Dombey and Son

Dombey and Son Summary and Analysis of Chapters 41-47


Chapter 40

Dombey and Edith’s marriage continues to deteriorate. One night, he arrogantly informs her that he is not pleased with the way she is behaving: he wants her to spend less money and behave more deferentially to him. He notices that she seems agitated when he mentions Carker and threatens her with the humiliating possibility of having Carker deliver his rebukes to her if she does not alter her behavior. He also mentions that he is making arrangements for Mrs. Skewton to go to Brighton, as recommended for her health, and to be cared for by Mrs. Pipchin. Edith responds that she knows they are unsuited for each other, do not love each other, and will never enjoy a happy marriage, but that in order to make life bearable and minimize the harm to others, she thinks that they should try to lead separate lives and tolerate each other. Mr. Dombey refuses, insisting that he expects the deference and respect he has the right to demand. The next day, Mrs. Skewton, Florence, and Edith leave for Brighton. One day, while Edith and her mother are out for a walk, they encounter the haggard Mrs. Brown and Alice. Edith is struck by the resemblance between herself and Alice, and also realizes that Mrs. Brown was the gypsy woman she had met at Leamington prior to her marriage.

Chapter 41

Mr. Toots comes to visit Florence at Brighton and they go to Dr. Blimber’s school together. On the walk home, Toots begins to propose, but Florence tactfully cuts him off. That night Toots and Feeder have dinner together; Toots laments his unrequited love for Florence, and Feeder explains that he hopes to court Cornelia. Shortly thereafter, after an anguished illness, Mrs. Skewton dies. Cousin Feenix and Mr. Dombey go to Brighton, where she is buried.

Chapter 42

Rob is now working directly for Carker. He had quit working for Cuttle at Carker’s instruction but when he goes to report this, Carker skillfully manipulates him into feeling that he ought to be grateful for Carker offering him a job now that he has none. His job is now to spy for Carker, and because he is intimidated and awe-struck by his patron, he is very loyal. One day, Mr. Dombey comes to visit Carker at his home. Mr. Dombey explains his dissatisfaction with his wife and his plan to have Carker act as intermediary if she does not change her behavior. Carker coyly manages to bring up Florence, and Dombey tells Carker to inform Edith that he dislikes the affection she shows to his daughter. After this conversation, Carker and Dombey set out for the firm’s offices, but as they ride there, Dombey is thrown from his horse and badly injured. Carker goes to the Dombey house and insists on seeing Edith, even after being initially refused. He breaks the news to both Edith and Florence; the latter is very upset. He oversees the transfer of Dombey back to his home. Edith is aware that Carker’s power and influence is growing ever stronger, and is humiliated and angry.

Chapter 43

Florence is saddened by the tension between Edith and her father. The night he is brought back after his injury, she slips into his room to see him while he sleeps. Afterwards, she goes to see Edith and is shocked by the anguish Edith is clearly experiencing, though she composes herself when she realizes that Florence is present. Edith clings to Florence as the only good thing in her life.

Chapter 44

The next morning, Susan takes advantage to Mr. Domey’s weakened state to speak frankly to him. She angrily rebukes him for his mistreatment and neglect of Florence. Mrs. Pipchin arrives, and Mr. Dombey is furious with her for having not prevented Susan from speaking to him in this way. Mrs. Pipchin fires Susan. Shortly afterwards, Florence learns what has happened and expresses her grief that Susan will leave. Susan explains that she will go to stay with her brother, and that she has savings, and that she is very sorry to leave Florence. Fortunately, Toots happens to have come to see Florence and she asks him to accompany Susan to her brother’s home, which she is happy to do. Before he sees Susan off, Toots asks her if she thinks Florence could ever love him, and Susan says she doesn’t think so.

Chapter 45

Carker asks to speak with Edith. She tries to arrange that Florence be present during this conversation, but he implies that he would prefer Florence not know what they will speak about. They meet in private, and in her agitation Edith explicitly admits that there is no affection between her and Dombey. Carker pretends to take her side, explaining that Dombey is proud and stubborn, but that he disagrees with his method of trying to control his wife. Carker also tells her that Dombey wants Edith to show less affection to Florence. If she does not do so, Dombey is likely to find some way to punish Florence.

Chapter 46

Mr. Carker becomes even more diligent than usual in monitoring the business affairs of the Dombey firm. One day, Mrs. Brown and her daughter secretly watch him as he goes to work, and they discuss their hatred of him. Mrs. Brown encourages her daughter to try to extract money from him, but Alice refuses, saying that she only wants to cause him suffering. After Carker has arrived, Rob is leading his horse away and is approached by Mrs. Brown and Alice. Rob is uncomfortable talking to them, but also does not want to make Mrs. Brown angry. After Rob delivers the horse to the stables, he sits and talks with the women, explaining that he and Carker are currently lodging near the Domby house so as to be close by during Mr. Dombey’s recovery. Mrs. Brown asks whether Carker is close to Mrs. Dombey, and Rob expresses discomfort with the information he is revealing. Mrs. Brown makes Rob promise to come and see her from time to time, and also gets him to give her money, although Alice is disgusted and makes her return it. While Mr. Carker is at the office, John Carker comes in to pick up some documents. Carker questions his brother about whether he feels resentment towards Dombey, and mocks John for his claim that he does not. Carker says that everyone employed by Dombey secretly hates and resents him. John Carker disagrees, and leaves Carker alone to his meditations. That night, he lurks outside the Dombey house gazing up at it and thinking about Edith.

Chapter 47

Edith and Mr. Dombey continue to be unhappy in their marriage. Florence has almost entirely given up on the hope of her father coming to love her, and is also saddened by the absence of closeness between her and Edith. After Dombey’s accident, Florence noticed that Edith had begun to avoid her, so one day she questions her. Edith will say only that, while she still loves Florence, she must be no longer as close with her as before. Edith also implies that their relationship may not have been good for Florence anyways. After that, she only shows Florence affection in secret. On the evening before Edith and Dombey’s second wedding anniversary, Florence, Dombey, Edith, and Carker all gather for dinner. Dombey announces plans for a dinner the following evening to mark the anniversary while Edith insists she has pre-existing plans. Dombey says that Carker will be entrusted with making her attend the dinner. Edith tries to insist on a private conversation with her husband, especially since Florence is visibly distressed. Dombey says he has the right to shame her before others if he wants. He finally sends Florence out of the room only when Edith accuses him of mistreating her. Edith reaches her breaking point, and, in front of Carker, asks Dombey for a separation. Dombey rejects this suggestion as ridiculous. Dombey also says that he is growing mistrustful of Florence’s role in Edith’s resistance, and that if Edith’s behavior does not change, he will punish Florence for it. Carker suggests that perhaps a separation between Dombey and Edith would be best after all, but Dombey dismisses this possibility a second time, and the group goes their separate ways. Later, when Mr. Dombey has gone out, Florence goes to look for Edith, hoping to comfort her. She sees Carker coming downstairs alone, leaving the house. Florence is disturbed by this and retreats to her room. The next day she does not see Edith until the evening, and when she approaches her, Edith reacts so violently that Florence faints. When she awakens she is told that Edith has gone out, and while Mrs. Pipchin urges Florence to go to bed, she decides to wait up for Edith. She waits all night, becoming more and more distressed. In the morning, Mr. Dombey is notified that his wife has not come home. Florence watches as her father calls the coachman to ask for more information. The coachman explains that the previous night, he drove Edith to her old residence, where Carker was waiting for her. He was told that Edith would not need the coach to return, and had been sent home. Edith’s maid confirms that her mistress’s dressing room is locked. Furious, Dombey rushes upstairs and breaks down the door, finding all of Edith’s discarded things, and a letter telling him that she is leaving him for Carker. Dombey is shocked and enraged, and runs into the street. When he returns to the house, Florence goes to try to comfort him, but he strikes her, accusing her of having conspired with Edith. Distraught, Florence finally accepts that her father is not a good man, and flees the house.


This section is perhaps the darkest in the novel. It unflinchingly addresses the dark possibilities that have been implied from the beginning: are there situations in which there is no hope? Will individuals remain stubbornly incapable of recognizing the error of their perspectives? While Mrs. Skewton is a relatively minor character, her death adds a bleak note to the novel in that she dies without ever realizing the tragic impact her actions have had, or coming to understand that her toxic view of the world was wrong. Her death therefore endorses the possibility that characters may not be capable of reform, change, or growth.

This possibility looms even larger as Dombey and Edith's marriage disintegrates. While Edith can be spiteful in her behavior towards him, she proposes a number of possibilities meant to allow them to live in relative peace. She is also very concerned that Florence not be impacted by their antagonism. Dombey, however, rejects all of her attempts at trying to make conditions in the household more bearable. In his interactions with his wife, Dombey shows even more explicit coldness and cruelty than what he has demonstrated to his daughter. He demands subservience from Edith, clearly believing that his position as a man entitles him to dictate the terms of their marriage. He also uses his intelligence to maximize damage: since he can tell that she dislikes Carker, he knows it will be especially humiliating for her to have Carker be involved in the intimate details of their life. Dombey shows that he has no compassion in what he is willing to do to make it clear that he is superior to others.

Carker also demonstrates his ability to cruelly manipulate people. He knows that Florence is Edith's weak spot, and he uses this knowledge to blackmail Edith and push her into situations she would not otherwise agree to. Edith's helpless position between the two men, both of whom only want to break her to their will and don't care for her well-being, helps to create sympathy for her, which is especially important given that, in the eyes of a Victorian audience, her decision to leave her husband for another man would be shocking and highly immoral. Her wildness in her interaction with Florence is also important in that it demonstrates she is not taking her decision lightly, and would not resort to this drastic step if she had any other options. Her disgust with the valuable luxuries Dombey has given her also provides a kind of moral redemption: she is unwilling to sacrifice her integrity just so that she can enjoy costly clothes and jewelry.

Florence is perpetually put in the middle of conflicts between her father and stepmother, and when Edith leaves, she attempts to comfort her father. While his reaction speaks to the grief and rage he is experiencing, it is a devastating blow to Florence. Years of psychological violence are finally manifested in a physical strike. There is also the indication of how their relationship has only soured further as Florence has matured from child into woman. Dombey’s misogynistic rage at the realization that his wife has betrayed him extends to Florence as well. Dickens carefully omits the language Dombey uses in this critical scene but he implies that Dombey presumably uses a sexualized slur against Edith, perhaps explicitly making the connection to the implied references to prostitution. To use this kind of language in front of his young, sheltered daughter would be hugely taboo and constitute another kind of violence, confirming for Florence that her father has no respect for her well-being.