We present a formalism for studying the influence of dispersive and absorbing dielectric bodies on a radiating atom in the framework of quantization of the phenomenological Maxwell equations for given complex permittivities of the bodies. In Markov approximation, the rate of spontaneous decay and the line shift associated with it can then be related to the complex permittivities and geometries of the bodies via the dyadic Green function of the classical boundary value problem of electrodynamics -- a result which is in agreement with second-order calculations for microscopic model systems. The theory is applied to an atom near a planar interface as well as to an atom in a spherical cavity. The latter, also known as the real-cavity model for spontaneous decay of an excited atom embedded in a dielectric, is compared with the virtual-cavity model. Connections with other approaches are mentioned and the results are compared.