That’s it. Dickens has broken me. Not because Dombey and Son, the ninth in our attempt to read all of his novels, was too long, or too hard, but because it is so utterly, utterly heartbreaking.
Why is this novel not more famous or popular? Why? I’m baffled. It’s GREAT. During our readathon my unscientific calculation of a book’s quality has been the number of page corners I’ve turned over (sorry, yes, I’m a folder) because I’d found something amazing. By the end of Dombey I’d not only cried twice, but the book had virtually doubled in size from my fevered page-wrecking.
There’s so much I loved in this story of a dysfunctional family, ruled by a man for whom business is everything, yet who is a sad, damaged prisoner of his own pride and conventionality. There’s little Paul (the ‘son’ of the title), a perfect study of a thoughtful, wistful child, wise beyond his years, who sees animals in the wallpaper and sits ‘as if he had taken life unfurnished, and the upholsterer were never coming’. There’s Dombey himself, freezing everyone he knows with his cold arrogance, shunning his daughter Florence for his son and heir, and yet whose repressed emotions are described with astounding subtlety. And, above all, there is Edith, Dombey’s second wife and a towering rebuttal of the charge that Dickens can’t do attractive women. She is beautiful yet brave, intelligent, strong and defiant: trapped in the ideal of Victorian womanhood that she has been groomed for, consumed by self-loathing, but eventually breaking free from her cage. She is mesmerising. The novel is deep and modern in its idea of people scarred by their upbringing; the writing is wonderfully vivid and heightened. I’d urge everyone to rectify Dombey’s inexplicable poor-relative status by reading this incredible book. And so would Sam:
‘I had to ask for this latest Dickens Club to be postponed by a couple of weeks so I could finish this huge tome, but boy, was it worth it. We all seemed equally baffled that Dombey and Son is not only not hailed as a masterpiece, but is also rarely heard of at all (the usual response seems to be, "Mmmm… I've heard of it, but I don't know what it is.") So here's what it is, in a nutshell: Brilliant. It's great. It's so clearly the twin of David Copperfield, which we all loved with a passion, but in many ways Dombey slightly tips the scales for me, in part for the female characters. Many people criticise Dickens, saying he can't write women, but with Edith Granger and Florence Dombey, I think this book proves those critics wrong. Yes, they are both beautiful, and yes, Florence can seem slightly wet, but only in a passing glance. She's actually an incredibly strong, intelligent and independent (eventually) young woman, ground down daily by the dysfunctional family she's clinging to. And Edith, an early (and I think better-written) version of Great Expectation's Estella, is fierce, bold and completely broken by the society she's born into. There are so many echoes between characters, parallels and repeats, and the book is filled with imagery of the sea: tides, waves, weather, plus Dickens is the best writer I know of children and childhood. Throw in old, old-fashioned Paul and Mrs Skewton, Captain Cuttle and master villain Carker and you've got my joint favourite Dickens ever. Please read it. A hearty, merry, insistent 9.4/10.’ Sam