Mr. Dombey's idealistic vision of his "Dombey and Son" shipping firm rests on the shoulders of his delicate son Paul. However, when the firm faces ruin, and Dombey's second marriage ends in disaster, it is his devoted daughter Florence, unloved and neglected, who comes to his aid.This new edition contains Dickens's prefaces, his working plans, and all the original illustrations. The text is that of the definitive Clarendon edition, which is supplemented by a wide-ranging Introduction that highlights Dickens's sensitivity to the problems of his day, including those of familyrelationships, giving the novel added depth and relevance. The Notes and Bibliography have been substantially revised, extended, and updated.
Your visage nows appears to me in a cloud on a sea blue sky. How I could have used your hooked and sinewy arm on some of those overhanging participles, me slipping like a cabin boy on a soapy deck, trying for footage on a suddenly subjunctive clause!
Climb from your cloud frigate, kind sir, and shout "Hooroar for Ganeshaka! Hooroar the flag!" Hum a few bars of pretty Peg. Mightn't you have a musty bottle of old Madeira squirreled away in your sea galley to brighten a weary mate's heart chambers. Wouldn't ye now? Ye might indeed. Old and gold Madeira? Ye would, Ye would indeed. Gold, ayn't it? It is. Ayn't it? It is indeed.
Let's wipe the slate clean, and pretend neither you or I ever heard of Dickens. No Christmas Carol. No David Copperfield. No Tale of Two Cities. Just Dombey and Son. What sort of novel is this?
A very long elaborately crafted overly sentimental exposition of a truth and a dream. The truth, pride goeth before a fall. The dream, the meek shall inherit the earth.
Elaborately crafted but not all that readable. I found myself in a fugue state recalling eight grade homework. Reverting to my younger self, like Paul Dombey, grimly puzzling over sentence diagrams. Imagining what a line like the following would parse to:
"But in admitting to himself with a disappointed and creastfallen countenance, that Sol Gillis must be told, and that Walter must go - taking the case for the present as he found it, and not having it enlightened or improved beforehand by the knowing management of a friend - the captain still felt an unabated confidence that he,Ned Cuttle, was the man for Mr.Dombey,and that to set Walter's fortunes quite square, nothing was wanted but that they two should come together."
I'm pretty sure that if diagrammed correctly, the above sentence would resemble exactly a dynastic chart showing the connections between the House of Hanover and the Romanovs.
Dickens did write his novels in installments, for serial publication. I hope I don't appear overtly cynical by surmising he often succumbed to the temptation to throw in a superfluous sentence or three. Just to make his thirty two pages deadline. Like who'd ever know?
And yes, Dombey and Son is a wee bit sentimental. Were he writing Bush and Son instead, Dickens would surely end up with George Walker blessing daughter Barbara's marriage to Michael Moore, and their infant son Georgie Sicko III, born in Cuba with the finest of medical care. While Cheney and Obama swapped family barbeque sauce recipes at the christening, and started a friendly water fight at the baptismal font.
But still, but still...this is Charles (why-no-middle-name?) Dickens. He does have a 24 carat heart of gold. And sentimentality sells Kleenex, after all. And you do get caught up in the tale, and the prose - and if my pithy style has been ruined by contamination - so what? And Florence IS a lovely girl, and true. And Walter's the finest of fellows.
I am intrigued, after it all, to learn more about Dickens life. I shall seek out a good biography. And I would like to read a few of his darker novels. He does "get it" - the ills of industrialization, classism, and human vanity. And he is, in some passages, like an episode of Frontline or 20/20 in a steampunk kinda way. And like the Wright Bros at Kitty Hawk, he does have these lovely lyrical lift offs - from time to time. It's fascinating to speculate what type of novels he might write if he were alive today with a brush as broad and a heart as big as he had. And if he would remain as sentimental, or given our tastes write as gory as an episode of CSI.
I read some Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck and Hemingway with mixed success before reading Great Expectations. I liked it enough to read David Copperfield, and I was hooked. A Tale of Two Cities followed and then Oliver Twist (not my favorite), Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit and The Pickwick Papers before taking on this door stop of a novel.
Many of Dickens’s works tend to be lengthy and excessively wordy, perhaps due to their nature of having been serialized prior to being printed in a single volume. Heretofore, I haven’t found that trait particularly annoying or troublesome, however this book proved to be an exception. I can usually read for a couple of hours before going to sleep, but found myself nodding off after only 20-30 minutes of Dombey. There are fantastic characters here, as in all of Dickens’s work, but they tend to be smothered by the frequently flowery and seemingly never ending prose.
As in other Dickens works, a period of acclimation is required to become comfortable with the vocabulary and social conventions of the era. Having read almost all of Dickens’s work, I would have to rank this as my least favorite.
There's more urban scenes this time than rural, wealthy homes and businesses predominating. Dickens supplies another host of memorable characters, the stalwart Susan Nipper and do-gooder Captain Cuttle being particular favourites of mine. I was impressed at first with the villain, but I was certain there were more evil machinations in play than that. For a novel so obviously centered on Dombey Sr., I found it surprising how rarely we got into his head. We don't know what justification lies behind his pride, what his relationship with his own father was like or how good he actually is at his job. He shares almost nothing of himself and remains mostly an enigma, arguably the flattest character in Dickens' repertoire (so far). Contrast him with Edith, who shares his degree of pride but has some intriguing layers and was arresting in all of her scenes.
All my complaining aside, this was a step up from his last two or three novels. I'm looking forward to where Dickens' new devotion to structure will take him, knowing that most of his best-known titles still lie ahead.
While earlier works have a "boys own annual" feel to them, this is a more mature and complex book. While Dickens still annoys with his fantastic coincidences to
I find it interesting that in his works, Dickens has multiple examples of strong, loving, brother-sister relationships, but almost no happy married couples of any depth. I wonder what this tells of his own background?
Darwin continues his social themes, in this work he often highlights the "depravity" deplored by the upper class is often a result of the blighted environment of the poorer peoples. He also points out that the same "depravity" has different consequences in different social stratas - the upper class can effectively sell daughters into a moneyed marriage, while the same process is called prostitution further down the social scale.
I see in Wikipedia that an early critic faulted the plot structure, saying that the death of Dombey Junior was effectively the end of the story, but I didn't find that fault. It was clear that Florence was going to be the hero - would she become the surrogate son? Would she be successful in some other way? Would there be a future marriage and further son? Many possibilities.
The book is L O N G, as usual. And Dickens tests his readers. A Mr Morfin re-appears on page 681. How many readers recall his last appearance on page 175?? I could only do so courtesy of the word search function in ebooks.
The book also has the usual complement of comic characters who regularly appear and regularly use the same "gags" for the same laughs: Capt Cuttle using nonsense nautical jargon; Major Bagstock endlessly referring to himself in the third person, and many other formulaic characters. It would seem that these were popular and sold the monthly parts. :)
So, a good book, with many of the usual flaws of Dickens, balanced by some vibrant writing. Read February 2012.
I spent about a month wading through this (while reading, and finishing, several other more modern novels, at the same time), and it was worth every bit of the effort. This may be my new favorite Dickens’ novel. It’s definitely more mature than “David Copperfield”, more satisfying than “A Tale of Two Cities”, more convincing than “Bleak House”. All the elements we expect from Dickens are here: the settings, the unforgettable characters, the compassion, the sentimentalism. And the female character that is too good to be true, as well - she always seems to show up in a Dickens novel somewhere, and in this case, regardless of the title, she is at the center of all the activity.
And, as usual, Dickens cannot resist wrapping up every character, no matter how insignificant, and bringing everyone, no matter how wicked or debased, to an appropriate end as elevated as he can manage.
So put this novel on your nightstand and chip away at it gradually for a month or so - it will be well worth the effort.
It was a shock, then, to not only thoroughly enjoy the book, but also realize that it could have almost as easily been titled Mr. Toots and the Game
The plot is surprisingly linear for such a long Dickens novel. He has broken out of the more episodic nature of his early novels and begins to more effectively portray the psychology of the characters. This novel is too often overlooked but it is a fine work of the author's early maturity. While I do not like it as much as the two novels which immediately follow, David Copperfield and Bleak House, it is still vintage Dickens.
The story of Paul Dombey junior, who has a sad life and dies early, is sentimental, although Dickens shows his skill in touching the reader in such a simple story. The story of Paul Dombey senior is sadder in his (almost) life-long arrogance, pride and emotional withdrawal. His sentimental turn at the end is undeserved, merely the contrivance needed to make the Victorian readers buy the next issue.
The story of Mrs. Dombey, although heavily contrived as well, is the set-up needed to explore the relationship between Dombey and those around him. She is excluded from power by the social mores of the time, and escapes only be running away with her cousin, but the psychological fight between her and her husband is epic. It makes the pain, fury and frustration of her situation clear, and could stand as an early look at women’s property and marital rights, much like the Galsworthy saga did much later.
The story of Florence, Dombey’s daughter, is the emotional centre of the story, although a highly idealized one, weakened for a modern audience by her flawless purity and self-sacrifice. In spite of that, a reader has to sympathize with her as a lonely, motherless child who wants only to get some recognition from her father but who is completely ignored by him. When she is used as a tool to poison and manipulate the life of her step-mother, you have to feel for her emotional anguish, and feel relief when she is finally able to leave the family home and find a blissful life with her true love.
The minor characters, as in the best of Dickens, are droll and entertaining caricatures. Their sub-plots are not very credible, but they lighten a tone that would otherwise be very somber, and they also give a social context in which the psychological drama of the main characters has to be understood.
This was a long slow read, but I enjoyed coming back to it and felt some sadness as it came to its final end.
To me, Dombey and Son is the most entertaining of Dicken's books. His take on how women (in all aspects of life) are treated during the Victorian era is excellent. Whether it's a wet nurse who is treated abysmally or an unwanted and neglected daughter or a haughty wife who refuses to be tamed by her husband or a beautiful woman who is ruined forever by a cruel and heartless man, the hits keep coming.
The plot, as with all Dicken's novels, is very, very convoluted, but there seem to be fewer loose threads than in some of his works. Since most of his works were serialized first, you sometimes get the feeling that he changed courses during the writing at times and left a few things unresolved. But that is not the case in Dombey and Son. The plot may be convoluted, but it is still tight. All characters of note are accounted for in the end.
I love a good story and I love great characters. It is hard for me to get into a novel that doesn't have a traditional plot (think James Joyce) or has only unlikeable characters (yes, I'm talking about you, Of Human Bondage!) no matter how beautiful the writing is. That's why I love Dicken's novels. He always delivers one helluva story with memorable and mostly likeable characters (outside of the villains). And between plot, character and the focus on women, Dicken's delivers a wonderful book. It has stood the test of time and is still one of my very favorite books.
And then there's Cap'n Cuttle! What a great guy. His unwavering devotion to Sol Gills, Wal'r, and Florence are pure Dickens and provide some welcome Light into what is often a dark and despairing tunnel. His fear of his landlady, Mrs. MacStinger, is hilarious and brought some great comments during our bookgroup conversations. And let's not forget how well he ran the Midshipman in its owner's absence!
Finally, Florence and Edith. Two tragic characters, each with a different path, and each created to prove a point Dickens wants to make. They are given no true character development; rather, they are the foils to Dombey himself. Florence is his neglected daughter who never gives up hope that she will someday make her Papa love her and notice her with something other than anger. Through the pen of Charles Dickens, she never gives in to anger, hate, or cruelty, a true spirit of Victorian womanhood. We know now what happens with this level of neglect to a loving child, but for the purposes of this book and the Victorian views of the female character, those sides to her are never explored. Instead, Edith, Dombey's second wife, is as proud as her husband and as stubborn, and is "sold" into marriage because that is what happened to women of the upper classes. She never stops hating herself and seeking to destroy herself, proudly holding her head high as she stays aloof from Dombey and the world in which she has married into. Her one soft spot, the part that makes her most human, is her softness and love towards Florence. And Edith's self-hatred was easily a sympathetic part of her character, and she gives an excellent speech about why and what her life has become. I hold the highest esteem for her and what her character has to face."
Florence Dombey is the star of the show.
The Dombey of the title is the wealthy owner of a shipping company who dreams of having a son and heir who will be able to carry on the family business. Dombey gets his wish but when she
For Dombey the world exists only to further the interests of his family business and consequently the plot revolves around the destruction of Dombey's arrogant, selfish pride and whether or not he will ever come to love and value his daughter as she deserves.
This is a hefty tome numbering well in excess of 900 pages but thankfully there aren't too many characters to get confused about and some of these like Major Bagstock, Sir Barnet Skettles and Cousin Feenix actually add little to the central plot. There is however, a cracking villain, James Carker, the scheming manager of Dombey and Son, with gleaming white teeth and a devious brain. There are also some great minor characters, in particular Captain Cuttle, the kind-hearted retired sea captain with a hook for a hand, and Susan Nipper, Florence’s loyal nurse; one of the few people who stands up to Dombey over his neglect of his daughter.
It's this last character that is particularly interesting. Dickens gets a lot of criticism for his treatment of female characters but the women in this book are well-drawn and interesting. Yes, Florence can be too good to be true at times, but her father’s rejection of her is so cruel and hurtful that it’s impossible not to have sympathy for her. Her stepmother, Edith Dombey, though, a woman filled with self-loathing after being pushed into marriage by her mother, who then decides to take her fate into her own hands is the strongest female characters that I’ve come across in a Dickens novel thus far. The novel really shines a light on the oppressed position of women in society at that time and I found the faded gentility of Mrs Chark and Louisa Tox quite enlightening as well.
This is my fifth Dickens novel to date and my least favourite thus far. Although I enjoyed parts, other sections dragged and it seemed to lack some of the subtle humour that I had come to expect in his works. I also felt that the absence of a 'hero' meant that the plotting and structure felt a little off.
Perhaps it's because the first third, with the aching characters of Paul and Flora, and young Paul, is so strong and unified, that the gradual splintering of the plot leads one to feel a little bit underwhelmed as things move toward a climax. The climax itself, being in many ways an emotional rather than narrative one, is also unlike anything Dickens had previously entertained. It's really rather powerful at times. As I said, this is a high three-stars, but it definitely just creeps into my Dickens Top Ten.