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The following paragraph is from Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Chapter 27.

It was now summer-time; a grey, hot, dusty evening. They rode to the top of Oxford Street, and there alighting, dived in among the great streets of melancholy stateliness, and the little streets that try to be as stately and succeed in being more melancholy, of which there is a labyrinth near Park Lane. Wildernesses of corner houses, with barbarous old porticoes and appurtenances; horrors that came into existence under some wrong-headed person in some wrong-headed time, still demanding the blind admiration of all ensuing generations and determined to do so until they tumbled down; frowned upon the twilight. Parasite little tenements, with the cramp in their whole frame, from the dwarf hall-door on the giant model of His Grace’s in the Square to the squeezed window of the boudoir commanding the dunghills in the Mews, made the evening doleful. Rickety dwellings of undoubted fashion, but of a capacity to hold nothing comfortably except a dismal smell, looked like the last result of the great mansions’ breeding in-and-in; and, where their little supplementary bows and balconies were supported on thin iron columns, seemed to be scrofulously resting upon crutches. Here and there a Hatchment, with the whole science of Heraldry in it, loomed down upon the street, like an Archbishop discoursing on Vanity. The shops, few in number, made no show; for popular opinion was as nothing to them. The pastrycook knew who was on his books, and in that knowledge could be calm, with a few glass cylinders of dowager peppermint-drops in his window, and half-a-dozen ancient specimens of currant-jelly. A few oranges formed the greengrocer’s whole concession to the vulgar mind. A single basket made of moss, once containing plovers’ eggs, held all that the poulterer had to say to the rabble. Everybody in those streets seemed (which is always the case at that hour and season) to be gone out to dinner, and nobody seemed to be giving the dinners they had gone to.

What does "nobody seemed to be giving the dinners they had gone to" mean?

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What Dickens is conveying in the whole paragraph is that the streets looked completely dead: many of the houses are somewhat decrepit, the shop windows only contain token merchandise, and there is no visible activity in any of the houses, even though it's dinnertime. The sentence

Everybody in those streets seemed (which is always the case at that hour and season) to be gone out to dinner, and nobody seemed to be giving the dinners they had gone to,

is a little conundrum Dickens sets for the reader ... if nobody is having dinner at home, and there is no evidence of big dinner parties, where is everybody eating?

The answer is undoubtedly that some people are dining quietly at home, without this being outwardly visible, while other people have gone to some other neighborhood to dine.

This is not a neighborhood where people pay much attention to displaying signs of wealth, because only the people living in this neighborhood frequent it. The shops rely on regular customers, without attempting to attract passersby, and while in more fashionable neighborhoods, people might make a great show that they are having a dinner party, dinner parties are not generally held here, but elsewhere.

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It's quite clear. Everyone seems to have gone out for dinner. But how could that be, since no one in the area seemed to be giving any dinners? (Dickens' sentence appears to me to be clearer than my re-wording.) The meaning, thanks to the repeated "seemed," is: even though it was dinner hour, nobody was having dinner.

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Logically, not everyone can be a guest at someone else's dinner. Someone must be the host.

So, if it seemed that everyone can gone out to dinner, and seemed that no one was giving a dinner -- the seeming must be inaccurate. Perhaps they had an unusual dinner hour. Perhaps they were, in spite of appearances, having dinner at home. Perhaps they actually were guests, and therefore, in spite of appearances, someone was giving a dinner.

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  • Why couldn't everybody just be going out to dinner in a different part of town?
    – Peter Shor
    Dec 18, 2022 at 14:42
  • That's logic. The passage is discussing impressions. Plus of course no automobiles so they didn't go far.
    – Mary
    Dec 18, 2022 at 17:17

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