Dombey and Son

Dombey and Son Summary and Analysis of Chapters 48-52


Chapter 48

Overwhelmed, Florence goes to the shop of Walter and his uncle, where Captain Cuttle takes care of her when she collapses on the doorstep. When she awakes, she is surprised to find that Sol is not there, and she begs Cuttle to allow her to stay there. He immediately agrees, makes her some food, and puts her to bed. When he comes back downstairs, Mr. Toots is waiting for him. Mr. Toots explains that as he was going in, a stranger told him that Cuttle is needed at the broker’s. Cuttle is uncomfortable leaving the house while Florence sleeps upstairs, but decides to see what is happening. Toots waits, and Cuttle returns in a state of distress. However, he doesn’t tell Toots what he has learned, and Toots leaves the house. Cuttle goes upstairs and checks on Florence, and then guards her door while she sleeps.

Chapter 49

Florence wakes up in the evening and Cuttles makes her dinner. Cuttle brings up Walter several times, lamenting his loss. They go to the shop to buy some things for Florence and when they return, Cuttle seems to have something he wants to tell her, but won’t reveal it. The following night, Cuttle muses on the experience of being at sea, and offers to tell Florence a story. He tells the story of a ship that encountered a severe storm, leading to a large loss of life. One noble young man, as well a second-mate and one other sailor, survived by climbing aboard a piece of wreckage. After drifting for days, they were retrieved, with two of them, including the noble young man, still alive. The ship that picked them up took them on a long voyage, during which the other remaining sailor died. But the noble young man was finally able to return home. By this point, it is obvious that Cuttle is telling the story of Walter’s ship, and his miraculous survival. As Florence realizes this, Walter emerges into the room. After a happy reunion, Walter is shocked to learn that Florence no longer has a home or family.

Chapter 50

Walter and Cuttle set up rooms so that Florence can be as comfortable as possible. They also talk about Sol Gills. Walter is concerned that he has not contacted Cuttle, but believes that if Sol had in fact died, someone would have notified Cuttle. Walter continues to be astonished that Sol has not sent any letters and asks Cuttle if there is any way he could have missed them, but Cuttle assures him this is impossible. They also determine that Florence should not be sent back to her father’s house. When Cuttle raises his hopes of a match between Walter and Florence, Walter is quick to swear that he would never damage her trust, since she thinks of him as a brother. Since it is not appropriate for Florence to continue to live without female supervision, Walter suggests that they find Susan so that she can come and serve as Florence’s maid. Having determined that the best person who might know Susan’s whereabouts is Toots, they are all happy when Toots himself arrives at the house. Toots is in a state of disorder, and is even more disoriented when he is introduced to Walter. He is briefly resentful, and then quickly warms to him. Toots is still unaware that Florence is at the house, and tells them the story of her having fled from her father’s. He is very distressed at her unknown whereabouts and relieved when they tell him that Florence is safe and sound. They take him up to Florence’s rooms. He vows to find Susan for her, and a little later, he also tells Cuttle that he would like to use his money to help Florence in any way that he can. A few days pass, and Florence is distressed to realize that, while he is always kind, Walter is watchful and guarded with her. She finally decides to confront him, and asks him to come and speak to her. Florence says that she believes Walter is angry with her because it was due to her that her father sent him on the ill-fated voyage and upended his life. Dismayed, Walter explains that he is in love with her, and has been struggling with trying to conceal his feelings. Hearing this, Florence realizes her own feelings and the two agree to marry. Cuttle is overjoyed with the news.

Chapter 51

Meanwhile, Dombey has not spoken of his daughter since her disappearance. He is not troubled by her whereabouts, and assumes that she will eventually return. Dombey tries to isolate himself, but Cousin Feenix and Bagstock come to visit him. They both offer to serve him in seeking revenge. Dombey says that he has some knowledge of where Carker might be, but that it is not certain yet, and he is not ready to take action. Meanwhile, Miss Tox has come to talk to Mrs. Pipchin to get news about the situation. Mrs. Pipchin says it is for the best that Edith is gone. While being escorted out of the house by Towlinson, Miss Tox requests that her visits be kept a secret, presumably from Mr. Dombey. Meanwhile, Dombey’s employees speculate about who will fill Carker’s place at the firm.

Chapter 52

Alice and Mrs. Brown argue about whether Dombey will come to see them. Mrs. Brown has stopped him in the street to hint that she knows the whereabouts of Edith and Carker. She is thus the source of Dombey’s possible information, hinted at in the previous chapter. As they are having this conversation, Dombey does in fact arrive. He says that he will pay them for information leading to the location of Edith and Carker, if the information turns out to be accurate. Alice haughtily tells him that while her mother might sell this information for profit, her motive is making Carker suffer. Mrs. Brown then goes on to explain that she is in fact waiting for someone else to arrive, and this individual will be the one to provide information. She also explains that Dombey will have to hide and secretly listen to the conversation. He reluctantly agrees, and a short time later, Rob arrives. He has brought a parrot, abandoned by Carker after his disappearance, and wants Mrs. Brown to care for it. He is very cautious about responding to the hints she drops about his master; however, through manipulation and physical threats, the two women overwhelm him. Rob admits that he is still being paid, but has no specific tasks. He is coaxed to talk about the night Edith left, explaining that Carker and Edith left the city separately with plans to meet later at an appointed place. Rob eventually admits that Edith’s coach was bound for Dijon, a city in France. He then falls asleep, and Dombey emerges from his hiding place, pays Mrs. Brown, and leaves the house in a hurry. Alice and Mrs. Brown are satisfied that he will find a way to exact revenge on Carker.


This section reveals that the fallout of the collapse of the Dombey marriage and Florence's departure from her home has mixed results. For Florence, this seems to be a liberating transition. While she is clearly traumatized by feeling that she no longer has any family, the individuals who welcome her demonstrate that love and loyalty can be displayed without blood relations. Indeed, Cuttle, Toots, and Susan rally around her with the unconditional love more typically expected from family members. They love her for who she is, whether or not she has a prestigious social position and wealth. Toots, primarily a comic character, also shows genuine integrity in prioritizing Florence's happiness above his own, and respecting her choice to marry Walter without demonstrating any of the jealousy and bitterness that is so insidious in much of the novel.

Moreover, now that Florence is no longer linked with her father, she can more freely choose the kind of family she wants to create for herself, which she does by agreeing to marry Walter. Walter is clear that he would not have approached her or considered himself worthy of her in her former social position, and certainly her father would never have agreed to the match. The pain of Florence's estrangement is offset by her new autonomy and freedom: she can choose to give herself to Walter without needing to seek anyone's approval. While Florence can sometimes seem to be unappealingly passive and dutiful, this section reveals her autonomy, and indeed, her power. As Hilary Schor explains, "in weaving the web of connection that will bring about the novel's happy ending (and the redemption of the family firm) she moves from the highest realms of English society to the casual working class poverty of the Toodles and the decaying gentility of the Toxes and the Gills" (68).

While Florence's future prospects seem to blossom once she leaves her father's house, Dombey has not learned from the experience and is fixated on preserving his public image and getting revenge on Carker. Some of this desire is shaped by social expectation that he should not tolerate a grave insult, especially from someone who is his social inferior. Dombey's desire for revenge plays into the schemes of Alice and Mrs. Brown; in a sense, others are still manipulating him. He is also fixated on the past, rather than attempting to move forward now that his marriage has ended.