A wealthy shipping tycoon, obsessed with nurturing his male heir to take over his empire, neglects the far greater talents of his daughter, and in his myopic pride loses everything. Paul Dombey has wealth and the respect (if not love) of his neighbors and colleagues. What he doesn't have is a suitable heir for his shipping empire. Dombey does not seem to care that he already has a child – a daughter, Florence, who is smart and competent, and wants only her father's love and attention. Florence would be a perfect heir, but Dombey has his mind set on a son.
The novel begins with him getting his wish. His wife gives birth to a son, but labor takes a toll; she is unable to recover and soon dies. His son, whom in his pride also names Paul, is sickly. Dombey devotes himself to his son, further neglecting Florence. He sends him to various doctors and to different climates, hoping something will improve the boy's health, but nothing seems to help. Paul goes from being a frail baby to a frail child. And then, at six years old, Paul's health takes a final, unrecoverable turn and he dies.
Dombey is devastated – though it's unclear whether it's because of the loss of a son or the loss of an heir. Florence is also heartbroken at the death of her brother, and tries to console her father. But Dombey is too pompous and blinded with pride to see her worth, and he withdraws from her even more. Not everyone is blind to Florence's worth, though. A young man named Walter, a high-ranking employee of her father's, both recognize her value, and over time she and Walter become quite close.
But unfortunately for Florence, this connection between her and Walter does not escape the notice of James Carker, who is the devious manager of her father's firm and has designs of his own on the business. Carker sees the two of them as a very real threat, and so has it arranged for Walter to be sent to Barbados for a time. On the way, his boat apparently sinks and Walter goes missing, assumed dead. Florence is now alone.
Her father, meanwhile, decides to remarry. He settles on a beautiful widow named Edith Granger, who is in dire financial straits and, though she has reservations about the pompous Dombey, she needs his wealth. Edith begins to hate herself for such a petty motive for marriage, and she hates Dombey even more – though she does grow close with her new stepdaughter, Florence. But when Edith can't take it anymore and runs away with Carker (who sees it as an opportunity to take Dombey down even further), Dombey uses the closeness between Florence and her stepmother against her. He explodes on Florence, and in his rage he drives her off, seemingly for good.
Dombey then sets out to find his runaway wife. He finally tracks her and Carker down, but Carker flees. In his haste to get away from the pursuing Dombey, Carker, who feels all his plans crashing down around him, loses his footing along some train tracks and is struck by a passing train and killed. After his death, the financial records of Dombey's company are examined and it turns out that Carker was a terrible manager. Dombey was no preoccupied with his family drama that he allowed Carker to run the company into bankruptcy. Dombey is ruined.
Meanwhile, Florence receives wonderful news: Walter is not in fact. After his ship sunk, he was rescued by a passing boat and only now returned to England. The two are reunited and get married. Dombey, having been forced to sell everything, is now living in near-penury. He now realizes his folly – about his business, his treatment of his daughter, his life in general – and spends his days wanting only to be reunited with Florence.
The novel ends with Florence showing up one day with her own son, whom she has named Paul, after her father and dead brother. Father and daughter reconcile at last. Walter becomes a successful businessman in his own right, and Dombey lives out his years as a doting, loving grandfather.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's pretty clear Dickens was modeling the dynamic between a prideful father and good but neglected daughter on KING LEAR, but while I certainly enjoyed the read, that obvious nod to Shakespeare's epic only makes the inevitable comparisons more difficult to find in favor of Dickens. Dombey is not as morally devastated as Lear, so his change at the end is less powerful and convincing, and Florence is not remotely as interesting as Lear's Cordelia.
Best scene in story:
Dickens does know how to evoke emotion, though. And the final scene, between a tearfully grateful Dombey and his youngest granddaughter, who doesn't (and cannot) understand why he's crying, is incredibly powerful.
Opinion about the main character:
It's hard for me to feel too much sympathy for Dombey's fall, or to feel any joy or satisfaction at his "change of heart", since it only comes after he's hit rock bottom. How much value is there in such a "change", if it only comes after everything else has been taken away?
Mr. Dombey, a wealthy London merchant, puts all his hopes in his sickly son Paul to succeed him in running the firm, and ignores his good daughter Florence. The firm is nearly ruined by a trusted employee named Carker who also runs away with Dombey's second wife, the scheming Edith Granger. This was the first novel in which Dickens attempted to portray the upper classes as well as the lower, and it also features strong female characters of all types and moral persuasions, if not a lot of depth. Another primary theme played out by various characters is the way in which adults mold (and ruin) their children.
The review of this Book prepared by David Loftus
Bill Glazier on 11/23/2015 9:57:32 PM says: I loved The characters in this book, and the plot simply astounding... My very favorite Dickens novel so far.
However, I was totally frustrated by the scene involving Edith and her disappearance with Carker. Why does dickens sometimes spend several pages describing the most significant situation, aunt Edith's disappearance with Carker has threadbare, skeletal treatment. Why did she run off with him, she detested him. What was her scheme? What did she promise Carker and, because she was obviously not playing him.... She would have escaped to Sicily or something for her own advantage.
By rejecting Carker, she would have been left penniless, with no way to take care of herself. Why was her arrangement Carker never made clear?
I find this very frustrating and disappointing. Are we supposed to come up with our own scenario and make our own conjectures as to what is actually going on? I have read the sequence over many times, thinking I must have missed something...