Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

February 9, 2010

dombey-and-son Plot summary (with spoilers): Dombey and Son is the name of a powerful shipping house in London. The owner of the house is Paul Dombey, who, at the beginning of the story is elated because his wife has just given birth to a son, thus fulfilling the name of the house. To be sure, Dombey already has a daughter, a six-year-old girl named Florence. But since she’s just a girl, Dombey takes no notice of her at all. Fortunately for the girl, her mother supplies plenty of love and affection.

But the mother soon dies from complications from childbirth, leaving Dombey to care for his two children with the help of a nurse. With the mother’s death, Florence is essentially left alone in the world. Her father is far too wrapped up in business and in little Paul to notice her, leading to a miserably lonely existence.

As little Paul grows, he becomes extremely attached to “Floy”. They love each other dearly, and are inseparable — except for those times that the father wants to spend time with the boy. But Paul is a sickly child, and succumbs to illness at the tender age of six, leaving his father absolutely distraught. Florence is nearly inconsolable as well, especially since Paul’s death serves to widen the gulf between her and her father.

The story soon becomes Florence’s, as Dickens shows how she blossoms into a beautiful young woman, marries childhood friend Walter Gay, and eventually reconciles with her father. As for the old man, he remarries, has his second wife leave him because of his disdain and utter neglect of Florence, loses his business, becomes nearly destitute, and suffers serious health issues of his own. After reconciling with Florence, however, he realizes how wretched he was not to take notice of her before. To make up for it, he lavishes special attention on Florence’s children — especially the girl.

Liked:

  • The main story was rather interesting. I was intrigued by Dombey’s treatment of his daughter, and felt extremely sorry for her. She certainly didn’t deserve anything of the kind. It was puzzling, though, why Florence would continue to love her father despite everything. He certainly gave her no reason to do so.
  • Many of the minor characters were fully fleshed out, which is something I appreciated. In particular, Captain Cuttle, Joe Bagstock, Edith, and Cleopatra were all clearly conceived and well-written. This just made the reading experience all the more enjoyable!
  • Despite the incredible length of this novel, there were actually very few slow spots. Again, it’s a testament to Dickens’ skill as a storyteller that he was able to keep things rolling for so long.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t think Dickens gave an adequate explanation for Dombey’s change of heart towards Florence. With as much as he ignored or even despised her her whole life, there should have been some huge event to make him change his mind. As it was, Dickens opted just to have Dombey be sick and broke, and have Floy come to him as usual.
  • The length. I know I said there were very few slow spots, but I still could have done with a shorter book overall. This felt like it took forever for me to read!

Rating:

I love Victorian lit, so it doesn’t take much for me to enjoy this type of novel. Still, I thought Dombey and Son was an excellent read. It had interesting characters and a decent storyline, so if you can get yourself to sit there and slog through all the pages, I think you’ll find it a rewarding experience overall. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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