Book/page totals

Top 10 Lists

Friday, January 27, 2012

cover of Dicken's 'Little Dorrit'

I know that Dickens' tended to write the "big, baggy monster" type of novel, but this one seemed much bigger and baggier than other Dickens' I have read. You are introduced to characters briefly who leave the novel for chapters at a time, but then much later come back into the story, sometimes in significant ways for the plot. When we first meet Mr. Merdle, he seems like a tangential character (the husband of a woman Fanny and Amy Dorrit meet), but he gets a whole chapter to himself about his very high, significant position in society (due to his wealth), and his complete unease among the people of "society"-- although later, of course, he plays a pretty significant role in the story. The book follows mostly the story of "Little" Dorrit, or Amy- a young woman who was born in the debtor's prison at Marshalsea, where her father has lived her entire life; and also Arthur Clenham, who takes an interest in Little Dorrit.

Because the cast of characters is so large, it took me quite a while - over 150 pages - before I really got into the book and felt engaged in it; although, perhaps, in a book of this size, maybe that isn't quite so much as it might be in a shorter book. Towards the end, it seemed like the pace really picked up and I was much more engaged in the story, although at the very end of the book it seemed things were resolved a bit too quickly and abruptly (hard not to wonder how much of the length and oddity of the pacing is due to the serial nature of the original publication).

Little Dorrit is a story of imprisonment and freedom, and also a story about the great hold that money, and the lack of it, has on people's lives. Little Dorrit's father was recognized to be somewhat of a gentleman when he first came to the Marshalsea, so he takes on a sort of position of prominence among the folk there; and yet he is utterly dependent on the little tokens of regard others give him, and the work that Little Dorrit takes on to care for him (without admitting to himself that she is out working, since that would not be respectable). Amy is quite diligent and practical, and takes care of everyone, including her two older siblings, who are rather ne'er-do-wells. When the family later comes into money, the older two siblings adapt to it pretty well, but Amy is very ill at ease. It is at this point, when the family is wealthy and traveling Europe, that we really see the cost of the years of prison on Mr. Dorritt-- he suspects everyone of knowing something of his past, of thinking less of him, and in a sense he still is imprisoned by the Marshalsea. As Little Dorrit observes when her father is preparing to pay off his debts and leaves prison, it seems "hard that he should pay in life and money both."

Like any Dickens novel, the world of Little Dorrit is populated by a fantastic cast of characters. There is Pancks, a tugboat of a man with so much energy and direction that he pulls other men in his wake; his boss, Mr. Casby, who looks so benevolent with his white hair and knobby head that he is considered a Patriarch, and every phrase from his mouth a beneficence (even though all the while he enjoins Pancks to squeeze his renters for more money). There is Casby's daughter, Flora Finching, a childhood love of Arthur Clenham, who is now widowed and nearly always accompanied by her Aunt, Mrs. F (a bit crazy, but quite articulate about her dislike of Arthur); Flora is kind but rather silly and excitable, and when she talks she rambles almost in a stream of consciousness, so that often the reader along with the characters in the room must try to piece together what she is trying to convey. And of course, we mustn't leave out the Circumlocution Office, with all the Barnacle cousins, where they have mastered the art of "how not to do it"-- meaning, of course, how to keep anything from getting done at all. When Arthur tries to look into Mr. Dorrit's affairs, he is sent from one office to another, asked to fill out a form, go talk to someone else, return later-- and one young man is quite offended that Mr. Clenham "wants to know, you know." I think the first time I laughed out loud reading this book was when the Young Barnacle who continually gets flustered and is always dropping and replacing his eye-glass meets Clenham and others for dinner at Mr. Meagles' house, and is so nervous that he keeps on dropping his eye-glass-- into his soup, into his wine, and even onto Mrs. Meagles plate, and in trying to put it back, "applied spoons to his eye, forks, and other foreign matters connected with the furniture of the dinner-table." In fact, the Circumlocution Office reminded me rather strongly of the bureaucratic shenanigans that make up most of Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, which I read a few years back.

I read the Project Gutenberg ebook of Little Dorrit.

Title:Little Dorrit
Author:Charles Dickens
Date published:1857
Number of pages:847
Notes:read an ebook


Google Search