"The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?" by W. L. Sheppard. Tenth illustration for Dickens's Dombey and Son in the American Household Edition (1873), Chapter VIII, "Paul’s Further Progress, Growth and Character," p. 51. 10.4 x 13.5 cm (4 ⅛ by 5 ¼ inches) framed. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Paul's Intimations of Mortality

“Oh! I am a great deal better now!” he answered. “I don’t mean that. I mean that I should die of being so sorry and so lonely, Floy!”

Another time, in the same place, he fell asleep, and slept quietly for a long time. Awaking suddenly, he listened, started up, and sat listening.

Florence asked him what he thought he heard.

“I want to know what it says,” he answered, looking steadily in her face. “The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?”

She told him that it was only the noise of the rolling waves.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “But I know that they are always saying something. Always the same thing. What place is over there?” He rose up, looking eagerly at the horizon.

She told him that there was another country opposite, but he said he didn’t mean that: he meant further away — farther away!

Very often afterwards, in the midst of their talk, he would break off, to try to understand what it was that the waves were always saying; and would rise up in his couch to look towards that invisible region, far away. [Chapter VIII, "Paul’s Further Progress, Growth and Character," 51]

Commentary: Paul enjoys visiting the seaside

"What the waves are always saying" to little Paul Dombey unfolds a child's perspective on contemporary natural-theological and millenarian speculations. — Jennifer Gribble.

Phiz's December 1846 introduction of the terrifying child-minder whom Paul cows in the eighth chapter, Paul and Mrs. Pipchin.

Since Dombey's physician has prescribed bracing sea air for the boy, Paul goes to live with Mrs. Pipchin at her boarding-school in Brighton. A highlight of each day there for the sickly, contemplative child is being wheeled around the beach at Brighton in an invalid's chair, very realistically realised by both Sheppard in 1873 and Barnard in 1877. Both Mrs. Chick, Dombey's sister, and her friend, Miss Tox, second the notion that sea-air would do the boy good. Mrs. Chick specifically mentions that in Brighton he would have the added advantage of "the bodily and mental training of so judicious a person as Mrs. Pipchin" (46). louisa Chick explains to her brother that "Mrs. Pipchin's management of children is astonishing." What she runs is not so much a Preparatory school as "an infantine Boarding-house" for the children of the affluent.

Instead of describing Pul's stay at "The Castle of this ogress and child-queller" (47) as Dickens's original serial illustrator did, Sheppard takes us to the beach with Paul, attended by Florence since both Miss Tox and Mrs. Chick have proposed that she accompany her brother. Presumably it was Mrs. Pipchin who, at the end Paul's first week in her establishment orders a little carriage in which he lie at ease as he was wheeled down to the seaside, as in the present illustration. but paul discharges the lad whom Mrs. Pipchin has hired to pull the conveyance, and has selected the boy's grandfather, depicted by Sheppard as an aged fisherman in a sou-wester: "a weazen, old, crab-faced man in a suit of battered oil-skin" (59). This old salt consistently appears in illustrations of Paul's seaside expectations in the 1873, 1877, and 1900 editions of the novel. The artists emphasize the presence also of Florence Dombey, but not of Mrs. Pipchin's sour maid, Wickam (who may be one of the two bonneted women centre rear in the present illustration). Sheppard had not likely visited England when he drew this picture of Brighton on the English Channel, so he has furnished credible details from his own imagination as Dickens does not mention either the headland (right) or the seaside hotels to the rear. As the caption suggests, Paul in the picture seems disconcerted, and turns to Florence as he worries about what lies over the horizon and what the sea is attempting to tell him.

Later Illustrations of Paul's Listening to the Sea (1877. 1893, and 1900)

Left: Paul's only escape from the dreary halls of the child-minder's Brighton establishment is accompanying his sister to the beach, as depicted by Fred Barnard in the Household Edition: Listening to the Sea (1877). Centre: Copping's simple line drawing depicting Florence, Paul, and the little carriage on the beach: Little Paul Dombey and Florence on the Seashore (1893). Right: W. H. C. Groome's study of the Dombey children on the beach at Brighton as the frontispiece for the 1900 Collins Pocket Edition: She hurriedly put her work aside.

Related Material, including Other Illustrated Editions of Dombey and Son (1846-1910)

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned it and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by W. L. Sheppard. The Household Edition. 18 vols. New York: Harper & Co., 1873.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon and Company, 1862. Vols. 1-4.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr., and engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. III.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Fred Barnard [62 composite wood-block engravings]. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. XV.

__________. Dombey and Son. With illustrations by  H. K. Browne. The illustrated library Edition. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, c. 1880. II.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. 61 wood-engravings. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. XV.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by W. H. C. Groome. London and Glasgow, 1900, rpt. 1934. 2 vols. in one.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. IX.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz"). 8 coloured plates. London and Edinburgh: Caxton and Ballantyne, Hanson, 1910.

__________. Dombey and Son. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz"). The Clarendon Edition, ed. Alan Horsman. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.

Dickens, Mary Angela, Percy Fitzgerald, Captain Edric Vredenburg, and Others. Illustrated by Harold Copping with eleven coloured lithographs. Headpiece for "List of Coloured Plates," Children's Stories from Dickens. London: Raphael Tuck, 1893. Page 6.

Gribble, Jennifer. "Chapter 3: Dombey and Son: 'What the Waves were Always Saying'." Dickens and the Bible: 'What Providence Meant'. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Senior, Claire. 'What the Waves Were Always Saying': Submerging Masculinity in Dombey and Son." Dickens Studies Annual, 32 (2002): 107-127.

Created 25 January 2022