Critical work on the place of the child in literature has frequently emphasized nineteenth-century constructions of the child figure as having value within the Romantic tradition or the commercial world, in the context of both labour and the emerging middle class, and at a time when life expectancy remained comparatively low in urban areas even among affluent families. This polarised interpretation of the child is nowhere more obviously developed than in the competing representations of Dombey and Son (1846-48). The very title famously sets up a frame of reference for the family relationships to be explored, in its focus on a company name that by definition excludes female involvement while privileging the public and commercial over the personal. The death of Dombey’s first wife in childbirth further underscores the crucial position of the baby Paul as the only male heir to his father’s business empire.