Background.

Dombey and Son
  • This head was decorated with shaggy hair, like oakum, which had no governing inclination towards the north, east, west, or south, but inclined to all four quarters of the compass, and to every point upon it” is a quotation from Dombey and Son (Chapter 23).

Context.

Description of the character Jack Bunsby. Bunsby, a seafaring friend of Captain Edward Cuttle, who likes to dispense advice, particularly in times of trouble. He is captain of the ship Cautious Clara. Dickens adds humour to a scene where Captain Bunsby appears, comparing his wayward hair to the points of a nautical instrument, a compass.

In Chapter 23 of Dombey and Son Florence Dombey is worried about the lack of news from the ship carrying Walter Gay. Concerned about his whereabouts she goes to visit his uncle Solomon (Sol) Gills. Gills is anxious and gets advice from his seafaring friend Captain Cuttle who seeks a second opinion from his friend Jack Bunsby.

Illustration by Phiz from Chapter 23 of Dombey and Son showing Captain’s Bunsby and Cuttle, along with Florence Dombey, Susan Nipper, and Sol Gills.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 23 (Florence solitary, and the Midshipman mysterious) of Dombey and Son:

‘Clara a-hoy!’ cried the Captain, putting a hand to each side of his mouth.
‘A-hoy!’ cried a boy, like the Captain’s echo, tumbling up from below.
‘Bunsby aboard?’ cried the Captain, hailing the boy in a stentorian voice, as if he were half-a-mile off instead of two yards.

‘Ay, ay!’ cried the boy, in the same tone.

The boy then shoved out a plank to Captain Cuttle, who adjusted it carefully, and led Florence across: returning presently for Miss Nipper. So they stood upon the deck of the Cautious Clara, in whose standing rigging, divers fluttering articles of dress were curing, in company with a few tongues and some mackerel.

Immediately there appeared, coming slowly up above the bulk-head of the cabin, another bulk-head—human, and very large—with one stationary eye in the mahogany face, and one revolving one, on the principle of some lighthouses. This head was decorated with shaggy hair, like oakum, which had no governing inclination towards the north, east, west, or south, but inclined to all four quarters of the compass, and to every point upon it. The head was followed by a perfect desert of chin, and by a shirt-collar and neckerchief, and by a dreadnought pilot-coat, and by a pair of dreadnought pilot-trousers, whereof the waistband was so very broad and high, that it became a succedaneum for a waistcoat: being ornamented near the wearer’s breastbone with some massive wooden buttons, like backgammon men. As the lower portions of these pantaloons became revealed, Bunsby stood confessed; his hands in their pockets, which were of vast size; and his gaze directed, not to Captain Cuttle or the ladies, but the mast-head.

The profound appearance of this philosopher, who was bulky and strong, and on whose extremely red face an expression of taciturnity sat enthroned, not inconsistent with his character, in which that quality was proudly conspicuous, almost daunted Captain Cuttle, though on familiar terms with him. Whispering to Florence that Bunsby had never in his life expressed surprise, and was considered not to know what it meant, the Captain watched him as he eyed his mast-head, and afterwards swept the horizon; and when the revolving eye seemed to be coming round in his direction, said:

‘Bunsby, my lad, how fares it?’

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This head was decorated with shaggy hair, like oakum, which had no governing inclination towards the north, east, west, or south, but inclined to all four quarters of the compass, and to every point upon it.
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