-by Charles Dickens
1820's rags-to-riches tale, Dickens style
Where most books develop one puzzle piece at a time, Dickens' novels are comprised of large pieces that are gradually deconstructed into tiny individual parts, scattered with wild abandon, and then slowly reconstructed methodically until the final puzzle is complete. Little Dorrit is no exception to this Dickensian template.
A sardonic social lampoon and a searing satire at bureaucracy’s expense, Little Dorrit serves as Dickens’ analysis of society at the time and yet still retains a quiet dignity and undercurrent of a more psychological application.
This Dickensian classic explores imprisonment of both the literal and symbolic genre. Broken into two separate books – “Poverty” and “Riches” – the novel explores life from two different sides of London’s dreaded Marshalsea debtor prison’s walls.
Upon Arthur Clennam’s return to England after several years abroad in China, he meets and develops a benevolent interest in Amy Dorrit, the quiet diminutive seamstress of his embittered mother. Born within the Marshalsea prison walls, “Little Dorrit” as she is affectionately dubbed, patiently cares for her aging father, William Dorrit - a gentleman of past grandeur, long incarcerated for a debt he cannot repay. As Clennam becomes further acquainted with the Dorrits, he realizes his own mother holds a long-held secret regarding the Clennam's connection with the Dorrit family. Arthur also recalls mysterious fragmentary utterances by his dying father, desperately begging him to ‘make things right’ with the Dorrit family, for reasons unspoken. In light of this, Clennam takes it upon himself to investigate further into the imprisoned family’s history. It’s not long before he discovers that the dark secrets of the past stretch far beyond the prison walls to affect the lives of many, including his own.
As with any Dickens’ novel, it wouldn’t seem complete without its typical array of capricious stereotypical characters, from the likes of the excitable snorting rent-collector Mr. Pancks; the cranky crooked manservant Mr. Flintwinch; to the taciturn Flora Finching; the bureaucratic Barnacles in the unscrupulous Circumlocution Office; and the blatantly villainous but charismatic Monsieur Rigaud (with no less than three French aliases), whose hooked nose ventures over his mustache every time he utters a sinister laugh – a frequent occurrence.
Still, Little Dorrit defies categorization. Simultaneously a tragedy, comedy, social commentary, satire and mystery, it is a puzzle that, when solved, resolves itself to be an allegory of love itself, and the emphasis of personal responsibility. The novel is also a testimony to that rarest strength of character which ultimately remains untainted by status and situation in life, whether it be riches or poverty. It is observable to anyone familiar with Dickens' biography that the book draws intimately on the author's own troubled childhood, when his own father was imprisoned for three months in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison.
Granted, without rapt concentration, readers will easily be lost in the exuberant sprawl of its 800+ pages, but will find that it is well worth the effort.