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Dombey and Son

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Dombey and Son is a novel by the Victorian author Charles Dickens. It was first published in monthly parts between October 1846 and 1848 with the full title Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation (now rarely used). Dickens started writing the book in Lausanne but travelled extensively during the course of its writing, returning to England to begin another work before completing Dombey and Son. Its serialization coincided with the publication of two other major Victorian novels: William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847–48) and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847).

Plot summary

The story concerns Paul Dombey, the wealthy owner of the shipping company of the book's title, whose dream is to have a son to continue his business. The book begins when his son is born, and Dombey's wife dies shortly after giving birth.

The child, also named Paul, is weak and often ill, and does not socialize normally with others; adults call him "old fashioned". He is intensely fond of his elder sister, Florence, whom Mr Dombey neglects as irrelevant and a distraction. He is sent away first for his health, and then to a school near the sea, but he dies, still only six years old.

Dombey pushes his daughter away from him after the death of his son, while she futilely tries to earn his love. She also develops a close friendship with Walter Gay, who once rescued her when she had gotten lost and been kidnapped as a child. Walter works for Dombey and Son, but through the manipulations of the firm's manager, Mr Carker, he is sent off to work in Barbados. His boat is reported lost and he is presumed drowned. Florence is left alone with few friends most of the time.

Dombey remarries; effectively he buys the daughter of an acquaintance in marriage. The marriage is a loveless one; his wife despises him as greedy and herself as shallow and worthless. Her love for Florence initially prevents her from leaving, but finally she conspires with Mr Carker that they shall ruin Dombey's public image by running away together. They do so after she fights with Dombey; when he discovers that she has left he blames Florence and expels her from his house as well. In Paris, Mrs Dombey informs Carker that she sees him in no better a light than she sees Dombey, and that she will not stay with him. Distraught, with both his financial and personal hopes lost, Carker falls under a train and is killed.

After Carker's disappearance it is discovered that he had been running the firm far beyond its means; within a year it collapses and is sold off and Dombey is left a shambles, nearly mad living alone in his decaying house.

Meantime Walter Gay returns home after being fortuitously saved from his shipwreck. He and Florence marry, and she reconciles with her father. Dombey finds happiness in the marriage of his daughter, and all ends well.

Major themes

As with most of Dickens' work, a number of socially significant themes are to be found in this book. In particular the book deals with the then-prevalent common practice of arranged marriages for financial gain or as a form of slavery. Other themes to be detected within this work include child cruelty (particularly in Dombey's treatment of Florence), familial relationships, and as ever in Dickens, betrayal and deceit and the consequences thereof. Another strong central theme, which the critic George Gissing elaborates on in exquisite detail in his 1925 work The Immortal Dickens, is that of pride and arrogance, of which Paul Dombey senior is the extreme exemplification in Dickens' work. Gissing makes a number of telling points about certain key inadequacies in the novel, not the least that Dickens' central character is largely unsympathetic and an unsuitable vehicle and also that after the death of the young Paul Dombey the reader is somewhat estranged from the rest of what is to follow.

Characters in "Dombey and Son"

  • Paul Dombey – the wealthy owner of the shipping company
  • Paul Dombey – the son, is weak and often ill
  • Florence Dombey – the elder daughter whom Mr Dombey neglects
  • James Carker (Mr Carker the Manager) – manager in Dombey's business
  • John Carker (Mr Carker the Junior) – older brother of James, lower level employee in Dombey's business
  • Miss Harriet Carker – sister of James and John
  • Solomon Gills – ships instrument maker and owner of shop "Wooden Midshipman"
  • Walter Gay – nephew of Gills, friend to Florence, sent away by Carker
  • Captain Edward Cuttle – retired sea captain, friend of Gills
  • Major Joseph Bagstock – conceited retired army major
  • Mrs Skewton – infirm former lover of Bagstock
  • Edith – proud widowed daughter of Mrs Skewton, becomes second Mrs Dombey
  • Toodles – a railway engineer
  • Polly Toodles (aka Mrs Richards) – wife of Toodles, engaged as nurse to Paul
  • Jack Bunsby – commander of a ship, regarded as an oracle by Captain Cuttle.
  • Mrs MacStinger – Captain Cuttle's landlady

Original publication

Dombey and Son was originally published in 19 monthly installments; each cost one shilling (except for the last, which cost two, being a double) and contained 32 pages of text with two illustrations by Phiz:

  • I - October 1846 (chapters 1-4);
  • II - November 1846 (chapters 5-7);
  • III - December 1846 (chapters 8-10);
  • IV - January 1847 (chapters 11-13);
  • V - February 1847 (chapters 14-16);
  • VI - March 1847 (chapters 17-19);
  • VII - April 1847 (chapters 20-22);
  • VIII - May 1847 (chapters 23-25);
  • IX - June 1847 (chapters 26-28);
  • X - July 1847 (chapters 29-31);
  • XI - August 1847 (chapters 32-34);
  • XII - September 1847 (chapters 35-38);
  • XIII - October 1847 (chapters 39-41);
  • XIV - November 1847 (chapters 42-45);
  • XV - December 1847 (chapters 46-48);
  • XVI - January 1848 (chapters 49-51);
  • XVII - February 1848 (chapters 52-54);
  • XVIII - March 1848 (chapters 55-57);
  • XIX-XX - April 1848 (chapters 58-62).


  • The motto of the publication Notes and Queries, "When found, make a note of", comes from the novel.

External links

Online editions

  • Dombey and Son, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  • Dombey and Son - Searchable HTML version.
  • Dombey and Son - Easy to read HTML version.


  • Charles Dickens's Themes - A surprising allusion in Dombey and Son.
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