Dombey and Son
by Charles Dickens
Many great writers and creative artists are said to go through different "periods" of artistic development. Dickens is no exception. Not to bore you with the details, his early novels had their weaknesses, and his later novels might come off a bit pessimistic. But in between there was a stretch of masterpieces, in which Dickens was at the top of his art. One of those middle-period masterpieces is called Dombey and Son
The title comes from the name of an import-export firm which has been passed from father to son through many generations of the Dombey family. So naturally the current Dombey is very impatient to have a son to inherit the firm after him. Perhaps because of this--at least partly because of this, to be sure--Paul Dombey Sr. doesn't have much love to spare for his daughter Florence, or his wife. Also, he has conceived an unjust resentment toward his daughter, whom his wife loves more than she loves him, and (after his wife dies giving birth to their son, Paul Jr.) who also seems to steal little Paul's love.
Things are not helped when, in one of the all-time most heartbreaking passages I have read, the sickly boy dies in Florence's arms...or when, having married a haughty young noblewoman for reasons other than love, Dombey finds that his second wife prefers Florence's company as well...until the tragedy sown by Dombey's injustice to his devoted daughter, finally bears fruit in a bitter harvest. The scene in which Dombey drives Florence from his house is the epitome of crushing, tragic climax. But it is also a redemptive turning point.
Thrill to such descriptions of characters as "he had a complexion like Stilton cheese, and eyes like a prawn"...chill to depictions of pure evil, like the "good mother" who abducts Florence in her childhood...and share the joys and sorrows of such salt-of-the-earth characters as the woman whose love for Paul Dombey (Sr.) is never returned...the awkward Mr. Toodles whose love for Florence is equally unrequited...the puppy love between Walter Gay and Florence Dombey...the unjustly-fired nanny whose son Robin becomes a pawn of evil...the virtuous couple who live in shame (because of past sins) while their self-righteous brother commits very present crimes...and my favorite of all, poor Captain Cuttle, who loses everyone he loves and gets them back again, and who lives in mortal fear that his widowed landlady will force him to marry her.
All this is wonderful, but it is nothing compared to the suspense that builds as the immovable object and the irresistable force, matrimonially speaking, put ever greater pressure on each other in the marriage of Paul and Edith Dombey. All while sweet, innocent, loving Florence--the pattern of all Dickens' angelic heroines, based on the memory of a beloved sister-in-law who died young--while Florence, who only wants her father to love her as she loves him, suffers most of all.
This is a powerful story. It isn't as well known, outside the mysterious circle of "well-read people," as say, A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. But that's only because Hollywood hasn't discovered it yet. I hope you discover it soon.
Recommended Age: 14+
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