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.)