Doctor Marigold, named for the man who delivered him, is a "cheap-jack" who hawks sundries from a traveling cart he inhabits with his wife and his daughter Sophy. The mother beats Sophy, but Marigold, feeling powerless, does nothing to stop her. When the child dies of a fever, her guilt-wracked mother commits suicide.

Doctor Marigold's lonely fortunes reverse when he adopts a deaf and mute girl whose mother is dead and whose stepfather, owner of a traveling circus, beats her. Marigold acquires the child for three pair of braces (suspenders), names her Sophy, invents his own system of sign language to teach her to read and converse with him, and finally sends her to a "deaf-and-dumb establishment" in London to complete her education.

When Sophy falls in love with another student, her father encourages her marriage, while feeling it as a terrible loss. Sophy writes him of her baby's birth and of her fear that the child will be deaf. The story culminates in Sophy's return and Doctor Marigold's realization that his granddaughter can hear.


Comprised of two chapters titled "To Be Taken Immediately" and "To Be Taken For Life," this story mixes progressive and paternalistic representations of deafness. Sophy is allowed a relatively "normal" heterosexual life trajectory--something not often given deaf characters in any century.

A deaf woman marrying a deaf man and bearing a biological child was a controversial scenario for Victorians concerned about transmission of impairments and confused about how that transmission might occur. Dickens develops this plot, however, in a manner supremely comforting to his non-disabled readers, assuring them with his ending that deafness need not be hereditary.

In its own cultural context, this was an innovative text handled with diplomacy. From a twentieth-century Deaf perspective, Doctor Marigold's "happy and yet pitying tears" as he watches his daughter and granddaughter interact reiterate the predominant cultural message of deafness as a limitation to be regarded with sorrow and avoided with joy.

Other disturbing factors in the story are the way that Sophy's identity before her adoption is completely erased; the fact of her having a name already is never an issue. After her adoption, she is mostly a vehicle for the richly emotive subjectivity of her father. His guilt at having been a speechless witness of his first child's abuse, along with his compensatory adoration of the second girl, suffuses the story.

The initial plot of child abuse is a work of melodramatic brilliance, so emotionally powerful that it flattens the latter part of the plot. The interrelationships between the two plots, however, are fascinating, especially viewed as the structural elements of Marigold's resolution of his parental failure.

A middle section is published with "Doctor Marigold" in Christmas Stories because Dickens had written it for the annual in which the story first appeared. "To Be Taken with A Grain of Salt" is framed as a tale Marigold writes for his daughter to celebrate her learning to read. The tale--of a murdered man bringing his killer to justice--is both a disjunctive addition to this story of fatherly love and oddly appropriate to the violence of its opening.

An effective pairing with this story is Wilkie Collins's earlier novel, Hide and Seek [see this database], another story involving a man's adoption of a deaf and abused child from a circus.


First published separately, 1865, as portions of the Christmas number of Dickens's periodical, All the Year Round, titled "Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions." Reprinted in Christmas Stories (1874) as "Doctor Marigold." The first publication was extremely successful, as were Dickens's public performances of an adaptation of the story.

Primary Source

Christmas Stories (The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens)


Oxford Univ. Press

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