Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 - Dombey and Son

I’ve actually read three books thus far for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 but the first one I am going to blog about is Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.  This as the last completed novel from Dickens that I had to read. I haven’t yet made up my mind if I want to read the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood or not. 
I am really happy to write that I ended on a real high note.  I wonder why this title isn’t better known among the 14 completed novels? It has many of those classic Dickens attributes that we fan boys and girls love about Boz. I would certainly rank it in my top ten. 

The main story is that of Paul Dombey, Sr. and his monomania about raising a son to be his heir and thereby to continue the business of Dombey & Son (I’m not sure exactly what that business was, but I think it was some sort of import/export). He is reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge, only his is not miserly with his money; it is his love and affection that he withholds from all others with the exception of his son, Paul Jr.  Generally, Dombey Senior is unaware that he also has a daughter, Florence, unless it is to be jealous of Florence’s relationship with her younger brother Paul.  This is the story of a dysfunctional family in the extreme. Their emotional impoverishment is only accentuated by the loving depiction of the lower class Toodle family and the wonderful ersatz father/son relationship between Soll Gills and his nephew Walter Gay, who works for Mr. Dombey.

I wrote earlier of classic Dickens attributes. He loves coincidences and this book is full of them. He believed wholeheartedly in the redemptive power of forgiveness and this novel is a classic example of this. He used his books as a platform for social criticism an there is some of that here as well; in particular, I feel he equates marriages made purely for financial gain to be akin to prostitution. He also really loved writing deathbed scenes,  I think, and he wrote two very fine ones in this tome. I did personally find that Florence occasionally edged on Little Nell-like saccharine devotion and she is, as many of Dickens’ heroines are, a cipher whose one personality trait is saintliness. However, it grated less in this novel because Florence has been so ill-treated psychologically from childhood; I could believe she would develop a masochistic like devotion to the hand that bites her.

But aside from the tragic and touching main plot, Dombey and Son, as are all Dickens’ novels, is replete with humor and many side plots. I laughed out loud more than once. Possibly my favorite thing about Dickens novels are the colorful side characters and they were absolutely top notch in this book: Cap’n Cuttle (“Stand by!”), Mr. Toots (“It’s of no consequence”), Miss Nipper, Miss Tox,… they are all amazingly well constructed and well employed in the plot and development of the novel. Also, honorable mention goes to little Paul, that old-fashioned child. And the villains are equally wonderful, Major Blagstock (that de-vilish old soldier, J.B., Josh, Joey B., J. Bagstock, as observed by his royal highness, the late Duke of York on more than one occasion), the horrifically eternally youthful Mrs. Skewton, and Mr. Carker with all his intimidating white teeth (I’m not the first to notice it but Carker is very much a progenitor of Tulkinghorn in Bleak House).

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 category: 19th Century Classic.