Dombey and Son Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mr. Dombey is a stiff, dignified man who rarely shows emotion, but the birth of his infant son, who is named Paul, is cause for rejoicing. Mr. Dombey longed many years for a child who would become the Son of his mercantile firm of Dombey and Son. The fact that Mrs. Dombey dies shortly after the boy’s birth does not particularly concern him; his attention centers entirely on the little infant. Mr. Dombey also has a daughter, Florence, but she means nothing to him, for she cannot take a place in the firm.

Little Paul is first given over to a wet nurse, but the woman is considered unreliable and is dismissed. After her dismissal, little Paul is cared for by Mr. Dombey’s sister and one of her friends. Despite their vigilant care, however, the boy suffers from poor health. He is listless and never cares to play. At last, Mr. Dombey arranges to have him sent to a home at Brighton, together with his sister, to benefit from the sea air.

Paul loves his sister very much, and they are constant companions, but Paul’s love for Florence only makes Mr. Dombey dislike the girl. He resents the fact that she is healthy when his son is not, and he feels that his daughter is coming between him and his son.

One weekend while Mr. Dombey is visiting at Brighton, Walter Gay, a young clerk in his firm, comes to the inn where Mr. Dombey and his children are dining. Some time before, the clerk rescued Florence from an old thief. Now his uncle is about to become a bankrupt, and Walter comes to ask for a loan to save his uncle’s shop. Mr. Dombey lets little Paul, then six years old, make the decision. Paul asks Florence what he should do; she tells him to lend the money, and he does.

Shortly afterward, little Paul is placed in a private school at Brighton, where he is to be educated as quickly as possible. The pace of his studies proves too much for him, and before the year is out his health breaks down. Even after his father takes him home to London, he does not seem to grow any better. He dies a few months later, deeply mourned by his father and his sister, although for different reasons.

Mr. Dombey takes his son’s death as a personal blow of fate to his plans. His sister and her friend become so concerned about him that they persuade him to take a trip to Leamington with Major Bagstock, a retired officer. While in Leamington, they meet Edith Granger, a young widow whose mother the major knew. Mr. Dombey begins to court Mrs. Granger, seeing in her a beautiful, well-bred young woman who will grace his household and provide him with an heir. Mrs. Granger, coaxed by an aged mother who is concerned for her own and her daughter’s welfare, finally accepts Mr. Dombey, although she is not in love with him.

Florence saw young Walter several times since their meeting at Brighton. After her brother’s death, she comes to look upon Walter as a substitute brother, despite his lowly station. Their friendship is broken temporarily...

(The entire section is 1216 words.)

Dombey and Son Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-4 Summary

Mr. Paul Dombey, a dignified but prideful gentleman, at last welcomes a son to be named Paul after himself. He has a daughter, six-year-old Florence, but she is not valued in a firm named Dombey and Son. Fanny, his wife, is attended by the family physician, Mr. Pilkins, as well as by the noted obstetrician, Doctor Peps.

The doctors warn Mr. Dombey that Mrs. Dombey is weakening and must put some effort into recovering. Mr. Dombey’s sister, Mrs. Louisa Chick, arrives to encourage her brother. She has brought her friend, Miss Tox, with her. As the doctors call Mr. Dombey out, Louisa asks Miss Tox her opinion of her brother and Miss Tox admits that she admires him greatly. They are interrupted when Mr. Dombey returns, looking pale. Fanny is weakening. The three go upstairs, where Florence is holding on to her mother. Louisa scolds Fanny, telling her that she must make some effort into getting better. With Florence in her arms, Fanny dies.

Miss Tox aids Louisa, who is in charge of finding a wet-nurse for baby Paul, by bringing the Toodle family to the Dombey residence. Polly Toodle has a six-week-old baby, along with four other children who will be cared for by her unmarried sister, Jemima. Mr. Dombey tells her that during her time with the Dombeys, she will have as little contact with her own family as possible and after her services are no longer needed will have no contact with the Dombeys. As the Toodles are poor, Polly agrees to this as well as to giving up her name to be called Richards instead. She tearfully says good-bye to her family. Louisa and Miss Tox are sure that the new Mrs. Richards is grateful to be connected to such a great family as the Dombeys.

After several weeks, Florence returns home from staying with her aunt. Mrs. Richards takes her to her heart and tells her a story of a good lady who died and went to heaven, where her daughter will be with her some day. Mrs. Richards suggests to Mr. Dombey that...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Chapters 5-7 Summary

Miss Tox is in constant attendance to Paul, causing Mr. Dombey to see how invaluable she is in the service of his son. He asks his sister Louisa for her ideas of a way to express his gratitude. She suggests that any token he should give her would be greatly valued, plus it might be a good idea to make Miss Tox Paul’s godmother. She hints at something of greater significance, but Mr. Dombey says that he has no intention of remarrying, for he and his son are enough to keep the firm of Dombey and Son going.

On the day of the christening, Mr. Dombey does not light the fires, although it is a cold day. All the members of the family insist that they are warm enough, although the food at the christening dinner is abysmally cold. In gratitude to Mrs. Richards, Mr. Dombey tells her that he has secured a place for her eldest son in the Charitable Grinders School. Mrs. Richards is grateful but becomes weepy on thinking of her first-born in school clothes going off to be in the great world. She thinks of going to see him one day when she is out walking with Paul, but Susan Nipper warns against it. Still, Mrs. Richards will not give up the idea.

Mrs. Richards finally decides to visit her family, taking Paul, Florence, and Susan Nipper with her. She is overjoyed to see her family but misses her son Biler (named by his father after the steam engine he stokes), who is at school. She goes around by the school to catch him on the way home and rescues him from bullies.

Florence becomes separated from Mrs. Richards and is kidnapped by an old woman, who takes her clothes and almost her hair. Florence manages to escape and is discovered by Walter Gay, who takes her to her uncle’s home for a rest. Walter and Sol return Florence to her home, where Mr. Dombey promises him a reward. Mrs. Richards is discharged for the danger in which she put Paul; Mr. Dombey is grateful for Florence’s kidnapping because it revealed Mrs. Richards’ untrustworthiness. Both Paul and Florence cry all night over the absence of Mrs. Richards, now simply Polly Toodle once again.

Miss Tox’s neighbor, Major Joey Bagstock, has taken an interest in her and has long tried to attract her attention. He believes that he has done so and is annoyed when she begins to appear with a baby and its nurse. Miss Tox, in the meantime, continues to hope that Mr. Dombey will notice how much attention she puts into his son and thus find her indispensable. Louisa assures her that it is just a matter of time.

Chapters 8-10 Summary

As Paul grows older he remains sickly, especially after the departure of Mrs. Richards. Mrs. Wickam becomes his nurse, but she is not as loving as Mrs. Richards and is focused more on pity for herself and for others. When he is five years old, Paul asks his father what money is. When he is told that money can do anything, he asks why it could not save his mother. He also asks why money cannot make his as strong as Florence. He complains of being tired and of his bones aching. Mr. Dombey tells him that boys are always tired at the end of the day, but Paul says that he is tired during the daytime, and Florence sings to him to ease his pain.

Mr. Dombey consults Louisa and Miss Tox, who suggest that he go to the seaside boarding school of Mrs. Pipchin, advising him to send Florence with him since Paul has become very attached to his sister. Florence and Mrs. Wickam accompany him, and Mr. Dombey visits on weekends. Although he and Mrs. Pipchin get off to a rocky start, the two become an odd pair as Mrs. Pipchin is fascinated by his outlandish questions. Florence often takes Paul out in a wheelchair. He is fascinated by the waves, asking Florence what they are saying. He looks out over them as if he is looking at an invisible vista far away.

Walter notices that Uncle Sol is very down because of the lack of customers. Mr. Brogley, a loan broker, meets him on his way to work and tells him that his uncle has missed payment on his debt and has lost possession of his shop. Uncle Sol tells Walter to go to Captain Cuttle, who might know what to do. The captain does not have much money, but he collects what he has and tries to give it to Mr. Brogley; the amount is over three hundred pounds. Captain Cuttle says that their last resort is to ask Mr. Dombey for the money. Terrified, Walter is reluctant but goes to Brighton with Captain Cuttle to find Mr. Dombey, who is visiting Paul at school.

Major Bagstock befriends Mr. Dombey so that he may form a closer acquaintance with Miss Tox. He follows her to Brighton one weekend, where she accompanies Mr. Dombey on a visit to see Paul. At dinner, Walter arrives with Captain Cuttle and explains his need for money to pay off his uncle’s loan. Mr. Dombey asks Paul what he would do if he were in charge of Dombey and Son. Paul immediately says that he would give them the money. Mr. Dombey revises "give" to “lend,” and he arranges for repayments according to Sol Gills’s present situation to show his son the power of money.

Chapters 11-13 Summary

After a year, Mr. Dombey decides that Paul is healthy enough to attend school. He informs Mrs. Pipchin, who agrees that children’s education must be forced on them. She suggests Doctor Blimber’s school, which is next to her own. This will give Paul a chance to make the break with Florence, to whom Mr. Dombey feels he has grown too close. Mr. Dombey, Paul, and Mrs. Pipchin deliver Paul to Doctor Blimber, who introduces them to his wife, who takes care of the housekeeping, and daughter Cornelia, who tutors in the “dead” languages and in whose care Paul will be while he is at school there. Doctor Blimber calls for Toots, the school’s head boy who is in charge of all the boys. Mr. Dombey reminds Paul that, at seven years of...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Chapters 14-16 Summary

The end of the first term is fast approaching, and Paul dreads it since it means that Florence will be returning to London. He sits with Cornelia Blimber as she gives him his end-of-term analysis. While he generally good in his studies and his behavior, she says that he is so old fashioned that the others at Doctor Blimber’s school do not like him as much as they might wish. This makes Paul unhappy, for he has been trying so much to make people like him. He steps up his efforts, but he soon falls ill. The physician comes to examine him, but Paul can barely hear his comments that his health in general is not at all good. After that, Paul is excused from the rest of classes, and he notices that people go out of their way to be kind...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Chapters 17-19 Summary

Because of Paul's death, Captain Cuttle comes home from Dombey’s without talking to Mr. Dombey. Walter returns to his uncle’s and sees that Captain Cuttle has not yet broken the news to him about Walter’s impending departure. Walter tells him, and Uncle Sol is sure that Walter is happy to go. Walter is upset, thinking that his uncle believes that he wants to leave, but Uncle Sol tells him that he meant simply that Walter will do his duty. Uncle Sol is clearly morose about Walter leaving.

Captain Cuttle goes to Dombey’s firm to talk to Mr. Carker the Manager about Walter’s prospects. Mr. Carker agrees to all of the captain’s questions about Walter making his fortune in Barbados. Captain Carker accepts all of...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Chapters 20-22 Summary

Mr. Dombey goes on a holiday with Major Bagstock, the man who is infatuated with Miss Tox. As the two men dine together at the Major’s home, Mr. Dombey tells him that she has been useful in the Dombey home since Mrs. Dombey died. Major Bagstock tries to cheer Mr. Dombey up, but the grieving father is still cold and silent.

At the train station, they are confronted by Mr. Toodle. Mr. Dombey, who associates him with his wife and thus with Paul, assumes that he has come to ask for money. Mr. Toodle assures him that he has no need of money, as he is now a stoker on the very engine that will take them on their trip. He tells them that he and his wife have had four new babies since “Mrs. Richards” left the Dombeys,...

(The entire section is 584 words.)

Chapters 23-25 Summary

The Dombey house becomes decrepit looking with only Florence and the servants living there. Florence wanders the rooms, especially those of her mother and brother. She leaves little gifts in her father’s room but awakes in the night and removes them lest he return home and become angry. She wonders about Walter, since there has been no news from the ship in a long time.

She goes with Susan to Uncle Sol Gills’s home but finds only Rob there. They decide to ask Captain Cuttle and walk to his lodgings, where they encounter his unpleasant landlady, Mrs. MacStinger. Captain Cuttle greets them warmly and tries not to appear concerned about Walter’s silence. He explains that he was going to visit Sol the day before but...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Chapters 26-28 Summary

Mr. Carker the Manager comes to Leamington to discuss some business affairs with Mr. Dombey. He gives his employer Florence’s message of love; Mr. Dombey greets this message with silence and a red face. Mr. Dombey confesses to Carker that he regrets sending Walter to Barbados, which Mr. Carker says is a little late.

Since Mr. Carker is going to stay in Leamington for a few days, Mr. Dombey introduces him to Mrs. Skewton and Edith. While Mr. Dombey and Mr. Carker discuss business, Major Bagstock and Mrs. Skewton discuss the possibility of arranging the marriage of Mr. Dombey and Edith. Mrs. Skewton says that Edith has been sad since her husband’s death, and Major Bagstock points out the Mr. Dombey would be a good...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

Chapters 29-31 Summary

Louisa Chick visits Miss Tox early one morning. She announces to her friend that her brother has returned home from his holiday. Miss Tox is glad to hear that he is feeling much better. Louisa begins to talk of the requirements of a second wife for Mr. Dombey, such as a woman who has beauty, family, dignity, and connection. Miss Tox believes she is talking about her. Louisa mentions also that Florence has returned as well. She speaks of “her” being a credit to the Dombey name. Miss Tox believes that she is speaking of Florence. When Louisa says that she is speaking of her brother’s second wife, Miss Tox stands up and furiously begins to tend to her flowers. Louisa rattles on about Edith and her lack of essential qualities...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Chapters 32-34 Summary

Captain Cuttle hides in the shop as much as possible to avoid Mrs. MacStinger. Fearing “kidnapping” by his former landlady, he arranges a set of signals to be used with Rob if this should happen. Toots, accompanied by a friend to whom he refers as “the Game Chicken,” comes to the shop, confusing Captain Cuttle with Sol Gills. He shows the captain the newspaper article in which it is reported that the Son and Heir, the ship on which Walter had gone to the Barbados, was sunk during a hurricane with all on board lost.

Captain Cuttle is overcome, feeling that his last connection with the world has been lost. He goes to Dombey and Son’s offices to determine if this news is true. Mr. Carker assures him it...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Chapters 35-38 Summary

Mr. Dombey and Edith return home, proclaiming that Paris was dull. Mrs. Skewton chides them for this opinion. Mr. Dombey is pleased with the remodeling of the house. Florence wants to be near her father but is afraid he will reject her. She asks Edith to show her how to gain the love of her father, but Edith says that she is the last person who can teach anyone to love.

That night, Florence dreams that she sees Paul and Walter coming toward her. Edith seems to be moving in and out of every scene in the dream and eventually leads Florence to a grave in which Edith herself lies. Florence cries out and seems to see Edith holding and comforting her. The next morning, she finds herself alone and wonders if Edith’s presence...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Chapters 39-41 Summary

Captain Cuttle spends the year after Sol Gills’s disappearance in a self-inflicted retirement, comparing himself to Robinson Crusoe. He sells no instruments, as when Sol lacked customers, but he makes note of when people come into the shop and feels that business is picking up. The only person with whom he has contact is Rob, who one day tells him that he is leaving. This makes Captain Cuttle even more morose, feeling that everyone has left him.

Mr. Toots comes to see him and confesses that he is in love with Florence. Captain Cuttle is surprised one day when Captain Bunsby arrives. Together they open the letter that Sol had left. There is a letter addressed to Captain Cuttle, telling him that he left to go to...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapters 42-45 Summary

No longer working for Captain Cuttle, Rob is now in service to Mr. Carker, who warns him that he will tolerate no blabbing. Mr. Dombey comes for breakfast and asks Carker to accept responsibility for getting Edith to be more deferential to her husband since he has had no success. Mr. Carker willingly accepts.

As they ride their horses back to the Dombey home, Mr. Dombey’s horse trips, knocking Mr. Dombey off and into the street, then falling on top of him and kicking his head as he gets up. Carker takes him to a nearby pub and sends for surgeons. It is determined that no major bones are broken but that he will need a carriage to be carried home.

Mr. Carker goes to the Dombey house and tells Edith and...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Chapters 46-48 Summary

Good Mrs. Brown and Alice spy Mr. Carker when he is riding his horse; he's followed by Rob. They do not want to speak to him and know that he would not speak to them as he sees them as mud beneath his horse’s hooves. They stop Rob, however, and learn that Mr. Carker is living in town to be near Mr. Dombey’s house. Mrs. Brown begs Rob to give her a shilling, which he does; but Alice forces her to give it back, saying that she does not want any of Carker’s money.

At the office, John Carker approaches his brother, telling him that none of the clerks of the firm has any respect for Mr. Dombey and want to see him brought low with his pride broken. Mr. Carker the Manager calls them hypocrites, fawning over a man just...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Chapters 49-51 Summary

Florence awakens and finds her chest bruised from her father’s blow. She tries not to think of him, counting herself as having no earthly father. She and Captain Cuttle discuss Walter, with the captain mentioning repeatedly throughout the day that Walter is drowned.

Florence must buy some clothing, since she left without anything. Captain Cuttle tries to give her some money, but she insists she has at least a little money of her own. The next evening, Captain Cuttle tells her a story of a ship that went down in bad weather. Three of the men escaped, but only two of them survived and were picked up. Florence realizes that he is talking about Walter, who enters the room to surprise her. He had been the man Toots saw,...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Chapters 52-54 Summary

Good Mrs. Brown stops Mr. Dombey on the street and asks him to come to her home if he wants to hear news about Edith and Mr. Carker. Reluctantly, Mr. Dombey does so and even agrees to give her some money, if the news should be substantial. Mrs. Brown says that she is expecting a visitor who will tell him what he wants to hear.

When Rob Toodle arrives, Mr. Dombey hides so that he can overhear the conversation. With a great deal of effort, Mrs. Brown gets Rob to talk about Mr. Carker. Rob says that Edith came to Mr. Carker’s house, but the two did not leave together. Rob went with Edith to Southampton, from where she departed to go to the continent. Mr. Carker left separately and gave Edith a note containing the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapters 55-57 Summary

Having escaped from Dombey, Mr. Carker tries to decide where to go into hiding. He had thought that he and Edith could go to Italy or Sicily, but now those places are unlikely since it is so easy for someone to hire assassins. He decides that the best thing to do is return to England and hide out in the country.

He travels by train north to the Channel, unable to sleep at all. When he reaches the English coast, he boards a train for a distant rural spot. Again he cannot sleep. When he reaches his intended destination, he looks out over the landscape and then back to the station, where he sees Mr. Dombey exiting. The two of them lock eyes. In terror, Carker backs away, falling off the platform into the tracks. He feels...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Chapters 58-60 Summary

A year after Florence and Walter’s wedding and departure for China, the firm of Dombey and Son goes bankrupt. Mr. Dombey isolates himself from everyone, rarely leaving his house. Harriet Carker visits Mr. Morfin, who is one of the few who feels genuinely sorry for his former employer. Harriet learns from him the full extent of Mr. Dombey’s poverty. She tells Mr. Morfin that she and her brother John have inherited James Carker’s fortune, since he died without a will. It is their desire that an annuity be given to Mr. Dombey from that fortune. Mr. Morfin is touched by this kindness and asks to walk Harriet home. She says that she has other business to attend but invites him to call the next day.

Harriet goes to the...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapters 61-62 Summary

Now living with Florence and Walter, Mr. Dombey sinks deeper into his illness. While he recognizes people and names, his mind wanders back into time. Sometimes he thinks that Paul has just died, and he often asks where Florence is. He thinks back to the night when Florence left and mentally counts the steps she took on the stairs. He wants to see Susan, who is in service to Florence as before. Mr. Dombey tells her that the night that she came to speak to him of Florence’s devotion, she was right. He tells Walter that he is glad that he will look after Florence after he himself is dead. Florence sings him the song that she used to sing to Paul, but he stops her, unable to bear it. The next evening, however, he asks her to repeat...

(The entire section is 425 words.)