Mr Dombey is the head of a successful and respected trading house called Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation. At the start of the novel he gains a son, but loses his wife, which he seems to consider a fair bargain, unlike his daughter Florence. His son, named Paul like his father, is loved by everybody who meets him. Unfortunately he is not well, and dies while still a child.
Neglecting Florence, Mr Dombey seeks out and finds a new wife. He is impressed by her reserve and haughty, and, as he is very, very rich she agrees to marry him. However she has great affection for Florence, while remaining distant to Mr Dombey. This is unacceptable to Mr Dombey, who, in his pride, will not allow his wife to hold anyone in higher esteem than him. His wife leaves him, along with firms manager James Carker, although she leaves the creepy Carker just as quickly. Carker, being hunted by Dombey is killed by a train. In his rage, Dombey hits Florence who runs away to Captain Cuttle who has mostly been involved in a different subplot. Later the boy she loves who was believed drowned returns and they marry. In the meantime, thanks to Carker's malice, the house of Dombey and son is forced to cease trading.
Sometime later there is a happy ending.
Although we have an actual villain in the shape of Mr Carker, most of the problems are in the novel are caused by Mr Dombey. Dombey is all about pride and being respected. He also believes that his great wealth will allow him to alter people's feelings - he tries to stop the wet nurse for his son having affection for the babe by reminding her of her salary. To no surprise this is the root of all his troubles.
The story is not first rate. Called Dombey and Son we focus on the boy Paul to begin with. When he dies, and Walter Gay vanishes on a sea voyage, the story sort of flails about, trying to become about Florence. The coincidences and intrigues become more unlikely and bizarre and new and less interesting characters turn up. From Dickens middle period, the novel was apparently plotted out in some detail beforehand unlike his early novels. It keeps many of the early strengths - entertaining characters, good set pieces. It also has some of the early weakness in structure and loses momentum halfway through. However Dickens growing psychological awareness makes out central protagonist, Mr Dombey, a victim of his own pride rather than a villain in himself.
Read This: If you're reading and enjoying Dickens.
Don't Read This: If the whole 19th century thing does not float your boat.
In Addition: Previous Dickens on Night of the Hats; Dombey and Son online.