Dombey and Son
, the hidden gem even Dickens fans may have missed,
combines a rollicking, biting sense of humor with nuanced psychological
insights that feel surprisingly modern in their attitudes toward women.
The title itself is an ironic joke: Successful businessman Paul Dombey
neglects and mistreats his daughter, Florence, the true "son" of the
title, until both his business and their relationship are nearly ruined.
If Florence is a typical 19th-century heroine, a little too sweetly
perfect to be believed, strong women abound in these pages. The linchpin
is Mr. Dombey's second wife, Edith, trapped in marriage to a man she
despises; she is a riveting, tragic figure in whom generosity combines
with pride, avarice with integrity, self-awareness with intransigence.
She may have to depend on men financially, but she's their equal for
good or ill, and she knows it. As she says about her husband, "I will
try, then, to forgive him his share of blame. Let him try to forgive me
mine!" As usual in Dickens's work, much of the reading pleasure resides
in the supporting cast and subplots, and the men here are endearing—from
Florence's little brother, who dies too young to be his father's heir,
to her hapless suitor, Mr. Toots, whose self-deprecating refrain, "It's
of no consequence," hides a world of hurt. But it is the wives, sisters,
mothers, and discarded mistresses who control the plot and break your
— Liza Nelson