Charles Dickens Challenge: Dombey and Son

It's the seventh instalment of the Charles Dickens Challenge, and this one is on Dombey and Son, one of Dickens' lesser-known works. I must admit I had reservations about this one after my previous experience with less well-known Dickens novels, as I suspect there's a reason why they're not so well-known, and unfortunately it lived up (down?) to them.

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The book tells the story of Paul Dombey, a businessman who longs for a son to continue his family business and neglects his daughter Florence because she's not a boy. At the start of the book his wife gives birth to a son, but he turns out not to be everything his father hoped for...

My initial impressions of the book are that it's a bit odd - I can't say too much as it'll give a lot of the plot away but there's a particularly significant event about a quarter of the way through that makes the rest of the book feel almost like a separate novel, and I'm not sure how well it works. That said, the way the second part is structured is very enjoyable and I like the fact that it takes a different turn from lots of other Dickens novels, whilst being a nice bridge to the more 'classic' Dickens style that came back in his later years.

The characters were a little under-developed and two-dimensional for my taste, especially Mr Dombey, who becomes greedier and more cruel as the novel goes on, and Florence, who just felt like a rehashing of Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop for large parts of the book - she's almost too horribly good to be likeable. As always, the secondary characters, particularly Captain Cuttle, friend of Walter Gay (a young clerk at Dombey & Son and Florence's love interest), the amiable Mr Toots - a school friend of young Paul whose story has one of the most heartbreaking endings of all Dickens' characters - and Florence's feisty maid Susan Nipper are the most enthralling. By far the most rounded though is Edith, Mr Dombey's second wife who gives Florence the love she never knew from her father, and there is also a brilliant villain hiding in plain sight (again I won't say who for risk of spoilers).

Overall, I think Dombey and Son is my least favourite Dickens book so far. It felt particularly wearisome as Mr Dombey increasingly seeks to oppress Florence and punish her simply for being born a girl, with no hope of happiness for her. Consequently I felt like I was slogging through it a lot of the time which is partly why this review has taken so long to go up! The ending felt a bit too rushed and almost like it was trying to make up for the rest of the novel by being overly upbeat; I would have preferred something much darker in keeping with the tone of the book overall. It's only just saved by those wonderful secondary characters from being truly awful.

And with that, I'm now finally out of the obscure Dickens period and into his renaissance with David Copperfield. I remember seeing the TV adaptation of this with a very young Daniel Radcliffe about 15 years ago so am hoping the book turns out to be pretty good.

I'm also planning to condense my book reviews into a monthly 'What I Read This Month'-type posts - do let me know if you'd prefer to see that or a review of each book individually!

1 comment:

  1. Oh no this is a shame I haven't read it yet but was recommended to by my drama teacher, don't really want to now hahaha xx