Dombey and Son, which appeared after Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), was Charles Dickens’s effort to regain the popularity he had lost with the publication of his previous novel. Martin Chuzzlewit, which had heavily satirized America and Americans, had caused Dickens to lose a great deal of favor, much to Dickens’s chagrin, who was by that time in something of a competition for the public’s attention with another great Victorian novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray. Dombey and Son is unusual in Dickens’s work for being set among a higher social level than his previous novels. For the first time, he indicated an interest in and a sympathy for the upper-middle classes and the aristocracy. The story is a very serious one, involving the downfall of a dignified merchant and the painful process by which he learns that love is more powerful than money. As is typical of Dickens, however, there is a large cast of characters providing a rich, sometimes humorous background to the central story.
In Dombey and Son, Dickens for the first time attempted to portray the full panorama of English society, from beggar to magnate, from baronet to housemaid. Although less successful than Bleak House (1852-1853) in expressing the connections between all levels of society, the novel has a prodigious scope.
The principal theme of the work is the relationship between parents and children, chiefly Mr....
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