Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dombey and Son

Reading Dickens is a little bit like having a relative come and stay for the summer. It happens once a year and is homey and pleasant, but it can stretch on for weeks at a time, so you have to go about your other business in the meantime.

I spent the past nine weeks "visiting" with the 900+ pages of Dombey and Son, reading a little and then putting it aside to read other books. I decided to tackle it when I saw it in O Magazine, as a surprising pick on Oprah's summer reading list.

Although it's one of the lesser-known Dickens novels, I think it might be one of my favorites. Dombey of the title is so obsessed with the idea of building his business empire as "Dombey and Son" that he ignores his daughter Florence in favor of his son, even after that son dies. The rest of the story centers on Florence and follows the trials of the Dombey family after Mr. Dombey remarries a woman who hates him. There's a huge and entertaining cast of supporting characters, including ones with great names like Mr. Toots and Polly Toodle. There are quite a few moments in the story when Dickens veers off into social commentary about England at that time, but there are an equal number of truly hilarious moments where it seems like Dickens is giving the reader a big wink over the heads of his characters as they do funny and ridiculous things. I was surprised that such a long, Victorian novel was so enjoyable and seemed so fresh, even to a modern reader.

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