For the 2018-2019 year, we will be reading and discussing Dombey and Son. Charles Dickens originally published the novel in monthly installments between 1846 and 1848. Filled with exciting drama and a variety of colorful characters, the book combines humor with a plot full of twists and turns.
Dombey and Son takes its name not from its characters, but from the firm that dominates its characters’ lives. It begins as Mr. Dombey has finally fathered a son who can carry on the family name and the family firm. He already has a child, though, a girl named Florence, who is sadly ignored by her father.
The book has been called the closest thing Dickens ever wrote to a feminist novel. While we in the 21st century might not always agree with the author, Dickens was clearly aware of the double standards his society applied to men and women. Dombey and Son probes the problems of Victorian sexual politics with unrelenting vigor.
In addition to exploring issues of gender, the book also examines a society in the midst of industrial expansion. The development of railroads provides a central image, and the challenges of an emerging new form of capitalism receives Dickens’s critical attention. Eventually, the firm comes to resemble the house of cards that the novel’s illustrator Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”) depicted on the cover of the monthly installments.
Browne, like Dickens, was approaching the height of his powers, and he rendered magnificent pictures of the book’s characters, including Captain Cuttle, Mrs. Pipchin, and the saintly Paul Dombey. Dickens’s moving account of young Paul later became one of the set pieces he used over and over again in his public readings.
We hope you will join us in our year-long examination of one of Dickens’s under-appreciated masterpieces.