting it either as the means of spreading its splendors or as a solution for its problems.

But while Dombey conceives of the world as the theater of trade, the novel also maps a more heterogeneous geography. If Dombey regards the entire world as the site of trade, elsewhere in the novel intercourse with distant regions serves to protect various spaces within the Occident from the reach of capital.

A rumor of the relation I want to investigate here appears in the cozy domesticity of Solomon Gill's shop, whose antiquated wares are at once “ship-shape” and inaccessible to the view or grasp of customers:

Objects in brass and glass were in his drawers and on his shelves, which none but the initiated could have found the top of, or guessed the use of, or having once examined, could have ever got back again into their

-40-

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