Book Reviews

So many books (you know the rest)

Dombey and Son
by Charles Dickens
Published in 1848 (I finished it on April 20, 2016)


It’s 824 page and not exactly a page-turner. It was pretty hard to pick up at times and easy to put back down, thus a two-year project to read—and that was after the second attempt.

That said, it has some good stuff. Actually, some great stuff.

“DaS” has some of the most detailed and complex characters Dickens has in his arsenal. Psychologically, the novel is ripe with issues to explore. Need a good study case for a lit class? This is the one.

I won’t give away too much, but Dombey is part of the Dombey and Son business that has been around for generations. And to extend the trend, he needs a boy. His wife gave him a girl several years prior, but he was quite dissatisfied with this gesture and bears essentially no love or attachment to Florence. She’s pretty much like a stray dog that the wife has brought home, whom he tolerates, but cannot evict.

All is okay though, the wife delivers a second child—a son! at the beginning of the book and she promptly passes away right after. So now we have a daughter getting no love and son getting too much obsessing. It’s pointed out that for Florence, she’s an orphan, but not by a lack of a parent, but by a lack of a parent’s love, which is seen to be worse than the former.

Missing a mother, the son, Paul, forms too strong a bond towards his sister, which Dombey doesn’t care for. And the daughter lacks a father-figure for guidance, so she’s searching for direction and spends all her time caring for Paul so she cannot socially adapt accordingly.

Again, a psychological smorgasbord. Watching this all unfold is fascinating and frustrating.

We also have the stock characters. For instance, a “Major,” who is an arrogant, boisterous man who talks about himself in the third person and is often the loudest person in the room, speaking of his long-winded stories when no one in particular is even paying attention.

And then there’s…oh wait. Now I’m spoiling things. There are lots of interesting people to observe.

There’s also some great prose. He speaks of the trains a good deal in this novel (Dickens was nearly killed in a horrific train wreck, so wasn’t keen on them—though his accident was after this was written) and uses some nice onomatopoeia to write several paragraphs mimicking a train rolling along the tracks. It’s really clever.

Once again, I repeat—it’s long and often very slow. There’s gold deep down, but you have to sit through a LOT of tiresome shoveling to get to it. This is one of the few novels that could use some serious pruning. When written, it was part of the series novels, where a new 32-page installment would come out every few weeks. Maybe a 32-page set didn’t seem too bad when you’re eager to get the latest copy.

The reader can also witness the usual figures of speech or nuances of the late nineteenth century in this novel. I was frequently thinking, “Ah, I didn’t know they said that back then!” It’s also fun to see what hasn’t changed at all over time.

I do recommend it for the characters and the occasionally outstanding prose (it opens with Dickens’ wonderful figurative writing, but calms down a lot afterwards). Just exercise great patience with it. And if you ever do decide to read it, let me know. I would love to be able to spend hours discussing these characters with someone. Dombey, Paul, EDITH! The Major, Mrs. Skelton, and even Mr. Carker,  Florence, Walter, et al!

So much to talk about!